Sunday, November 11, 2012

Asians and the Republicans

In all the ruminating over the scope and nature of this past election, one thing that most commentators have agreed on is that the Republicans have badly damaged their brand when it comes to groups traditionally viewed as "minorities":  Blacks, Latinos, Asians and the majority-minority, women.  David Brooks and others have suggested that Asians, the smallest but fastest-growing of these blocs, are natural Republican constituents (industrious, self-reliant, with strong families and respect for elders) but that we may not identify with the GOP's rugged-individualism meme because we come from societies with a "collectivist" view of progress.  I think this misses the mark.  As anyone knows who is of Asian descent or who spends as much time in China as I do, the Chinese, despite the "socialist" label on their government, are not in their hearts collectivist.  And some vague notion of collectivism does not explain the vehemence with which we rejected the Republicans.

The reason many of us rejected the Republicans comes down to one major issue: Education.  Most of us are one or a few generations removed from abject poverty.  For those of us who have made it, education was our ladder.  For those still struggling, education is their hope.  The Asian "model minority" stereotype is too simplistic, and ignores the real struggles many Asians face in finding upward mobility, but it contains more than a grain of truth.  There is a reason why Asian kids so handily top the test scores and grading curves in our schools.  It is because they come from homes where there is no option but to do your best in school.  Many Asian kids pay a price: Just as happened a generation ago, Asians continue to be bullied and taunted as "nerds" and "geeks".  Asian boys face especially tough odds in a culture where learning is seen as a "sissy" activity.  The fact that they persist is a testament to grit and determination. 

So when we are confronted with a political party which scorns academic achievement, glorifies ignorance, and demonizes intellectuals, we are horrified.  And when we hear public schools dismissed as a giveaway to "takers", we are offended.  All the industriousness in the world matters not if there is no school available to teach your kids.  None my friends and colleagues grew up in families that could have afforded private schools, even if their parents had believed in them.  We are not takers.  We believe education is something we all owe our children, and incidentally, it helps them become "makers".

But the issue runs broader than this.  Education is closely tied up with science and rationality.  This was the gift of the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment is the one great contribution of Western civilization most appreciated by the Asian immigrants to this country.  So when the party that wants to destroy the public schools also denies the theory of evolution, and insists in the face of all evidence that climate change is a hoax, we see something more than horrifying ignorance.  We see a frightening nihilism, a willingness to destroy our country and the world simply to make a point.  Irrationality can be cute when when it concerns the trivial.  It is not acceptable when our world may be at stake.

The Democratic party is far from perfect on education.  One of its pillars, the teachers' unions, long ago went astray, giving us seniority systems that protect bad teachers, locking our pedagogy into a narrow template based on their pet theories of teaching, and ignoring subject-matter expertise as a criterion for teacher qualification.  This has hurt the many great teachers who try to work within the system, and has hurt our kids.  But the solution is not to destroy the unions.  It is to fix them.  Ironically, Obama, this president who has been demonized as a socialist and union stooge, is the first major politician to take on the teachers' unions in a way that might actually bring constructive change.  He has talked of doubling teacher pay in exchange for their willingness to give up the current tenure system.  That would be a wonderful start.

And so, not only do the Republicans present a wholly unacceptable front on matters of education and science, but we happen to have in Obama the first national political leader who seems to "get it".  For a voting bloc that cares about education, far more than we worry about our tax bill, doesn't it seem obvious why we went 3:1 for the Democrats?

Thursday, November 08, 2012


The mainstream media have bought into the meme that our current state of polarization is equally the fault of both sides. Certainly, if one listens to the current mix of commentators or reads the blogs, one could agree. However, this ignores how we got here. The truth is that the modern tactics of personal destruction and wholesale misdirection were formulated and perfected by conservatives, some of them working in well-funded think tanks and employing sophisticated linguistic and psychological analysis. This happened to correspond to a period when the Democrats unilaterally disarmed. Ironically, in the long run that may have helped the Democrats more than it did the Republicans.

One of Bill Clinton's major achievements was to marginalize and even excise from the Democratic party its worst and most vitriolic elements. In doing so he helped make it a more serious party, and also saved it from extinction. One of the reasons Republicans hated Clinton so much is that they were afraid of exactly that.  The Republicans have gone through no such reformation, and the media do us a disservice in not pointing out the difference. Yes, there is now an emerging cadre of liberal commentators who have adopted similar methods of ridicule and ad-hominem destruction, but they are not the drivers of the liberal polity, and they are comparative amateurs at the art.  And they are largely reactionary.

Perversely, even while ratcheting up the viciousness of their attacks, conservatives have adopted all the language of aggrieved, persecuted minorities. This in spite of the fact that they still largely represent those who have the biggest bite of the apple. They scream about "dictatorship" and call their listeners to stock up on guns.  The question is:  what did everyone else do to merit such loathing?

As far as I can tell, all that the most hated groups (blacks, latinos, feminists, gays) did was ask to be invited to the dance. Civil rights was about black people wanting membership in our society. Feminism was about women wanting admission to the club. Gay rights are about gay people wanting simply to be treated as human beings. Yet they are slandered as "takers", "feminazis", and worse, and those who stand with them are attacked as anti-American traitors and terrorists. 

Yes, liberals can be vicious and condescending. But it has always been from a position of weakness, from the standpoint of someone who just wants to stand on level ground, NOT from the standpoint of someone who wants to put others down. With the exception of a few, marginal aberrations (eg., the Black Panthers), organizations associated with the cause of inclusion have not advocated the destruction of the ruling class.  They have simply asked to be included in the discussion.  Have their methods been the right ones? Often not. Multiculturalism courses; ethnic-studies; the insistence that boys and girls are the same until we corrupt them; public funding of "grief counselors"; self-esteem training--all of this has been rightly called out by conservatives as so much rubbish. But all of these things were part of a broader mission, which is to help groups that were excluded find a footing as equals in our society. Never has it been the policy of liberals to tell other groups to go back where they came from, or worse, to drop dead.

The Democratic party has major failings. It has never been close to incorporating fiscal discipline into its world view. Conservative rants that liberals just want to be "Santa Claus" have a grain of truth. But that is not a failing that comes even close to the moral depravity it takes to defend racial, gender and religious hatred. Conservatives have learned to cloth that hatred in phrases like "personal responsibility" and "family values", but the fact is that their policy positions have too often amounted to defending violence against groups that don't look or think like them.