Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What a brown Governor means

Down on the brown side's series on Bobby Jindal's election has me thinking more about his victory, and the response of the grassroots versus institutionalized power broker type groups.

As an individual, I am continually impressed by Asian Americans and other minorities who are able to win in places where they have no natural base - think State Rep. Sue Chew in Idaho (D), or State Rep. Swati Dandekar (D-Iowa) who is running for a State Senate seat. Both of these are more amazing to me than Democratic Texas State Rep. Hubert Vo, though I love him, because Houston actually is a quarter APIA, unlike Iowa and Idaho.

Many of my friends who are progressive and South Asian American are disgusted by Jindal's victories the way that Elaine Chao disgusts me. In being a flack, and providing political cover for implementing terrible policies that hurt Asian Americans, all while sharing the same skin tone as me, and being in a position of power to actually be able to change things for the better, all while hewing to the "conservative" line of turning back the clock, and shutting the door in the faces of the children, the unemployed, and the middle class. I'm sure Bobby Jindal will prove to be a far better token than Elaine Chao since he appears to be much smarter. I'm sure I will be furious at him for turning his back on his immigrant roots, like Alberto Gonzles.

But the more optimistic part of me thinks that these victories, regardless of what party the candidate belongs to, highlights a change in racial attitudes and perceptions. It also means that a sea change is coming in how our APIA community, and our elders, perceive politics. That it's more acc eptable for second and first generation kids to be politically active. And to me, it holds out the promise of a whole wave of APIA candidates, at all levels, across the country. Overall, if we have more APIAs involved on both sides, I hope that it'll be considered less exotic by both our community elders, and the average citizen, if an Asian American is involved in fundraising for a candidate. Or directing the field campaign. Serving as a campaign manager. Or even running.

It's one of the reasons why I write about APIAs working presidential campaigns on both sides - even though I don't always agree with the politics of everyone involved, I think it's important for both parties to be actively outreaching to our community. One of the reasons why the campaign finance scandal in '96 was able to gain such traction is because there were barely any APIA staffers at the DNC, or on Capitol Hill. Many people were pissed off at the insinuations, and scared for their own positions. We lacked critical mass, and we lacked positions of significant power within the party apparatus to say, "Don't you even dare scrapegoat us - if you want our money and our votes now and in the future, you're going to figure out a way to fight this without painting us as the exotic, shapeshifting, inscrutable Oriental giving money for God knows what nefarious reason." Many of the big national APA civil rights organizations were in their infancy, and our community got HAMMERED.

And if you look at how the Clinton campaign is handling the so-called Chinatown donor scandal, they've picked very inclusive language:

"Asian-Americans in Chinatown and Flushing have the same right to contribute as every other American," Howard Wolfson, a campaign spokesman, told several newspapers. "We do not ethnically profile donors."

(As opposed to the Norman Hsu stuff.)

One example is Republican Matt Fong, former State Treasurer of California, and 1998 challenger to incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D). Here's a review of his candidacy in the conservative National Review:
The California GOP has the reputation of being terminally unpopular among racial minorities. Fong, as a fourth-generation Chinese-American, could change all that. It's tempting not to dwell on Fong's ancestry because he doesn't make much of it himself. Yet it's an important feature of his candidacy. Exit polls reveal Asian-Americans to be among the most reliably Republican voters in the country. In 1996, they were more likely than whites to support Bob Dole. With non-Hispanic whites soon to become less than 50 per cent of the California population, the state GOP believes it will need a different kind of candidate to succeed. ''The conservative message doesn't have to change,'' says the California GOP's political director, Mike Madrid, ''but we need to put a new face on it.'' A Fong victory in November will show that conservatives have less to fear about growing minority participation in politics than they might think.
This is demographics at its best. At its worst, it's tokenism. Either way, it's hard for people ilke Matt Fong and Bobby Jindal to erase the color of their skin, which will always result in episodes like this:

Matt Fong, a Californian Republican running for the Senate two years ago, continually found himself running into the brick wall of racial suspicion on the campaign trail.

Even though his family had been Americans for four generations, journalists frequently asked him where his loyalties would lie if China attacked the US.

The root of the trouble may be that Asian-Americans are perpetually associated with the "Chinese threat" - the only remnant of the Cold War that Americans still take seriously.

Keep in mind - this isn't the VOTERS, but rather the journalists. It's just one example of how a media filter can substantially change an election. Btw, I wasn't fond of many of Fong's policies (flat tax?!?) but I despised the casual xenophobia.

On APIA VOTE, they are technically a nonpartisan organization even though most of the board is very Democratic, and if you read between the lines, the release doesn't celebrate Jindal's accomplishments as much as it celebrates a generic biography, a template son-of-immigrants -makes-good candidate.
Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote states, "Jindal's win demonstrates the positive electoral engagement of the community including the growing political clout of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and especially the Indian-American community who have been proactive in promoting activism in political campaigns at all levels."
I think it reflects an overall excitement that APIAs can win in states that aren't heavily APIA-dense, and that it's an overall benefit that results from when APIAs get active. I don;t doubt that IndoPAC and other groups are just happy to have another high-profile APIA, and to use it as an example of why their cause is correct. I might not be making a substantially different point than DotBS, but that's my take.

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  • At 5:43 PM, Blogger Rage said…

    Hey - thanks for the mention. I have to say, though, I don't know if I can agree with your assessment of Jindal. Jindal is an extremist: I think that his election is a terrible terrible thing for the state of Louisiana, and the nation as a whole. He's not just a Republican, he's an extremist who makes Bush look like a moderate. It may seem like I'm venting, but he really is a nutcase.

    I am incredibly disappointed and angry at APIA Vote - I think they put out a total sell-out release - it's not just that the guy is part of the party he belongs to - it's that he represents an extreme element.

    At a certain point (for me, a point soon after I first meet a person), what matters less is their race and "co-ethnic" status, and what matters much more is her ideology and/or politics. The problem with electoral politics is that people settle with representatives just because they "look like me." I firmly believe that's not good enough. I want people who actually represent the people's viewpoints, and work towards the people's vision for a more just society, rather than just another face who's talking the same jive as the next white dude who could have had that seat.

    If you aren't actively challenging the power structure and system, you're just a part of it. In Jindal's case, I fear that he's actually far worse, and far to the right of most of the people in his party. That's pretty scary, and makes me wonder what's in store for Louisiana.

    Sorry for the long rant - but I think I still have a lot to say on this topic - it's cuts close to the heart.

  • At 2:07 AM, Blogger powerpolitics said…


    I have my optimistic and pessimistic moments. In reality, my view is much closer to yours - see my
    first post
    about Jindal's election. On my less bitter and burnt out days, I attempt to find the 5% good in what I mostly think is shit:

    Meantime, color me 95% unimpressed. I have no high hopes for him pushing forward a progressive social agenda, but I do fervently hope that he doesn't have any hidden foibles like his homestate senator, David "Diaperman" Vitter. Cos you know that would just make brown folks the diaper fetish terrorists who like to wear towels on their heads and red dots between their eyes. On the face of things anyways, that's what people would think on the airplane, before they call security and get your ass hauled off.

    When I say that I think Jindal will be a better token, I don't mean that I think he will be better for the community, but rather, be more effective (from a political observer's standpoint) at hiding the GOP agenda under a refined Rhodes Scholar all-American immigrant makes good light.

    It's a lot of what makes him dangerous. Emil Guillermo also has a mouthful over at Asianweek, calling Jindal an
    "Uncle Bob."

    It's true as well that our community needs to have higher standards. I think we are still, sadly, in the desert where we almost never see water so we resort to drinking pee. (Ugh, sorry for the scat reference. I'm in a Vitter state of mind?)

    Sometimes I get desperate enough that I want to find some silver lining in it all (it's still hydration, and we gotta survive?)

    And the nonprofits give him a pass, even though most of the staff tend to be democratic. But they still remain 501c3 nonpartisan organizations, still have to get donations, corporate funding, and foundation funding, and there's a whole other kit and caboodle.

    Where I do disagree with you is on the necessity of insider/outsider politics. I believe in holding people accountable, but I also believe that if you don't have people working on the inside, it is that much harder to get legislation passed.

    So I guess I differ with you on believing in electoral politics.

    I believe in electoral politics, and I believe in community organizing. I don't consider them to be mutually exclusive. There are lots of APIA politicians who are just faces on the GOP and Democratic sides, but there are also amazing and great leaders like Cy Thao and Mike Honda who came out of community organizing. One example of the potentially flawed promise of community organizing-turned politician is Barack Obama, IMO.

    I don't think Jindal's election was a good thing for Louisiana, and definitely not for the Democrats in terms of the GOP meme of "we're on the rise again, bitches" that gets tied in with the "squeaker" in the special Congressional election in Massachusetts.

    When I write, there's a personal, gut level me, and an "analyst" me that looks at the broader picture from a more dispassionate perspective. I suppose I will have to work on writing distinct voices for these two views. Hence these two bookend blog posts on the same topic. And enough scat talk to last me for a while.

    Keep writing and ranting, Rage - people are listening.


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