Phony Data Watch: Midge Decter

Neoconservatives often contend that a sensibly conservative American majority is being tyrannized by an hysterically leftist cultural elite that has managed to acquire awesome power even though it represents only a tiny minority. Thus Midge Decter, in her new memoir An Old Wife’s Tale (page 71):

After the immediate and enormous success of The Feminine Mystique, and no doubt in the glow of that success, Betty Friedan next put together an organization called the National Organization for Women (NOW). This, it will be remembered, was a time for new movements and organizations. … And so it was, too, that NOW, which never from then until now succeeded in signing up as many as three hundred thousand women [italics Chatterbox’s] would be granted the title of “the women’s movement.”

In a footnote to this passage, Decter writes:

For purposes of comparison, Hadassah, an organization of American Zionist women–that is, an organization of a particular ideological segment of a community that itself constituted only about 2 or 2 and one-half percent of the American population–had a membership of something like 350,000 [italics Chatterbox’s].

That Hadassah’s membership would outnumber NOW’s is neither surprising nor telling. Hadassah draws its membership from an affluent segment of the population known for millennia to maintain a strong (though now declining) religious and cultural cohesion. NOW draws its membership from a larger but more diffuse group whose sense of political commonality dates back approximately 30 years. Hadassah is able to recruit members through synagogues where the faithful gather once a week. NOW has no similarly binding institutions to support it (except perhaps the odd Unitarian church).

But just because something is plausible doesn’t mean it’s true. According to NOW’s Web site,  NOW presently has “more than half a million contributing members.” According to Hadassah’s Web site, Hadassah presently has “more than 300,000 members.” In other words, NOW’s membership is roughly two-thirds larger than Hadassah’s.

What about membership cost? Surely that would affect how many people join each organization. Between NOW and Hadassah, though, cost is mostly a wash.  It costs $25 annually to join Hadassah. $200 will buy you a lifetime membership. (But act now, because it’s scheduled to bump up to $250 this March.) Annual membership in NOW costs $35 ($40 in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and New York), and a lifetime membership costs a cool $1,000. But you can also pay “reduced dues” of somewhere between $15 and $34. Chatterbox isn’t clear about the eligibility requirements.

The NOW-Hadassah comparison sounds to Chatterbox like something Decter started shoehorning into speeches years ago. Maybe at some point it was true, but it isn’t now. Given that this is one of the few bona fide facts to appear in Decter’s book (for some reason, even her maiden name, Rosenthal, and the first name of her first husband are withheld), Decter ought to have checked it.