One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.
Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.
Democratic plans to demonize Ryan will find a ready audience among liberal Jews. Obama’s questionable record on Israel was never going to affect the votes of a majority of Jews. The issue was not whether Obama could hold onto more than 50 percent of Jewish votes, but how much of the 78 percent he got in 2008 would he be able to retain. The most optimistic estimates of the Democrat vote will keep him in the mid-60s, with his share of Jewish ballots in Florida probably being even lower. But Democrats are hoping that some of those Jews defecting from their ranks will start to slink back to Obama due to fears over the future of Medicare. Just as a loss of 10 to 25 percent of the Jewish vote could make the difference in Florida and perhaps even affect the outcome in Pennsylvania or Ohio if the election is close, a backlash against Ryan could also be decisive.
But Democrats shouldn’t count on the Jews falling back into their column so easily.
First, those Jewish voters who are most vulnerable to Mediscare tactics were already going to vote for Obama. If you are the sort of person who truly believes the Republicans are going to throw Bubbe over the cliff, you probably were never sufficiently concerned about Obama’s pressure on Israel and unwillingness to confront Iran to cross over to the GOP. The minority of American Jews who consider Israel’s security to be a major influence on their votes are not going to be so easily bulldozed by the Mediscare routine. Voters who believe the president will sell out Israel are not the most receptive audience for a Democratic campaign based on the idea that Romney and Ryan will sell out the elderly.
Democrats also forget that Jews are just as capable of figuring out that the only way to save Medicare is to face the issue head on rather than pretend, as Democrats intend to do, to preserve the status quo. As much as the left will lap up the attacks on Ryan and his budget, the centrist voters who are in play this fall may not be as easily fooled as liberals think. And there is another possibility that nobody on the left is prepared to even consider: a lot of those Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers who care about Israel may just decide they like Ryan a lot more than Obama.