Naamani Memorial Lecture 2009

[Archived from April 3, 2009]

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

The Naamani Memorial Lecture series, named in  memory of beloved University of Louisville Political Science Professor Israel T. Naamani, was established following his death in 1979. Since that time, speakers of great renown have visited the campus to deliver talks on a variety of subjects. Marc Hetherington, associate professor of Political Science and Associate Dean for Graduate Education at Vanderbilt University, delivered this year’s lecture on Thursday, March 26, at UofL’s Ekstrom Library.

U of L Professor Jasmine Farrier, who met Hetherington in graduate school, introduced him as a “poly-sci” specialist from the psychological/sociological realm that studies “regular folks and how they group together and carry on their lives.” She quipped that the audience would be hearing thoughts about how Jews vote from a Polish Catholic from Pennsylvania!

Hertherington’s lecture was entitled, “Authoritarianism, Jews, Arabs and American Political Behavior.” His book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in America, will be published soon.

Throughout his address, which was peppered with statistics, he examined the concept of “authoritarianism” (defined by linguist George Lakoff as right-wing, male-dominated, strict morals and adherence to rules and consequences, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality”) as causing a difference in worldview and helping to explain anti-Semitism and negative feelings about Muslims. No surprise, perhaps, that Jews by and large scored very low on the authoritarian scale.

Hetherington sees a strong correlation between authoritarians and Republicans who voted for George Bush, for instance, and points out that only 25 percent of Jews identify as Republicans. Authoritarians dismiss Democrats for using terms like “going soft” and using “girly man economics.”

In his discussion of the “characterization of polarization” (how political thoughts differ among and split various populations), he defines authoritarians as feeling issues “in their gut” and viewing the differences as “irreconcilable.” They tend to be less educated, need order in things and see the world in black and white terms, and have a tendency to support forceful or hawkish solutions. Yet many authoritarians preferred the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, last year because they liked his views on parenting responsibilities.

Muslims and Jews, he says, are small groups that are often underrepresented in surveys, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about them. Next to Jews, Muslim women are the best educated. They tend to be evenly split ideologically between liberals and conservatives. They both vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but support for gay rights varies depending on their interest in those issues.

A final thought on the 2008 election: Jews had the worst feelings about Sarah Palin’s candidacy. Some 84 percent of Jews voted Democratic despite high levels of support  from the wealthiest Jews for the Republican candidate. Unlike Israeli elections, which involve multiple parties and “strange bedfellows” making coalitions after the election, the U.S. makes compromises in advance.

This annual lecture is made possible by the Naamani Memorial Lecture Fund, which depends upon public support. To support this program, please make your check out to the University of Louisville Foundation and note  “Naamani Lecture Fund” at the bottom left hand corner of your check. Mail donations in care of Professor Lee Shai Weissbach in the Department of History at U of L (40292).

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