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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

January 15, 2008

Written by C.N.

Democratic Politics: Who Can We Trust?

As the Presidential primaries get into full swing, there are a couple of items concerning the Democratic party that caught my attention. The first concerns Nevada’s Democratic primary, taking place on January 19. I received a couple of emails from a reader, Alvina, asking me to help publicize a Democratic political rally that took place yesterday, Mon. Jan. 14.

But the second email that I received from Alvina gave me a little more background and context on the rally. As Alvina writes,

You’d think in a big election year and with the political growth of the Asian community, political parties would be courting Asian voters. Apparently not the case as in Nevada, the Democratic party forgot to include the Asian community in a debate to address minority issues. Tsk, tsk.

The Democratic presidential debate in Nevada on Tues. is supposed to focus on minority issues. The debate features African American and Hispanics, but neglected Asian Americans, even though African Americans and Asian Americans make up about the same portion of Nevada.

Democratic organizers made a mistake by leaving out Asian Americans, especially since the Asian American population is surging (with large numbers in unions) and they’re mobilizing at a record pace for the state’s caucuses.

When Democratic leaders realized they made a mistake, they quickly pulled together an Asian American-specific rally with Sen. Reid and other leaders in Las Vegas’ Chinatown Plaza set for Monday evening, the night before the debate.

Is that enough? Does a community rally make up for the exclusion of the Asian community during early planning stages?

My reply to her was that unfortunately, this sounds like another example of Asian Americans being treated as the “invisible minority.” I was disappointed to hear that Nevada’s Democratic Party completely ignored Asian Americans, but I am not completely shocked by it.

The bottom line is that even our “allies” still have a ways to go in terms of truly understanding and embracing our community, as shown by other incidents involving both the Obama and Clinton campaigns in which Asian Americans were also snubbed (although both campaigns later apologized).

The second incident that is making the news, at least in the blogosphere, concerns the Asian American political action committee, the 80-20 Initiative. They’re a national lobbying Asian American organization that is trying to organize Asian American voters as a bloc vote, in order to increase our community’s political power (similar to how African Americans and Jews are seen as a bloc vote).

The 80-20 group is basically trying to get at least 80% of Asian American voters to vote for the candidate that they will ultimately endorse (hence their name). That endorsement is based on the candidate’s record on issues important to Asian Americans and whether the candidate agrees to a platform of policies advocated by the 80-20 group designed to benefit Asian Americans.

On that note, Clinton and Edwards have officially endorsed 80-20’s platform, but conspicuously, Obama has so far not endorsed it, which has led 80-20 to call for its members to help defeat Obama. As far as I know, none of the Republican candidates have endorsed 80-20’s platform. This call to defeat Obama is supported by many noted Asian American bloggers such as Emil Guillermo at AsianWeek Magazine.

On the other hand, many of Obama’s Asian American supporters are equally upset at 80-20 and accuse them of unprofessionalism, bias and playing favorites, divisive, and being just plain wrong. These include bloggers such as Jenn Fang at Reappropriate and Asian Americans for Obama.

I’m not ready to make a definitive judgment on whether Obama is “dissing” the Asian American community by not endorsing 80/20’s platform, but I will say that I agree slightly more with Jenn’s arguments rather than Emil’s at this point.

But the larger point that I want to make is that, since most Asian American lean toward the Democrats more than the Republicans, that implies that most Asian Americans trust that the Democratic party and its supporters will embrace and integrate us into their plans.

However, these two examples seem to show that rather than standing beside us as we move forward, some Democrats are making it unnecessarily complicated and confusing when it comes to why Asian American should continue to support them.

Specifically, if Alvina’s description is accurate, it is absolutely unconscionable that the Nevada Democratic Party initially ignored Asian Americans completely in their planning for the presidential primary debate, treating us like we’re invisible.

Second, while I still don’t know exactly who to believe, at the least, the public fight between 80/20 and the Obama campaign highlights how divisive and distasteful the political process can be, even between groups who would normally be allies.

As a sociologist who has an interest in political participation, especially among racial/ethnic minorities, I would suggest that when people — or political campaigns — wonder why it’s so hard to get people motivated and involved in politics, they only need to look into the mirror for the answer.

That is, when people see how their group is marginalized and ignored by people who are supposed to be our friends, or when they see different factions of the same political party sniping at each other, it should not be surprising that people then get turned off from politics or even jump to the other side and join the “enemy.”

I recognize that not all Democrats (Asian American and otherwise) act like this, and in fact, many are genuinely and passionately devoted toward empowering and integrating Asian Americans into the Democratic fold. But it’s very unfortunate when their work is overshadowed by these kinds of gaffes, disputes, and overall ugliness.


Update: On February 1, 2008, 80-20 announced that it had reached a compromise with Obama’s campaign and that Obama has now officially endorsed 80-20’s platform. This now means that 80-20 will now stay neutral in regard to endorsing any Democratic candidate.

However, 80-20 does qualify this announcement that this neutrality does not apply to the California primary, which is a little unclear and confusing.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Democratic Politics: Who Can We Trust?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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