Monday, March 04, 2013

An Open Letter to Republicans

“I’m very disappointed with Governor Romney’s analysis... we didn’t lose Asian-Americans because they got any gifts.  This is the hardest-working and most successful ethnic group in America — they ain’t into gifts.”      --Newt Gingrich

Dear Republicans:

Like all stereotypes, this one has its exceptions.  Not all Asians are successful, just as not all Asians are “nerds”.  But hey, being stereotyped as successful is better than the alternative, so we’ll take it.

What’s more, the "successful" stereotype is based on some truths.  (Alert:  what follows contains some generalities, so if you prefer, insert “frequently” or “a majority of” or “in general” wherever it makes sense. )  Most Asian cultures place a fanatic emphasis on education and upward mobility.  It’s not always fun---just ask any Asian kid who isn’t allowed to hang out with his classmates after school.  Also, perhaps because of tradition, we tend to maintain intact families—happy or not.  And we have little tolerance for the stupid antics most Americans consider normal for teenagers.  As Gingrich observed so succinctly, we grow up with a strong work ethic, which makes companies want to hire us.  So, if we take your rhetoric about "family values" and “personal responsibility” literally, we should be natural Republicans.  Why, then, did 75% of Asians "refudiate" you?

Let’s leave aside that fact that your notion of “takers” is a shameful canard (are veterans, retirees, students and working-class people who haven’t caught their break all takers)? Lots of people you call "makers”—not just Asians–-voted Democratic.  Let’s call these people “honorary Asians"--they share our values, so why not?  Seen that way, the 3% of voters who are ethnic Asians symbolize a much larger voting bloc.  You might think you can put off dealing with us for another election or two, but if you count all the "honorary Asians", that may not work so well for you.

Your ongoing bout of so-called self-examination doesn't offer any answers.  You think the problem is purely about messaging:  "If we just sound a little less hostile, run a few more ethnic candidates, and keep morons like Todd Akin off the airwaves, everything will be ok!"  From David Brooks to Marco Rubio, you are convinced that Romney was just a bad candidate.  All you have to do is stick to your "conservative" principles, get the message right, and you'll be just fine…right?

I have news for you.  It’s not just your tone.  It’s your ideology, whatever you choose to call it.  You see, we Asians are generally conservative in our outlook, so we know conservative when we see it, and you ain’t it.  Let’s start with the most charged issue of all, so we can get it out of the way:

We do not like abortion. So, we raise our kids to be careful and to have self-respect. Trying to keep them ignorant is NOT part of the solution.  Have you noticed that countries which teach their kids about sex have less abortions?  No, of course you haven’t, because FOX dismisses that as communist/islamo-fascist/anticolonial propaganda.  Well, actually, it’s the truth.  And, when someone does need an abortion, we believe it is a private matter.  When you stake a claim on a woman's body, that is not conservatism.  It is Big Government overreach at its worst.  Got that?   By the way, many of us emigrated from countries where governments try to control private behavior.  We have had enough of that for several centuries.

Then there is public education.  We believe in it!  That is how most of us have made it.    By the way, it is also a big reason America became Numero Uno.  In our ancestral countries, education was unavailable to the masses and so, guess what: the masses were poor--and so were those countries.  So, what are you doing, destroying public education here, even as our ancestral countries are finally racing to catch up?  And stop lying to us about "reform".  Yes, public education needs reform, but you don’t want reform, you want destruction.  Many of you have slipped up and admitted it.  Remember the old saying, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime?”  That used to be the Republican mantra.  Now it’s “Take away the damn fishing pole, you're just coddling him.”

Regarding education:  One of the bothersome things about it is that it doesn’t always confirm what you already "know".  What would be the point?  We want schools that encourage our kids to think, to weigh the evidence.  Come to think of it, if folks like Columbus hadn’t challenged what everyone “knew”, ie., that the earth was flat, the good ol’ USA wouldn’t be here.

Here’s where we get to talk about science class.  We understand that many of you believe in the biblical story of creation.  Guess what:  Many Asian-Americans are evangelical Christians—did you know that?  But we don’t confuse science and religion.   The military and technological supremacy of the U.S. owes itself to its embrace of science, and to its embrace of all the immigrants who came here because their own countries tried to shackle their minds.   Why do you want to take science out of our schools, and teach our kids to ignore evidence, whether about evolution, climate change, teen pregnancy, or anything else, for that matter?  Ignorance leads to serfdom.  Sorry, we experienced that where we came from.  We don't need it here.

Speaking of immigrants,  will you stop trying to shut the doors?  Even the most conservative members of the Chamber of Commerce know that immigrants are the life-blood of our economy, the spark in our most innovative industries.  You can lie all you want, but our immigrants are “makers”, not “takers”. When America stops welcoming immigrants, what will make us different from the backward and xenophobic places our ancestors fled?

We believe in infrastructure.  Have you been to China?  Their rise has been super-charged by investment in telecommunications, highways, trains, airports and utilities.  Go ahead, call it socialism, but it is a big reason the Chinese are breathing down our necks. The fact that you consider investment in these things a “gift” to “takers” is cause for astonished laughter over there.  They are trying eat our lunch, and you’re going to serve it to them!

We believe in tolerance.   A lot of Asians, unfortunately, are as racist and homophobic as you are, but we consider it a private matter.   Because of, not in spite of, our conservative outlook, we don't believe in using government to impose our personal values on other people.  We emigrated from countries where governments exploited intolerance to to keep certain groups down.  When you incite hatred of Blacks, Latinos, or Gays, we know we could be next—in fact, we’ve experienced it.  The whole point of America is that everyone has a fair shot at making it.  Your rhetoric about personal responsibility is a scam: What you really mean is that government should abandon its responsibility to protect everyone's fair shot.  That is not conservatism, it is “refudiating” the whole reason our ancestors and yours came to this country.

Do you notice a pattern here?  We don't like your politics because you remind us of the backward places where our ancestors came from.  Some of those were really bad places.  We wonder whether you appreciate, as much as we do, what makes America special.   You can't fool us by waving the flag, when your words and actions send a different message.  We have worked our butts off to be worthy of the opportunities this country has given us.   So when you say that you love America more than the rest of us, it makes us want to gag.

There are some things we agree on.  Most Asians don't like ethnic identity politics, which is why we have so few advocacy groups, and fewer political representatives.

We think tenure for teachers is a bad idea, unless they’ve proven themselves for much longer than two years, which is currently the bar for getting tenure in many districts.  But we also think the good ones should be paid more.  A lot more.

We don't like contrived multiculturalism.   We accept that English is the de facto national language of the U.S., so we make sure our kids grow up speaking perfect English.  We don't get all resentful about it.

We don't like indulgences like "self-esteem" classes and armies of “grief counselors” on the public payroll.  Self-esteem comes from meeting challenges and succeeding.  And humans have had to deal with grief since we could walk—we don’t need poorly trained strangers to help us.

We don't need feminists preaching that boys and girls are the same.  That would be a disservice to our girls, who are outperforming your boys in school by embarrassingly huge margins.

We believe in "family values".  On average, we appear to be doing a better job of living up to those values than what you consider “real America”.  When your teen pregnancy rates and divorce rates are as low as ours, and your kids' graduation rates are as high as ours, and your politicians stop getting caught with gay prostitutes, then we'll sit down to talk family values—but not on FOX.  We’ll take you out for a beer instead.

Finally, we are fiscal conservatives.  We take pride in living below our means, not above.  The credit binge that put this country in such a hole spared most of us, by our choice.  If you were sincere about balanced budgets, we might vote for you.  The 25% of us who did vote for you probably hoped you could get the fiscal house in order.  Of course, the last time you controlled the government, you dug us into two wars and a Medicare expansion without paying for them, and you did so with a smirk.  Meanwhile, you bribed the voters with tax cuts, knowing many would be stupid enough not to ask questions.  Why should we take your rhetoric about balancing the budget at face value?  It is time you step up with some honest suggestions.  And yes, taxes are probably part of that.  We know a lot of us will bear some of that burden.  That is part of taking care of our country.

Go ahead, whine that I am suggesting you abandon conservative principles.  Please.  True conservatism starts with staying out of our private lives, our spiritual lives, our bodies and our relationships.  It means not allowing any one group to impose its norms and religion on any other group.  (Remember the Pilgrims? Google “Mayflower” if you need a refresher.)  It means government investing where (and only where) the private sector is not the best solution.  Now, the list of things we want government to do seems to include some things not on your list.  That’s ok.  As it happens, our list is based on history, not ideological obsession.  Remember the GI Bill, Eisenhower, and the national highway system?   Please, get back on the side of progress, where you were a generation ago.

Asians tend to be apolitical.  We are party-switchers.  A few elections ago, we mostly voted Republican.  We don't care which "team" wins.  The Democrats are engaged in a bit too much gloating.  They won a close election, but they will sooner or later mess up.  The party on top always does.  That is no reason for you to sit back and wait, rather than make a sincere effort to reform.  The Democrats did it in the ‘90’s, at the risk of alienating some of their core constituencies.  Their ability to evolve (ooh, there’s that word!) saved their party--and is also one of the reasons you hate Bill Clinton so much.  You need to take a lesson from him and find a way to evolve, too.

If you want to win back our votes, a simpler, narrower definition of what you stand for would be a great start.  Here's a suggestion:  Stick to the ideas of fiscal responsibility and a sober foreign policy, and tell the intolerant and dictatorial elements of your own party, the “know-nothings” and haters, that they no longer control the agenda.  If you can do this, you will find yourself winning back a lot of "Asians", both the ethnic kind and the honorary kind.