Why "Asians" Aren't Republicans: Response to Rob Long & Charles Murray
(This picture has little to do with the subject, but... hey, why not?)
Rob Long sets us up a bomb on the main feed by asking why Asians aren't already Republicans. Then he quotes Charles Murray, he of the Bell Curve and Coming Apart fame, who thinks the reason is because the Republican brand is dominated by social conservatives:
This time I will explicitly offer a broader argument and then give the numbers. My thesis is that the GOP is in trouble across the electoral board because it has become identified in the public mind with social conservatism. Large numbers of Independents and Democrats who are naturally attracted to arguments of fiscal discipline, less government interference in daily life, greater personal responsibility, and free enterprise refuse to vote for Republicans because they are so put off by the positions and rhetoric of social conservatives, whom they take to represent the spirit of the “real” GOP.
I use Asian-Americans as an example of how powerfully this antipathy can alienate a naturally conservative voting bloc. Let it be clear: The causal link with social conservatism is asserted here, not proved. But the GOP had better take the hypothesis seriously.
And in the comments following Rob Long's post, various theories are floated by distinctly non-"Asian" folks, ranging from the idea that we're Confucianists, that we're all about illegal immigration, and so on.
Look, I can't speak for all "Asian-Americans" (a term fraught with peril, as we will shortly discuss), but having been a raging Marxist, and then a stereotypical Left-Progressive, and then a sorta-confused-squish-center-right and finally (so far) a "radical" Tea Party conservative ... I'll offer some thoughts here as to why "Asian-Americans" are not Republicans.
1. There Ain't No Such Thing as an Asian-American
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. 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.
2. So Let's Talk about the Northeast Triad
Confining myself then to the Northeast Triad, which I know best, I do think Charles Murray makes an excellent point. But I think he misses the larger operating principle. (I think I'll call the NE Triad - Chinese, Japanese, and Korean -- by the term "Asian-American" since that's what most of y'all would think anyhow.)
It isn't that the Republican brand stands for Bible-thumping, anti-abortion, gay-bashers ... as much as it is that the Republican brand stands for stupidity. Again, this is a stereotype that is ludicrously inaccurate, but there's a reason why George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were attacked so viciously as being unintelligent. Why Richard Mourdock (whom I've met, and is a very thoughtful, very intelligent man) and Todd Akin were attacked not just as sexist, but as stupid and ignorant.
Now, speaking from personal experience, the distinguishing feature of Asian-American culture is the degree of importance we attach to academic achievement (which, by the way, is distinct from intelligence or common sense). There is literally no profession that is more revered than that of college professor. My entire childhood and teenage years were devoted to getting into the right college, and after that, the pressure was to become a professor of some sort or another. My parents were distinctly disappointed when I chose to go to law school instead of pursuing a Ph.D.
So reverence for teachers and professors is something that was/is very much stressed in Asian cultures. Imagine, then, what the influence of one's college professors at a place like, say, Princeton would be on an Asian-American young person.
Even if, however, one doesn't end up an academic, that whole attitude towards academic success, towards intelligence, towards credentials infuses our culture. It bleeds through outside of academic/intellectual circles. Two examples.
One of the few successful post-Boomer Asian-American authors is Chang-Rae Lee, who wrote, among others, Native Speaker and Aloft. My parents, uncles, and aunts told me about him. Dude is Exeter - Yale, and teaches at Princeton. They don't know Amy Tan, don't know Michiko Kikutani, but they do know the Yalie.
Why exactly do you suppose that Asian-American fans went nuts for Jeremy Lin? It wasn't just because he was ethnically Chinese. Hines Ward is ethnically Korean; Tiger Woods is ethnically Thai. No Asian-American went nuts over them. Hint: it has to do with where Linsanity got his BA.
3. It's Not the Social Conservatism; It's the Perception of Anti-Intellectualism
So I disagree with the esteemed Professor 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 the 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 the Republican Party, and the conservative movement in general, embrace American culture. Things like the NFL, NASCAR, bowling, hunting, fishing. All are wonderful, and there are brilliant men and women who 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.
Personal anecdote time. A good friend of mine is a doctor, living in a deep red state. He's a second-generation Korean-American who graduated from Yale. He's an evangelical Christian, married to an evangelical Christian (who happens to be white, from Texas, and a doctor). His parents came here with $50 in their pockets, worked their butts off, and passed on the immigrant work ethic to him. He's fiscally conservative. He's socially conservative. He voted for Romney. That Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationist that Murray rails against? That's him.
He's not a Republican. He voted for Obama in '08.
If you can't get that guy to be a Republican, then kicking out every social conservative won't make a whit of difference.
4. So, How To Appeal to Asian-Americans
That's all fine and dandy, but ... what do we Republicans do about this?
My answer, as the "target market", is to stop trying the divide and conquer ethnic tribal game of the Left. The Right is no good at it. And it goes against the very principles of liberty.
The Right is supposed to, at least, stand for the proposition that the only unit of society that truly matters and deserves special protection is the individual. It's the Left that stands for ethnic, gender, sexual, linguistic, whatever collectivism of one kind or another. Don't try to out-Walmart Walmart.
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 "Asianess" (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.
Recruit some new leaders out of the campus Christian movements. I guarantee that you'll find some "Asian-Americans" at our elite universities who can be groomed into real positions of influence.
And take back our campuses. Do whatever that takes.