The Review Board
To the Editor:
I have little quarrel with Milton Himmelfarb’s contention [“Are Jews Still Liberals?” April] that the vote against the civilian review board in New York City’s 1966 referendum was a vote against New Left demonstrations at Berkeley and Cambridge, occasionally excessive and unwarranted cries of police brutality at racial demonstrations in New York City and Philadelphia, and a variety of other symptoms of civic disorder. However, I am not sure that Mr. Himmelfarb’s analysis supports his conclusion, which seems to be that Jews are no less liberal than they used to be.
At stake in the review board referendum was basically a very simple proposition: are persons with no organizational connection to either of the two parties to a dispute better judges of the dispute than persons who have an organizational connection to one of the parties? That such a simple question could entirely disappear from view and that the referendum campaign could become entirely an outlet for pent-up resentments against Negroes and Puerto Ricans and New Left activists seems to be a very significant measure of illiberalism. That Jews were less subject to this growing illiberalism than other groups of whites in New York City is true and is demonstrated by the figures cited by Mr. Himmelfarb. Nevertheless, a Jewish backlash vote was more clearly in evidence in the review board vote than ever before.
My personal experiences during the referendum campaign lead me to believe that the breakdown of the Jewish vote was a little more complex than Mr. Himmelfarb indicates. With the possible exception of Norman frank, chief spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (with whom I frequently debated), I suspect that I did more public speaking on the review board issue than anyone else. Many of the audiences before which I spoke were predominantly Jewish. As might have been expected, the intellectually oriented Jews in their 20′s to 40′s who comprised much of my audience in, say, the ten or eleven reform democratic clubs before which I spoke were heavily pro-review board. Also, as might have been expected, the Jews in their 30′s to 50′s, many of them owners or partners in small businesses, who comprised much of my audience in the many synagogues, Jewish centers, and YMHA’s before which I spoke in Brooklyn and Queens, were much less sympathetic to the review board. But, most interestingly to me, a third variety of predominantly Jewish audience (before which I didn’t get to speak as often as I would have liked) turned out to be strongly for the review board.
This third variety consisted of Jews with a working-class background mostly in their 50′s to 70′s, who comprised the audience at the Workmen’s Circle groups before which I spoke, and at the Educational Alliance on East Broadway. These audiences seemed to have an ability to identify with the victims of injustice that simply did not exist among either the young intellectual pro-review board groups I had spoken to or the middle aged, middle-class, not-so-pro-review board groups.
Mr. Himmelfarb castigates the leaders of the fight for the review board for fighting the wrong fight. “Naturally,” he says “the leaders blame everyone else.”
I suppose I am about to prove his point by blaming if not someone else, then something else. That something is the feature of New York law that made the review board issue referendable. Clearly, if there were a method of putting the state’s laws on job discrimination or housing discrimination on the ballot, those would be the wrong fights. If the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision could have been put on the ballot, that would have been the wrong fight. In fact, in California, it was possible to put the state’s law against discrimination in housing on the ballot and it lost by an even heavier vote than the review board in New York City—and two years earlier, when the “backlash” wasn’t as great. A civilian review board is just as right as school desegregation, and anti-discrimination legislation in employment and housing. But none of those issues could possibly win at the polls.
Mr. Himmelfarb ends by suggesting that “if liberals had proposed measures to protect citizens against bureaucrats, everyone would have cheered. Instead, they singled out the police; and the white voter mutinied.” In 1965, I was one of those who helped secure the introduction of, and tried to generate support for, bills in the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature to create, respectively, city and state ombudsmen. In 1966 and again in 1967, similar measures have been introduced. If Mr. Himmelfarb will tell us how to generate a little more cheering, perhaps we will get someplace.
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York City
To the Editor:
Last November two out of every three New York voters opposed the civilian review board, while Californians gave Ronald Reagan a one-million-vote majority. At face value these are significant, frightening political developments. But Milton Himmelfarb (in an analysis based substantially on a recent American Jewish Committee report on the 1966 elections) has apparently decided that nothing out of the ordinary happened. If racist and right-wing voting is called ordinary, it will lose its power to shock us; and we will accept behavior beyond what we can now only imagine. But Himmelfarb knows that something is wrong, so scapegoats must be found, and whatever is out of the ordinary is projected from the mainstream onto precisely those who call attention to the outrages committed by the society. Somehow Reagan and the review board get blamed on the New Left.
In New York, we are told, the average citizen was not a racist; but the campaign forced a choice between violence and crime on the one hand, and the police on the other. But who defined the campaign that way? Not the pro-board forces surely; only a few intemperate slogans about “police states” were scrawled on walls. Why did Himmelfarb’s New Yorkers believe the slogans? Voters who see civilian control of police as leading to lawlessness have a frightening, racist mentality. The fact that Himmelfarb’s nice Italians and nice old Jewish couples, saw things that way only suggests what the Negro—and the rest of us—face now in America. Himmelfarb would rather not face this; instead he blames Berkeley New Leftists, the Philadelphia NAACP, and Harvard students who protested McNamara’s visit. Against a university which brings police on campus, or a government which murders civilians in Asia, emotion is apparently impermissible. But we can be so understanding about emotional antipathy to demonstrations and “crime,” or emotional support for the police.
On California, Himmelfarb devotes most of his space to New Left opposition to Brown, although the movement hardly had the votes to make a dent in Reagan’s plurality (To assert, as Himmelfarb does, that some leftists supported Reagan, is slanderous. Perhaps a handful of such people could be found, though I never before heard of any; certainly they were without political significance.) Shocked at New Left “pre-Hitler Communist” tactics (“more common on the Left than just before Hitler came to power”), Himmelfarb finds that Reagan conducted a moderate campaign—though how anyone who watched the hysterical intensity of his television spot announcements, or listened to his attacks on the university, on “welfare,” on fair-housing, and on crime, can still say that, is beyond me.
If this country becomes as repressive at home as it is abroad, the New Left and the militant civil-rights groups will be the first to suffer. How convenient if we can believe they brought it on themselves. One need not then explore the sources of extremism that reach from the nice Southern rancher in the White House and his nice New Deal shadow to the nice suburbanites in California and the nice Italians in New York. Do Jews still need to be reminded of what nice, ordinary people, with whose problems we can all sympathize, are capable?
Department of Political Science
University of California
To the Editor:
. . . The statement that more than 50 per cent of the Jews voted for the civilian review board is at once the cornerstone and the weakest point of the Himmelfarb argument. Given the accuracy of that statistic, why does the remaining 45 per cent of voting Jews, which traditionally votes Democratic, and so overwhelmingly voted against Gold water, now align itself with the forces of conservatism? The rather simple answer is that the Jews voted in favor of more protection in the streets (though whether we’re getting it is debatable, in the light of daily newspaper reports of crimes of violence).
In the areas of economics and foreign policy, Jews will still vote for the liberal approach, but when the issues become personal . . . such as forced busing of schoolchildren and protection from physical violence, we will eschew the casuistry, and vote our own self-interest.
Brooklyn, New York
Mr. Himmelfarb writes:
Mr. Neier’s simple proposition is that the civilians on the New York civilian review board were impartial, having no organizational connection with anyone. Among other things, simple is ingenuous; but the proposition is disingenuous.
Let’s look at the board through the eyes of the people, policemen and voters alike, it was his job to win over. The chairman was an NAACP vice-president; and what’s more, an Ethical Culture “leader,” vulgariter clergyman (which is to say, a Jew who wasn’t even a Jew)—the very type of the reflex liberal. The other members were a Negro professor of education, a salaried official of the Puerto Rican community, and a lawyer active in the Catholic Interracial Council. If these are unconnected, what would it take for Mr. Neier to call them connected? Would a policeman expect fairness from them? Would a voter expect them to give due weight to his anxieties about violence and disorder? They weren’t just civilians, they were civilians of a special kind. That it was precisely they who were named to the board only confirmed the suspicions of the police and the friends of the police. After all, the mayor could have appointed, say, a Negro former policeman and a Puerto Rican former assistant district attorney. Justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done. That legal maxim is good for public relations, too.
In those same days Mr. Neier was prominent in the news for something else, besides—and it wasn’t for advocating an ombudsman. Mr. Neier was busy denouncing federally-aided remedial and enrichment services for parochial-school students, and he was further endearing himself to Catholic voters by calling the parochial school a refuge for racists. Did he expect that to enhance the political value of his testimonials for the review board?
Watching the Civil Liberties Union assures me, in a way I don’t think it intends, that civil liberties must be in superb health. When I first became aware of the Civil Liberties Union, it was protecting Norman Thomas’s right to speak in Jersey City against Mayor Hague and his “I am the law.” Now, apparently, the big thing left for it to worry about is that some wicked people think the Constitution’s separation of church and state is separationist enough for New York State.
Do me a favor, Mr. Neier. If someone tries to censor me, fight for me in court; but if I want to do something political—for instance, putting across a civilian review board—don’t tell anybody you’re on my side. With you for a friend, I wouldn’t need enemies. Most voters aren’t like you and me, enlightened and far-seeing. For them the Civil Liberties Union is the organization that defends flag desecrators and prevents kindergarten children from pronouncing, over their milk and cookies, “God is great, God is good,/And we thank Him for our food.” That can win approval only among an elite who understand the doctrine of action as symbolic speech, which must therefore be allowed; and who also understand that children uttering that unutterable word are guilty of a deed which must be forbidden.
Mr. Neier likes government by the judiciary, but this time it was the referendum crowd that went to court, and got the decision it wanted.
I wish I could agree about the immigrant, working-class Jews. Many of them read the Forward. By now the joke is no longer new that the Forward used to have one man taking care of all letters to the editor, but has had to add a specialist for letters complaining about what happens to people in nice neighborhoods when those newcomers move in. Still, the Jews, including working-class Jews, remain more liberal than others.
As to Mr. Rogin: Those Harvard students didn’t just protest against McNamara, they tried to manhandle him. Emotion? It was violence—and by the privileged, as far removed as can be from all that might excuse the violence of the poor, humiliated, and excluded, in Watts or Hough or Roxbury.
Mr. Rogin evidently fears and despises the people in this country. Really, they’re no worse than others, and better than most. They aren’t Nazi storm troopers; and they’re less scary than the Red Guards who would compel them to be virtuous. It has been remarked that out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. These awful people are normal, crooked humanity. Why should a political scientist have to be reminded of such an elementary thing?
I wrote: “The experts kept saying that whether the review board won or lost, actual police brutality would hardly be affected one way or the other. . . .” I notice Mr. Rogin doesn’t dispute that.
A warm heart, by all means—and a cool head. “Himmelfarb finds that Reagan conducted a moderate campaign—though how anyone . . . can still say that is beyond me.” When cardiac heat becomes cephalic a man can forget how to read: what I wrote was that “Reagan was careful not to sound like an extremist.” How could I say that? By relying on such arcane documents as Newsweek (October 31, 1966): “From the beginning [Reagan] never looked like an extremist; now with his old right-wing views muted, he doesn’t even sound like one. . . . So far, Reagan has avoided direct exploitation of the backlash issue. . . . There is no hysterical adulation among his followers—the new, middle-roading Reagan wouldn’t want it. . . .” This isn’t from a pro-Reagan journal; and the report is contemporaneous with the campaign, not a retrospective explanation of Reagan’s victory.
Why had Mr. Rogin never before heard of any leftists who supported Reagan? Were my esoteric sources unavailable to him?—some colleagues of his in his own part of the country, and the obscure Herbert Gold in the obscure New York Times Magazine (December 11, 1966): “The Ramparts and New Left intellectuals, many of them, were hoping for a Reagan victory for a complex of reasons, including a desire to embarrass the President, resentment of Brown’s temporizing and muddling, a doctrinaire conviction that things have to get very bad before they can improve, a greedy desire for the bright target of Reagan and perhaps, for some, a naive anarchism.” And Gold is well-disposed to the New Left. When it is the follies of the Right that he is mocking, his language is lively. With the Left, his language can become wooden.
Mr. Rogin is a university teacher of political science and a political activist, yet he says that as late as April 1967 he had never heard of something that any political scientist should have heard of and that an activist had a special interest in hearing of. Look at the position that puts him in. Either he really had heard of it, and was fudging in his letter; or he was telling the truth, and was more ignorant than anyone like him has a right to be. If ignorant, he must have wanted to be.
But that sort of thing almost begins to resemble what we mean by the trahison des clercs, doesn’t it?