Introducing the Republicans: Convention #2

This week, the politics column of the Lilith blog presents a special guest blogger. Laura Matson, the woman who first introduced me to Minnesota and all its charms, was our blogger-on-the-ground for the Republican Convention in St. Paul. She and I spent a lot of prep time discussing one main question: what are the issues that drive a Jewish Republican woman? What political concerns create such an identity? (For Laura, who recently left the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding to continue her studies, these sorts of religion/identity questions are meat and potatoes. Hard to imagine what we talk about, right?)

As a ferociously liberal woman who ties her Jewish values into her political identity, I have to say it’s a question that fascinates me. And Laura, who as you’ll hear was not raised Jewish but is vastly Jewishly literate, it was a question she sought to answer by speaking to as many women at possible at a special event put on by the Republican Jewish Committee. Hearing women’s own words, we agreed, was the feminist way to find our answers.

As you’ll hear, it is an interesting landscape, populated mostly by people concerned about the issue of Israel. (A group I’ve written about here before.) While I don’t have to agree with this line of thinking, I can at least applaud the sentiment. And, as the election enters its final phase and some of us (cough cough) turn into partisan nutjobs, I think being able to empathize even a little with one’s political opponents is important. Someone’s going to win this election, and someone’s going to lose. I have pretty strong feelings about who’s on which end of that, but when we wake up on November 5th, we’re all still Americans. It was something Laura, a consummate Minnesotan who always manages to be both feisty and kind, picked up on. “Actually,” she said on to me on the phone from the Xcel Center parking lot, “everyone’s been really nice.”

Onwards and upward…

–Mel Weiss

My day with the RJC Women

At the beginning of the week, I attended an event sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. I am not Jewish, nor am I, truth be told, a journalist, but since the GOP had chosen my hometown for its festivities, my good friend Mel Weiss offered me the chance to do some on-the-ground reporting. I jumped at the opportunity, and despite our inability to secure a press pass for the actual convention (in hindsight, this was probably in my best interest), I stumbled upon a luncheon honoring Hadassah Lieberman and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The luncheon, sponsored by the RJC, was a project of its woman-centric branch, the National Women’s Committee.

I arrived at Neiman Marcus in the late morning, while the attendees claimed their nametags and perused the silent auction items. Initially, I wandered around, observing the guests and trying to get my bearings in this bastion of high fashion. I overheard one woman describe her fashion and expenditure tastes to another as they admired the auction items, “I’m into maximalism—not minimalism.” Though not everyone in attendance was there for the Tory Burch boots, I spoke to a few women who had attended at the behest of their employer, a lobbying firm representing non-union construction shops, as well as a few legislative representatives and members of their staffs.

Eventually the women were ushered to their fuchsia-clothed tables by various Neiman Marcus employees and RJC volunteers for the dining and fashion show portions of the afternoon. Yes, there was a fashion show. Tall, thin models walked down the aisle while the few members of the press corps sent text messages and one of the ladies at the table next to me quipped, “Jewish ladies are eating, they’re modeling. We’re all doing what we do best.” The fashions were Urban Outfitters meets Jackie O, neon leggings and wide collars. The women nearest me were particularly enamored of the shimmering floor length gowns.

My suspicion that the benefit was mainly geared towards political wives along on the convention ride was confirmed when Linda Law, founder and national chair of the National Women’s Committee welcomed a laundry list of legislators’ and governors’ wives. Also among the attendees were Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro. After speeches by Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of Komen, and Hadassah Lieberman (who serves as a global ambassador for the foundation), I got the opportunity to speak to some of the ladies in attendance about their identities as Republicans and Jewish women. Given the focus of the speeches and fundraising, I asked many of the women that I spoke to how they felt a McCain administration would benefit women in America, mainly in terms of reproductive issues, and healthcare more generally. None of the women to whom I spoke divulged particularly strong feelings on either of these issues. I spoke to one woman who responded that the Bush administration had given more money than they were credited for to stem cell research, which signified an interest in children and promoting healthcare. Between that and the Republican emphasis on family values, she felt that Republican policies were better for women, children, and families. Another woman mistakenly believed that McCain shared her pro-choice inclinations, and when informed of his contrary stance, told me that she cherry-picked because “the world wasn’t perfect.”

The glossing over of women’s social policy issues that I encountered at the luncheon seemed fairly consistent with thepolicy platforms of the RJC. The closest thing to any discussion of women’s issues, namely, reproductive freedoms, is a fairly bland and sort of bizarre section on Adoption, which seems to promote adoption as a good idea and encourage the stability of the foster care and adoption systems. It seems that this platform creates a window for the RJC to avoid contention with the Republican line on abortion by supporting adoption as an alternative without actually taking a stand on reproductive rights.

Lisa Spies, Executive Director for the RJC, is one of the most prolific fundraisers for Republican candidates in the US. Her husband, Charlie, was the Chief Financial Officer and Counsel for the Romney campaign. When I spoke to her she told me that her Republican and Jewish identities were separate. She spoke very little about her ideological support for Republican candidates, but did extol the NWC as a great opportunity for women who happen to be both Jewish and Republican to come together and organize. Because of her impressive resume I was a little surprised when she told me that the “organization lets women actually do something to get involved.” The one-woman fundraising machine is a testament to the fact that women do not need an organization to let them be involved in political life, but in terms of the particular demographic of Republican Jewish women, Ms. Spies pointed out that “there are not that many of us so we all need to be together.”

For most of the women that I interviewed, Israel was paramount among their voting interests. America’s homeland security was a close second. Wrapped up in both of these policy matters was a pervasive concern about Iran, which was broached by nearly every woman that I spoke to. They all voiced appreciation for McCain’s tougher stance on Iran, and didn’t trust Obama to adequately support and protect the state of Israel. I spoke to Suzanne Kurtz, press secretary for the RJC about the values that should endear Jewish voters to the Republican Party, “Recognizing the importance of the American-Israel relationship, making sure that relationship is strong… These are really critical issues that we believe the Republican Party is right about… The fact that Iran is—the clock is ticking and they are aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons…We believe that the Republican Party recognizes that threat and has a much clearer stand as far as how to handle it—to not negotiate with them.”

In her opening remarks, Linda Law predicted that “women are going to be key to this election and victory in 2008.” If my day with the RJC was any indication, conventional “women’s issues” end with the fashion show and Israel trumps all for Jewish Republican women voters this election season.

-Laura Matson

10 comments on “Introducing the Republicans: Convention #2

  1. rena berke on

    I am a Jewish Republican women business owner in construction, What I have learned since 9/11 how illiberal all my jewish friends,relatives, and media are. What an awful realization after a lifetime beliving that we are open minded

  2. Jackie on

    What a depressing article. I am fiercely liberal and have no comprehension of how a woman, let alone a Jewish woman, could support the McCain/Palin ticket. HOWEVER, surely the women at this gathering have more behind their political choices than blind, all-encompassing support of the State of Israel? Maybe not — in which case we’re in big trouble.

  3. Carol Fein on

    I’M HEARTSICK! We will have only ourselves to blame if woman in general turn out to be like these women. My only consolation is that these women would not have supported Hillary anyway.

  4. Shekinah on

    One of the most basic tenets of oppression, is identification w/ the oppressor. In the case of women that time after time put the rights of their own gender last, this is always an unfortunate part of the picture. Denial of & side-stepping issues of paramount importance in most women’s everyday lives, means one is not woman-identified.

    I’m no separatist, neither as a woman or as a Jew. Sarah Palin gives me the willies- McCain’s pick was one of the most cynical, yet brilliant political manuvers I’ve ever seen…
    I do have some concerns about Obahma’s stance on Israel. However, I’m under no illusions that the Christian right is my friend, or good for either Jews or a truly free America.
    All I can hope for, is that this campaign somehow stays more focused on the specifics of issues, than a shallow battle of personalities & fear-mongering.

  5. Roz Roseman on

    Fortunately, these Republican women don’t represent all Jewish women. It is sad to realize their callous disregard of consequences, for instance, if Republicans control the next few Supreme Court appointments. Virtually all the Jewish women I know – family, friends and in groups where I participate – are progressive on health care, environment,etc. We are pro-Obama because we all believe he has the best chance for leading positive change.

  6. Deborah on

    The writer fails to appreciate the huge divide between the ultra observant Jewish community and most of the modern orthodox, conservative and liberal Jews on the issue of abortion. Her depiction of the Republican women was I thought particularly unflattering – and unrepresentative.
    Palin is a scary choice – because of the Republicans philospophical indifference to individual freedoms which every Jew in America needs to preserve. And this translates to who appoints Justices to the Supreme Court, choices that will affect our children and our grandchildren in dramatic ways. We need to focus on the long terms effect of this election both on our lives as Jews in the U.S. and on Israel.

  7. Jan Elbaum on

    It is frightening that the Jewish Republican women put Israel above the benefits to their own country. How could any woman who believes in the equal rights of choice, vote for someone with the archaic belifs of the Sarah Palin’s of the world.
    Do they not reqlize that the next president could appoint 3 Supreme Court Justices who could conceivably put us back into the early 20th century?

  8. Mobydick on

    There are views all over the place – some informed, some not; some to the left, others to the right. Most voters are largely ignorant, unfortunately. These women are no more representative of informed, educated conservative women, than are those of Jewish women who vote Dem merely because most Jews vote that way, without any idea of the issues, the implications of their vote, etc. Many Jewish women unfortunately will vote for McCain/Palin for much the same reasons as they will vote for Obama/Biden: for non-sensical reasons. That is after all how most of our electorate votes. Sad.

  9. Debbie on

    As a Jewish woman, I am VERY concerned about the women in this article. Our candidates need to be judged full spectrum. This campaign has become quite nasty. Every step of the way, the Republican message is a negative ad with NO offer of what they will REALLY do about healthcare, economy, and energy. All they use are glittering generalities. Palin will reverse Roe vs. Wade. HAS ANYONE SEEN WHAT HAS HAPPENED OVER THE PAST 8 YEARS IN THIS COUNTRY!!!! Why is everyone so complacent to these negative tactics. Karl Rove is designing yet another campaign drive for McCain. McCain/Palin think that the American public is stupid. From the look at the polls-half of the electorate IS STUPID. Palin’s record in Alaska isn’t that of a Maverick. It is a record of a staunch republican who just does what she wants in office. She has not only LIED to the US, but she has lied in speeches in front of all of her five children. Please folks, this is a debate between the intelligence of Harvard and Princeton, vs 312 out of 315 in Naval Academy with over 333 demerits (McCain) and Univ. of Idaho (attended 5 schools before she completed college (Palin). I ask you– WHO HAS THE INTELLIGENCE AND COMMON SENSE TO RUN THIS COUNTRY? To me there is no choice but Obama/Biden.

Comments are closed.