In Search of Political Power: Captured Minorities and the AAPI Electorate

(Photo Credit: KEIA.org)
(Photo Credit: KEIA.org)

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?

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GOP Autopsy: Dead and Buried

gop-dead

By Guest Contributor: Bel Leong-Hong, Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s AAPI Caucus

Three years ago today, the Republican National Committee released a report as part of their “Growth and Opportunity Project,” known as the GOP Autopsy, explaining their overwhelming losses in the 2012 election. When it came to the issues that matter to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, the autopsy vowed to embrace comprehensive immigration reform and recommended that the GOP be more inclusive of the community in party messaging and flexibility in party policies. Basically, it recommended they be more like Democrats.

But it seems that the GOP has thrown this autopsy out the window, because the fear-mongering and anti-immigrant rhetoric has actually gotten worse since 2012, as often demonstrated by their presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.

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Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and how the GOP will fail in their courtship of the AAPI vote

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina

It should come as no surprise that the progressive expansion of America’s non-White populations has left the Grand Old Party in a turmoil. In both 2008 and 2012, Republicans lost the Black, Latino, and Asian votes by wide margins, and most demographic projections predict that in the aggregate, non-White people will outnumber Whites in America by the year 2042 or sooner. Thus, the GOP is in a scramble to develop a loyal non-White voting block in the next decade in order to retain their political power over Democrats.

For many conservatives, the voting block most vulnerable to partisan Republican appeals is the Asian American community. Rooting their hopes largely on model minority stereotypes of Asian Americans, conservatives like Bill O’Reilly view Asian Americans as “not liberal… by nature” because we are “industrious and hard-working”.

To be fair, AAPI are less likely to identify as either Democrat or Republican, with a large segment of our voters preferring to register with an “independent” party affiliation. And certainly, with some Asian American ethnic groups well-represented as small business owners and in the upper echelons of the private sector, the GOP’s conventional pro-business platform should be appealing. Indeed, in the early 1990’s, Asian Americans were evenly split between those who voted George H.W. Bush and his Democratic opponent. Yet, 25 years later, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Asian voters voted with the Democratic party in the last two general elections.

Continue reading “Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and how the GOP will fail in their courtship of the AAPI vote”

Is Gov. Bobby Jindal the new face of the Republican party?

Governor Bobby Jindal is angling to be the man to lead the Republican Party into the 21st century.

After the thrashing that the Republican party received Election Night 2012 — one that even Fox News anchors and Karl Rove famously could scarcely believe as they reported it’s occurrence minute-by-minute — the GOP has been in free-fall. And like a trainwreck happening in extreme slow motion, the rest of us can hardly tear ourselves away, but stand aside rubber-necking as the shrapnel flies.

Within days of President Obama’s re-election and with ballots in states like Arizona still to be counted, Republican fingers were already pointing. It was the President’s fault (negative campaigning). It was the media’s fault (too liberal). It was the voters’ fault (too brown). It was the Super-PACs’ fault (too… rich?). It was Karl Rove’s fault (too misguided and foolish). But beneath all the blame game, there’s one simple truth: the Republican party has come face-to-face with its own failures. It is a party dominated by rich White men who have fundamentally lost touch with how to speak to the newly diverse American voting demographic, many of whom would not rather vote with a party who faults them for not being… well, rich White men.

And, so, the Republican party is at a crossroads. Until this past two weeks, the GOP had closed their eyes and plugged their ears, and vainly hoped that all those pesky young voters, female voters, and voters of colour who swung the election Obama’s way in 2008 would just disapparate — or, “self-deport” — to wherever it is that we came from. But forced to face the reality that these voters are here to stay, and that in two presidential elections, they had gone overwhelmingly (some would say, embarassingly) Democratic, the GOP is taking a good long look in the mirror to figure out how they could’ve gotten it all so very, very wrong.

Which has sparked a fascinating conversation for us non-Republicans as conservatives of all flavours crawl out of the woodwork to postulate why it is that all these diverse voters — including Black, Latino, Asian American, and youth voters — voted in such huge majorities in favour of Democrats. And, not just for Obama; no, we voted blue in large numbers in down-ticket races, too. This Rightwing soul-searching has been enlightening. And, frankly, almost endlessly entertaining.

Last Sunday, on Candy Crowley’s State of the Union, correspondent Dana Bash asked four leaders of the Republican party their opinion on why the GOP was so unattractive to these “diverse” voters, and what the party could do to change it (the full segment, which is quite long, is below). And, amazingly (if not altogether surprisingly) she got four very different answers.

The basic problem is that there’s been a growing schism within the Republican party, that has finally fractured the party to its core. On one side are moderate Republicans: economically conservative and socially libertarian “small government” Republicans who make up the traditional Republican party. And on the other side are the Tea Party extremists: socially conservative finger-waggers who want to use the power of government to ostracize those the dislike, in an effort to return this country to the way it was when their parents were young. That is, they want to use the power of government to return the United States to a time when everyone shared a healthy fear of the Left-wing lest they be labelled communist, and when minorities knew our place.

For the last decade, the Republican party has encouraged the Tea Party wing of their party, for one simple reason: this constituency is a ready-made cohort of energized voters, which means an automatic bump at the polls and more money in the coffers. Rightly or wrongly, Tea Party voters came out in droves in the 2010 election, and delivered the House to Republicans.  And so, although their brand of Rightwing hate radio has been around for a long time prior to this last series of elections, we’ve seen a growing shift of even mainstream Republican media towards the extreme Right, in an effort to attract and retain Tea Party voters as the new Republican base. In return, empowered by the media attention, Tea Party voters have encouraged this movement of the GOP towards the Far Right, alienating the party’s middle-of-the-road Republicans. The net result is that now the Republican party is so far right that the GOP of today scarcely resembles the GOP of the mid-nineties.

The Republican party of today is one so contaminated with the hatred and anti-intellectualism of the Far Right that it’s become almost a prerequisite that Republican politicians vocally adopt far Right positions condemning abortion, denying climate change and evolution, supporting “traditional” marriage and blaming America’s woes on poor people and Brown people, chief among them President Obama. The Republican party of today is one where racist and homophobic rhetoric is commonplace, and one wherein a morally reprehensible defense of rape is a mere campaign inconvenience (when it should rightfully invalidate a person for public office). It is one whose chief talking points are bolstered by nothing more than hatespeech and wishful thinking, and that pooh-poohs the practices of science and fact-checking as the stuff of liberals. It is one that despises and dismisses 47% of this country’s population. The Republican party of today is a party that caters to the close-minded, the hateful, and the xenophobic.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slFZ8K2aBoY

In short, the Republican party of today has willfully become the party of stupid people and racists.

And, they wonder why voters of colour — even the typically independent Asian American voters — voted 3 to 1 for Democrats.

If Election 2012 accomplished anything positive for the Republican party, it is that it woken moderate Republicans out of their stupor and demonstrated the damage that the Tea Party conservatives and their oftentimes hateful ideology has wrought their party. And it will almost certainly result in the ejection of that same stupidity and hatred from the Republican platform, if the party hopes to survive.

The question is who in the Republican party will lead this charge?

Well, it clearly won’t be Mitt Romney. Shattered by his embarrassing campaign defeat, Romney has fired back with a fresh torrent of racist hatespeech. In a recent interview, Romney blamed his loss on voters and the Obama campaign, openly accusing President Obama of passing legislation serving as “gifts” to women, young, and Latino voters; and, openly accusing the 51% of the American voting public who supported President Obama of basically accepting bribes.

Like his now infamous 47% comment, this is Mitt Romney unscripted. And, like his now infamous 47% comment, this is clear evidence that Mitt Romney hates most of America.

But, Mitt Romney has aligned himself with the Republican Old Guard, and this kind of rhetoric — while gratifying for someone who has just lost a major political campaign and is now facing the end of his career in public office — cannot be the future of the Republican party. Election Night 2012 demonstrated just how far a platform of exclusion and intolerance will take this party.

Republicans need to appeal to –not blame — those voters that Romney classifies as the 47%. And this requires an open repudiation of Romney’s denigration of them.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a rising star in the GOP, has situated himself at the forefront of that GOP charge. In a powerful interview with Politico, Jindal chastised his party for their “dumbed-down conservativism” and urging them to stop “insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

Calling on the GOP to be “the party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,” the Louisianan urged the party to “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same. “

He added: “Simply being the anti-Obama party didn’t work. You can’t beat something with nothing. The reality is we have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions.”

Jindal, like a growing group of conservatives, are cautioning Republicans from reacting to their 2012 presidential loss with knee-jerk about-faces on issues like immigration reform designed to attract Latino voters to the Republican fold; Republicans like Jindal warn that such a move both is, and more importantly appears to be, shameless pandering that also communicates an unwillingness to actually understand the diversity of the American electorate.

Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, said the GOP “must reject identity politics” and “treat folks as individuals, as Americans, not as members of special interest groups.”

Raising Romney’s damaging comments about voters who don’t pay income taxes, Jindal urged the GOP to make clear they want the support of every American.

“The Republican Party is going to fight for every single vote,” he said. “That means the 47 percent and the 53 percent, that means any other combination of numbers going up to 100 percent.”

This message of inclusiveness is the necessary future of the GOP, and one that is much more in-keeping with the Republican party’s traditional position on small government and freedom for economic pursuit. Because, in truth, Right-wing ideology in its purest form is one that fails to see the distinctions of race, gender, and class; in its purest form, Right-wing ideology assumes that any interference by the federal government is the source of — rather than a solution for — imbalances in the citizenry’s access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, Republicanism also assumes (wrongly in the mind of Democrats) that in the absence of large government, everyone has equal access to opportunity.

(Democrats, of course, would assert that the role of government is to create and ensure equal access.)

In short, Republicans must find a way to return to its roots because this message of equality and inclusion is one that is (understandably) far more appealing to minority voters than the GOP’s current message of “blame all the voters who aren’t rich for not siding with us rich White folks”.

In terms of optics, Bobby Jindal may be the right man to help the Republican party find its way. The son of South Asian immigrants, Jindal is governor in a state where Asian Americans make up less than 2% of the population. His very presence on the Republican main-stage could serve as a visual suggestion that the new Republican party is one that is (at least to some extent) tolerant of non-White members in its ranks; a message that the GOP sorely needs to send to the American electorate.

But in practice, one wonders if Jindal is truly the right man to try and shift the ideology of the Republican party. In his positions, Jindal has been as vocally supportive of the GOP’s recent spate of hate rhetoric as other politicians. He has supported the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and rejects efforts to grant current illegal immigrants legal status as “amnesty”. Jindal has opposed embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage, and has gone so far as to support legislation instituting a formal ban of both. Jindal is fervently pro-life (which he credits to his Catholic faith), although he does support exceptions in situations of rape or when they mother’s life is at risk. He supports the teaching of intelligent design in public education.

In short, if Bobby Jindal is the new face of the Republican party, will it be because the Republican party itself will shift away from its divisive, exclusive rhetoric of the last twenty years? Or will it indicate the new direction of the Republican party is only cosmetic, with the same old hatespeech now spouted from the mouths of the party’s token brown faces?

If the former, it remains unclear to me how Jindal, who is clearly angling to become the new de facto leader of the Republican party and a 2016 contender for the White House, can reconcile his current record (which falls too often on the anti-scientific and anti-intellectual side of many issues) with his recent urging that the GOP reject “dumbed-down conservatism. Perhaps he will perform an about-face on the politics of his past and shift both himself and his party towards the center? Or, perhaps he can find some (as yet unknown) way to defend his positions in a rational and inclusive way to voters of diverse viewpoints, including those who would disagree with him.

Either way, what is clear is that if things continue along this track, we could very possibly see the first mainstream (and therefore viable) Asian American candidate for the presidency in the next decade. And, he could very well come from the  Republican party.

Bobby Jindal, you’ve got four years to make it happen.

Related: Bobby Jindal’s vision for the future of the GOP, in his own words.

Mars Rover Curiousity Lands On Mars — Will This Inspire Improved Funding of Science in the U.S.?

In the wee hours of the morning today, NASA landed an SUV-sized robotic rover on the surface of Mars. The rover, dubbed “Curiousity”, survived a 7-minute automated landing plan — without possible input or guidance from mission control on Earth — to touch its wheels on Mars. News of Curiousity’s successful landing was confirmed when the rover began transmitting images from Mars’ surface.

One of the first images of Mars' surface, as viewed from the cameras mounted on Curiousity.

This is incredible — a true testament to the power of science to overcome obstacles. Said John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

There’s a one-ton piece of American ingenuity and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.

It’s true. Not only did NASA scientists overcome several critical scientific and logistical roadblocks in landing a vehicle of scientific exploration on a planet more than 300 million miles away, but it did so in a climate of reduced scientific funding in this country. They did so in a climate of American scientific apathy, when the news cycle is more fascinated by Octomom and Kristin Stewart’s infidelity than they are in covering American scientific breakthroughs. They did so in a political atmosphere of willfull scientific ignorance, when the facts of evolution, climate change and stem cell research are questioned (if not openly denied) to score political points. And finally, NASA landed a one-ton robot on Mars despite an era of significant budget cuts by the federal government that have impacted all fields of science in this country.

It’s fitting, to me, that the rover that landed this morning was given the moniker “Curiousity”. Curiousity — the child-like wonder that still captures our imagination when faced with the unknown — is exactly what science is (and should be) about. Science shouldn’t be weaponized, or monetized, or belong only to the privileged wealthy few. Scientific findings should belong to the public so that it can benefit and further our basic understanding of the world we live in. Curiousity and intellect are traits that uniquely defines Homo sapiens; we are literally “the thinking ape”. Science at its core is a pursuit that fulfills, and advances, the basic motivations of our species.

With the ongoing trend of scientific disinterest and willful ignorance, where science takes a backseat to political maneuvering, in-fighting, and bickering, science is losing its role as a collective public good. Over the years, private enterprises — which, by definition, are driven by the profit motive — have overtaken the federal government as the primary source of scientific funding in this country.

Private industry now makes up the vast majority of scientific funding sources, compared to the 1960's, during the heyday of the "Space Race".

Two years ago, NASA announced that — facing significant budget cuts — it had decided to indefinitely halt manned space missions. A tradition of space missions that began with a small bootprint on the surface of the moon and a giant leap forward for all mankind, came to a close within my lifetime.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYEXTBf9NRw

Instead, manned space missions will now be outsourced to private companies, in a move that is likely to one day give birth to space tourism for rich people.

Private industries can make significant headway in certain areas of science, since internal funding for individual projects can remain much more constant from year-to-year. But, in industry, several factors also limit the kinds of projects that receive funding: projects are not submitted for external peer-review prior to funding (which typically serves to improve the initial conception and experimental design of a project), and projects are funded primarily according to their likely profitability rather than for their scientific merit. And most importantly, scientific findings made by private industry are typically copyrighted; unlike publicly-funded scientists, private industry is not required to share their findings in a manner that could be expanded upon and/or benefit the work of their scientific peers. Private industries are motivated to identify new drug compounds (if not the pathophysiology of the diseases they are designed to treat), computer chips and weapons. And don’t get me wrong: these are all worthy goals that have their place in science.

However, the landing of an SUV-sized rover on Mars merely to find out whether or not the planet was ever capable of sustaining life brings with it little promise of profit. One wonders if private enterprise would have ever funded such a mission.

In 2008, President Obama was elected in part with the promise to improve scientific funding in this country.

Depicted above are President Obama's proposed budgetary changes to the major federal granting institutions in this country. Except for the CDC, President Obama promised to significantly increase funding to almost all agencies.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even under President Obama’s leadership, scientific funding has remained largely stagnant when viewed over the last several decades.

Nature, science's premiere scientific journal, published this infographic showing trends in scientific funding over the last 20 or so years.

Last year, NIH’s budget was slashed by $320 million (or 1% of its total annual budget), which NIH Director Francis Collins testified would likely result in the funding rate of new grants dropping from to below 20% for the first time ever. NIH success rates — the percentage of submitted scientific proposals that receive funding — is a well-accepted indirect measure of the strength of overall federal funding for the sciences.

NIH grant success rates plummeted during the Bush years and show no signs of improving as Obama's first term comes to a close.

The budget cuts are also anticipated to put a virtual halt to the funding of new projects next year, and we’ve already seen an impact of budget cuts since I’ve been a young investigator. Funded grants have their budgets unexpectedly slashed from year-to-year, and earlier this year, a scientific conference that received a score that almost guaranteed funding (which is used to reimburse travel costs for invited speakers) suddenly found that the agency had its funding source suspended, resulting in a desperate last-minute scramble by the conference organizers to secure sponsorships from private industry  just weeks before the conference’s scheduled start-date.

And, as I write this post, I received in my inbox an email from the Coalition for Life Sciences, a scientific political advocacy group whose mission is to organize scientists to reach out to our political representatives on topics of scientific funding and research. The CLS notes that:

  • Scientific funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is at an all-time low, and funding for FY13 is expected to remain flat.
  • Devastating, automatic cuts in federal government spending are set to go into effect in January 2013. This action called sequestration resulted from the failure of Congress to agree upon a deficit reduction plan in 2011. In the event of sequestration, NIH could face an additional 8% funding cut. This could mean a reduction by a quarter in the number of new and competing renewal grants funded by NIH in FY13. Click here for more information on sequestration.

The fact that funding of science by America has plummeted over the last decade is a significant indication that science — as a field — is floundering in this country. Lack of proper scientific funding will severely hamper not only the very act of scientific pursuit, but the quality of the science that will emerge for years to come. I’m already seeing the first impacts of the bleak funding outlook for scientists: faced with the low income of most scientists (most of us doctorates can look forward to making about as much money as a manager of your local fast-food joint for several years after graduating) and the growing difficulty of getting new grants funded (the bread-and-butter of young up-and-coming investigators), more and more gifted scientific minds of my generation are leaving public science for private industry jobs, or are leaving science altogether. The impact of this hemorrhagic exodus of young investigators away from science is virtually unpredictable, but is almost certain to impact America’s already poor scientific and educational standing worldwide.

So, today, NASA landed a Mars rover on Mars. And, yes, this is a testament to American ingenuity, and another leap forward for mankind’s scientific understanding of our neighbouring planets in the solar system.

But, as Curiousity continues to transmit new images from the surface of Mars, I urge us all to not just celebrate this individual achievement. This breakthrough didn’t happen in a vacuum; it is made all the more astounding given the political obstacles that NASA scientists faced in making the Curiousity mission a reality. As we move forward from today, I urge all of us — scientists and non-scientists alike — to draw a line in the political sand.

Curiousity cannot just be the name of an isolated unmanned scientific mission to Mars. Scientific curiousity should remain a defining characteristic of our species, one that remains strong due to constant political and economic support by our leaders. My parents watched the first manned space mission to the moon, only to have their children witness the ending of manned space missions. I hope that I didn’t just witness one of the most ambitious landings of an unmanned robot on Mars, only to have my children witness the further deterioration of scientific pursuits within their lifetime.

Act Now! The Coalition for Life Sciences website has a great tool for identifying and contacting your political representatives on the topic of improved scientific funding. You can also write a letter to the editor in your local newspaper, and come November, remember that it is members of the Republican party that, right now, is permitting the automated budget cuts next year that will slash scientific funding. If you’re a Democrat or Independent, I urge you to vote Democrat; if you’re a concerned Republican, I urge you to contact your Republican candidate and encourage them to protect funding of the sciences.