On Tuesday, America will mark yet another Election Day. For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), this coming election seems particularly relevant.
The AAPI electorate is among the fastest growing voter population in the country. In the last two presidential general elections, AAPI voters voted overwhelmingly in favour of Barack Obama. In several states during the 2012 election, AAPI voters voted for the incumbent president in large enough numbers to have likely swung their states into his column. With Election Day fast approaching, many of us have been reminded of the power of our vote. We have been the target of exhortations to turn out to the ballot box on November 8th. It has been widely speculated that AAPI voters and other voters of colour – who collectively support Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by three-to-one margins – are likely to win the first female president of the United States her place in the Oval Office.
It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?
Marking the closing of this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (which is celebrated every year for the month of May), eight of Congress’ Asian American Democratic members came together this week to shoot a video honouring the history and contributions of the AAPI community (after the jump).
Representatives Mark Takano, Doris Matsui ,Ted Lieu, Ami Bera, Judy Chu and Mike Honda of California were joined by their colleagues Rep. Grace Meng of New York and Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii to film the three-and-a-half minute video highlighting the accomplishments of historic Asian American civil rights icons such as Fred Korematsu and Dalip Singh Saund, as well as the growing number of young Asian Americans — most of them Democrats — who are dedicating their lives to public service.
Late last week, I wrote about New York Lt. Governor candidate Tim Wu’s endorsement of State Senator hopeful John Liu’s campaign. Both men are Taiwanese American politicians; in his endorsement, Wu called Liu and another Asian American State Senate candidate, SJ Jung, Asian American “underdogs” and a “band of brothers”. Wu cited the persistent underrepresentation of Asian Americans in New York’s political leadership in saying, “We could use a stronger Asian-American voice in the legislature.”
Liu responded with a scathing and abrupt rejection of Wu’s endorsement, saying,
This story had me equal parts baffled and titillated: one Asian American politician publicly slapping away the hand of another?
What could possibly cause John Liu, a man who at one time championed stronger Asian American voices within elected office, to eschew the support of a fellow Asian American “brother”? Why haven’t Asian American political representatives come out in support (even begrudging support) for Tim Wu, a man with a legitimate shot at being New York’s first Asian American elected to statewide office?
What the heck?!?
This morning, history was made. In a 5-4 decision (read the .pdf of the SCOTUS opinion), the Supreme Court decided that the landmark healthcare reform bill championed by the Obama administration (and that will undoubtedly serve as the cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy) is on its whole constitutional.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has been nicknamed “Obamacare” by both critics and later by the White House, makes several important changes to this nation’s healthcare system, including:
Critics of the Obamacare — Republicans and specifically Tea Party members — claimed that it was an over-reach of the federal government; but, in reality, they just don’t like the president. Let’s not forget that the most vocal members of the rightwing have openly stated that their target is President Obama, and not necessarily the morality of his policies; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell proudly proclaimed in 2009 that his top priority was to make President Obama a “one-term president”.
Spurred by their hatred for the president, rightwing activists have launched a multi-year smear campaign against the president’s healthcare reform bill that has succeeded in saturating the national debate with misinformation and bold-faced lies. Obamacare will not eliminate the coverage for Americans who currently have health insurance. Obamacare will not prevent Americans from being able to continue to see their own doctors. Obamacare will not establish “death panels” that will decide which Americans can live or die.
Republicans took their issues to the Supreme Court, arguing that Obamacare violated the Constitution, and the rights of individual Americans to elect not to purchase health insurance.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Specifically, the individual mandate, which requires that all Americans above a certain income level purchase health insurance, was judged to be legal since it basically represents Congress exercising its power to tax the population. In essence, Congress is taxing any American at a different rate if they don’t have health insurance, compared to any American who does. The Supreme Court also found the rest of the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, except for its restrictions on dispersion of Medicare funds to states who refuse to comply with the law; in that case, states can only be denied Medicare funds associated with the elements of the program they refuse to comply with, and would not lose all of their Medicare funding.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory for Democrats, progressives, and the Obama administration. But, more importantly, it is an incredible victory for the literally millions of Americans whose healthcare will be improved by the Affordable Care Act, including the Asian American community and other communities of colour, which have historically higher rates of uninsured and underinsured people compared to the community at-large.
Currently, an estimated 1 in every 7 Asian Americans is uninsured (2.7 million, or 17.2% of Asian Americans). Of those, 75% (or approximately 2 million) will gain or become eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including nearly 100,000 young Asian Americans between the ages of 19-26 who will be able to receive healthcare through their parents’ insurance. Nearly 900,000 elderly Asian Americans are currently on Medicare, and they will benefit from more preventative coverage and other expanded services.
Roughly 11% of Asian Americans are self-employed and/or own a small business; the Affordable Care Act will make purchasing health insurance for small business owners and their employees significantly easier and more affordable. This not only ensures that Asian American small business owners will have better access to healthcare, but it also helps to stimulate Asian American business by making them more competitive via improved employee benefits.
And finally, there are roughly 8 million Asian American women in this country who can no longer be discriminated against by their health insurance providers for becoming pregnant, being domestically abused, or just being a woman.
But most importantly, Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country places increased attention helping all of its citizens, and not just the most affluent. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by a renewed commitment by the federal government to provide social programs that benefit all, including the less fortunate. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country becomes, once again, one in which all citizens, regardless of race, class or creed, have equal access to life, and life-saving healthcare coverage. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by when healthcare is no longer a privilege in this country, reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected, but it is a basic human right accessible to all.