Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smarter Not Harder

As Republicans sift through the smoldering ruins of the 2012 elections looking for clues as to what went wrong and why, one of the obvious causes that has emerged is the party’s pitiful performance with minority voters. Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters went overwhelming for President Obama and provided the decisive margins of his victory, particularly in battleground states. While there has been a lot of analysis among Republicans about what they need to do to better appeal to the first two categories of minority voters, until this year the GOP’s struggles with Asian voters have largely been ignored.

It’s a different story this time around.

Just this week, Charles Murray had a piece called Why aren’t Asians Republicans? at AEI.

Rob Long followed on with Asian is the New Republican at Ricochet.

And today TheSophist had a post at Ricochet called Why "Asians" Aren't Republicans: Response to Rob Long and Charles Murray.

Before offering up his theory on why Asians weren’t Republicans, he offered a good perspective on the folly of trying to squeeze such a geographically and culturally diverse group of people into a single ethnic bucket (the same is true for Hispanics).

The first point that must be made is that there is no such creature as an "Asian-American", at least not yet. I am a Korean-American. My wife is Chinese-American. My kids are Chorean-Americans. Neither of us know jack diddly squat about Vietnamese culture or language.

Confucianism is an important cultural element... for Northeast Asians, such as Chinese, Koreans, and to some extent, Japanese societies. I have no idea whether Indians, Pakistanis, Thai, Cambodians and Bangladeshis are influenced at all by Confucius -- but I'm going to lean towards No.

Barkha Herman asked in the comments whether Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal are not Asians.
As the term is used here in the U.S., as opposed to in the UK, the answer is no. Sorry, you can try to be PC about it, but that's just the truth. No Indian walks into a Korean restaurant and feels "at home"; no Japanese guy goes to a Pakistani grocery to buy his miso.

So that's #1. There's no such thing as an "Asian-American", although the political forces of both Left and Right would dearly love to create such a thing. (I had raging fights with my school back in my university days, protesting the idea of "Dean of Asian-American Students".)

To the extent, then, that Murray or Rob Long or most folks think about "Asian-Americans", they really mean the dominant Northeast Triad of China, Japan, and Korea. (In Houston and SoCal, Vietnamese would be the 4th, but don't forget the large numbers of Viet-ching, i.e., Vietnamese of Chinese descent).

For example, all of the stats about success in education did not apply all that well to Southeast Asians (Vietnamese, Cambodians, Filipinos, Hmong, etc.) which caused all sorts of issues for "Asian-Americans" talking about stereotypes.

He goes on to disagree with Murray’s diagnosis that the problem is the Republicans focus on social issues. Instead, he thinks it has more to do with the anti-intellectual pose that some in the GOP like to strike. At least as far as what he calls the “Northeast Triad” of Asians is concerned (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese).

So I disagree with the esteemed Prof. Murray. I don't think that evangelicals and social conservatives hurt the Republican brand with Asian-Americans. After all, have you ever stepped foot in a campus ministry meeting on our elite college campuses? Huge chunks of IVCF, CCC, and other evangelical student movements are Asian-Americans.

No, I think the problem is that very significant elements of "Republican" brand have an anti-intellectual bias to them. For example, the "brand identity" of Catholic priests (especially Jesuits) is that of rigorous classical scholarship; the "brand identity" of evangelical ministers is televangelists with mega-churches and rock bands. I love me some Joel Osteen, but I don't think anyone confuses him for an intellectual.

Elements of Republican party, and the conservative movement in general, embrace American culture. Things like the NFL, NASCAR, bowling, hunting, fishing. All are wonderful, and brilliant men and women love all of those things. But the patina of perception around such American culture is one of physical vs. intellectual, of body vs. brain.

And... let's be honest here. There are some elements of the conservative movement that look down on the pinhead credentialed intelligentsia that come up with some of the most ridiculous stuff ever seen.

His solution to the problem is not to try to pander to Asian-Americans with ethnic appeals, but rather to showcase smart conservatives who can make intellectual arguments for the cause. If these folks happen to be Asian-Americans themselves so much the better, but there need not be a “one of us” test.

Instead, if we want to have our arguments taken seriously by Asian-Americans, send out our most credentialed, most intellectual spokespeople. Send out Paul Rahe. Send out John Yoo. Send out Richard Epstein. Have them defend the principles of liberty, principles of conservatism (well, at least libertarianism in the case of Epstein), while festooned with all the sheepskin from all the right institutions.

Stop thinking of "Asian-Americans" as some group that you need to send "one of our own" to speak to. Bobby Jindal is a fantastic guy, but he ain't "one of mine". Nikki Haley is awesome, but she doesn't "look like me". John Yoo does look like me, but don't expect him to be the spokesperson to the Filipino-American community, just because of his "Asianness" (since there's no such thing.) No, send us the white-as-the-driven-snow Peter Robinson of Stanford University.

Socially conservative views, policies, and philosophies may need to be promoted and defended on intellectual battlegrounds, rather than on "Well, the Good Book says so". It isn't as if there aren't intellectual giants in the SoCon world; it's just that the Republican brand doesn't incorporate them as much.

Sounds good in theory. In practice, these prescriptions usually prove difficult to deliver effectively. Whatever the eventual outcome, it’s good to see Republicans recognizing this as a problem and looking for answers. The on-going discussion has been a good one and since this last post was at Ricochet, the comments actually add to the conversation.