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Presidential Election 2012

By Sadanand Dhume and Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Sadanand Dhume and Parthiv N. Parekh
October 2012
Presidential Election 2012

Part 1: Opinion
Why Indian-Americans Should Pick Romney
By Sadanand Dhume

As we enter the home stretch of the presidential election, one group whose support President Barack Obama can apparently take for granted is Indian-Americans. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 65 percent of the 2.85 million-strong community self-identifies as Democratic or Democratic-leaning. Fewer than one in five see themselves as Republicans. In 2008, a whopping 84 percent of Indian-Americans voted for Obama, one of the highest proportions of any ethnic group in America. Four years later, despite the weak economy, two-thirds of Indian-Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance. Only about a fifth disapprove. Anecdotal evidence suggests that support for Romney in the community is weak.

Wisdom, however, does not always lie with crowds. For those accustomed to viewing politics through the prism of race—with non-white minorities expected to line up robotically behind Democrats—a pronounced lean toward Obama may not seem surprising. In fact, it’s utterly illogical. Interests, values, and history all suggest that the natural political home for Indian-Americans is the Grand Old Party. With a little effort and the right arguments, the Romney-Ryan campaign ought to be able to make inroads into a community that, though still relatively small in absolute numbers, represents the fastest-growing segment of America’s fast-growing Asian-American population.

 From an Indian-American perspective, the case for President Mitt Romney consists of two parts. First, the GOP emphasis on entrepreneurship, low taxes, fiscal rectitude, and the nuclear family makes the party a better fit than the Democratic Party for most members of the community. Second, Romney represents the moderate and plural wing of his party.

From an Indian-American perspective, the case for President Mitt Romney consists of two parts. First, the GOP emphasis on entrepreneurship, low taxes, fiscal rectitude, and the nuclear family makes the party a better fit than the Democratic Party for most members of the community. Second, Romney represents the moderate and plural wing of his party. If the evolution of the Republican Party toward a greater acceptance of ethnic and religious diversity is in Indian-American interests, then now is the time to step up and support the candidate who best represents this trend.

Why the GOP? To begin with, the Indian-American experience is proof, if any were needed, that America remains a land of opportunity. For all intents and purposes, the community is less than 50 years old—Indians began migrating to the United States in significant numbers only after it opened its doors to non-Europeans in 1965—but it has already carved out space for itself at the heart of American life. Look no further than Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo or Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, writers Jhumpa Lahiri or Atul Gawande, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Sabeer Bhatia and Romesh Wadhwani, or comedians Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari. In short, contrary to what the Left suggests, America is a fundamentally fair society that rewards hard work and talent.

Nor is this experience limited to a few outliers. In 2010, median household income for Indian-Americans was $88,000, compared to the national average of $49,800. Seven in ten Indian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to three in ten in the general population. Only 9 percent live in poverty, compared to the national average of 12.8 percent. And even if you step away from the doctors and software geeks, the archetypal Indian-American figure is a striver: a motel owner in Florida, a newsstand worker in New York, or a taxi driver in California. To put it bluntly, this is not the natural constituency for the party of food stamps, affirmative action, and welfare without work.

What about social values? The Pew survey finds that a minuscule 2.3 percent of Indian-American children are born to unmarried mothers—compared to 37 percent of children nationwide. More than nine out of ten Indian-American children live with married parents, compared with the national average of about six in ten. If the GOP is the party of the nuclear family—a Pew survey finds that 88 percent of Republicans say they have “old-fashioned values” about family and marriage, compared with just 60 percent of Democrats—then should it not also be the party of Indian-Americans?

Then there’s the question of India. Like most immigrants, Indian-Americans ought to view their ancestral homeland in the rearview mirror, but this does not preclude wishing India well or working toward closer ties between Washington and New Delhi.

To be fair to the Democratic Party, it is part of a broad bipartisan consensus that seeks a strong U.S.-India relationship. Nonetheless, it was a Republican president, George W. Bush, who went the extra mile for India in 2005 by backing a landmark civilian nuclear accord. And in general, Republicans have greater clarity about the threats democracies such as India face from the rise of an authoritarian China and the resurgence of radical Islam. On immigration, Democrats tend to favor restrictions on highly skilled immigration, the kind that affects Indian-Americans most directly, much more than business-friendly Republicans. As for trade, suffice to say that there is only one presidential candidate out there taking regular potshots at jobs outsourced to Bangalore. It’s not the guy who ran Bain Capital.

India ought to inform the community’s choices in a deeper sense, as well. The overwhelming majority of Indian-Americans are economic refugees who fled the wreckage of Nehruvian socialism for greener pastures. To describe Obama as a “Kenyan socialist,” as the Indian-American author Dinesh D’Souza did in 2010, may be a needlessly inflammatory exaggeration. But the president’s faith in big government, ceaseless castigation of “millionaires and billionaires,” and careless talk of “social Darwinism” should give the jitters to anyone who has experienced firsthand the policies that flow from such rhetoric.

Needless to say, not all Indian-Americans will be convinced by these arguments. That most live in reliably blue states such as California, New York, and New Jersey probably colors their perspective. Others have bought into a toxic culture of victimhood, despite the obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of Indian immigration came after the United States experienced the great civil rights victories of the 1960s. Others still may simply prefer the gaudy identity politics of the Democratic Party to the GOP’s quieter acceptance of all as Americans—with an emphasis, in an era of hyphenated identity, on what comes after the hyphen. And, of course, those for whom gay marriage and abortion rights matter more than the fiscal deficit or a strong military have good reason to prefer blue to red.

For its part, the Republican Party could do a better job of reaching out. Though the two most prominent Indian-American politicians in the country are Republicans—Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina—many Indian-Americans still seem more comfortable in the Democratic Party. Two years ago, all five Indian-Americans who ran for Congress (and lost) were Democrats. That both Jindal and Haley tend to wear their conversion to Christianity on their sleeves obliquely sends the message to some that the largely Hindu and Sikh Indian-American community may not be entirely welcome.

This year’s GOP convention in Tampa included an invocation by a Sikh priest. By nominating a Mormon to run for the presidency, the GOP has punctured the myth that it belongs only to fundamentalist Christians. 

In the end, though, these misgivings are misguided. This year’s GOP convention in Tampa included an invocation by a Sikh priest. By nominating a Mormon to run for the presidency, the GOP has punctured the myth that it belongs only to fundamentalist Christians. Romney’s landmark 2007 speech on religion in America shows that he understands the importance of religious pluralism more than most politicians. For his part, Paul Ryan was the only candidate on either presidential ticket to visit with the victims of August’s horrific shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. He also moved a resolution in the House condemning the shooting.

Moreover, no reasonable person can gainsay the fact that America’s prosperity and proud tradition of religious liberty owe their existence to a society built on a bedrock of Judeo-Christian values. Acknowledging this does not in any way reduce either a community’s space to practice its own faith, or the fact that the Enlightenment informed America’s founding principles. It merely underscores what ought to be blindingly obvious to most Indian-Americans: that the vast believing Christians have historically upheld pluralism in America.

To sum up, not much of substance tethers Indian-Americans to the Democratic Party or the Obama candidacy. Once the community begins to view the world through the prism of interests, values, and history, it will soon discover that it belongs more naturally in the GOP. By throwing their weight behind Romney, Indian-Americans will align their interests more clearly with their politics, and help the two-party system acquire a balance that’s good for America. This, rather than a reflexive embrace of the president, ought to inform the community’s choice in November.

Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  Follow him on Twitter @dhume01.   A shorter version of this essay was first published in The American. 


Part 2: Editorial
Seeing Through the Myths
By Parthiv N. Parekh

Remember the Atkins diet? At its peak, there were legions of dieters worshiping the Atkins god, singing praises of the promised land of slim waistlines and good health. Alas, the reality about the Atkins diet was far removed from its aura. Researchers later revealed its many hazards, and many even pronounced it downright dangerous.

Like the Atkins diet, we have our share of myths in politics. One that Indian-Americans may find particularly seductive is the perception of the Republican Party as pro-business, and hence the party of wealth creation.

Historically, though, this myth has no basis in fact.

It was precisely at the end of eight years of the most recent Republican presidency that the country was brought down to its knees financially. How can a party take a healthy budget surplus, and in just eight years, convert it into the most disastrous financial meltdown seen in over 70 years—if indeed it were the party of wealth creation? (A blind worship of tax cuts even through a costly preemptive war was one factor.)

Wealth and enterprise are synonymous with Indian-Americans. Ditto for Jewish Americans, another very prosperous and enterprising community. If the Republican Party were truly the better choice on these counts, why have these two—the wealthiest demographic groups in America—consistently aligned with the Democratic Party? Why do Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and a majority of billionaires prefer Democrats?

Could it be because these wealthy individuals see that what is good for the 99 percent is also good for the 1 percent, and not the other way around?

Take, for example, Republicans’ overzealous emphasis on tax cuts as the foundation of their economic policies. Tax incentives, the argument goes, help businesses, and so they hire. But would companies hire if no one is buying? It stands to reason that companies don’t make hiring decisions based so much on the tax structure, as they do on whether business is booming or not. To the extent there is a robust demand for their product, companies will hire—tax incentives or not. Conversely, no amount of tax incentives will make companies hire—if there is no demand for what they are selling.

At best, the tax structure can serve as a catalyst or a drag, but in either case, it is far overshadowed by consumer demand—the lifeblood of capitalism. And consumer demand is a function of the 99 percent, not the 1 percent. When the masses are well off, economies expand; when they are hurting, economies contract.

Not surprisingly a study by McGraw-Hill, a leading global financial information company, shows that markets have performed better in Democratic administrations. Since 1901, S&P 500 has averaged an annual growth of 12.1 percent in Democratic administrations versus just 5.1 percent during Republican ones. The same is true for corporate profits. Since 1932, the earnings per share of the S&P 500 climbed a median of 10.5 percent per year (Democrats) versus 8.9 percent (Republicans).

Like the Atkins diet, the myth that Republicans are the champions of business and the economy, stands in stark contrast with ground realities.

So does the myth that Democrats perpetuate the “freeloaders”—the 47 percent who don’t pay any personal income tax. Kyle Wingfield, the conservative columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, admits, “Conservative policy created much of the 47 percent.” He adds, “The child tax credit is a social-conservative initiative. The refundable Earned Income Tax Credit is largely based on the ‘negative income tax’ proposed almost 50 years ago by conservative economist Milton Friedman.”

Undoubtedly there is waste and abuse in the welfare ranks that is of real concern, but a good portion of the 47 percent nonpayers are the aged. Many more are the poor whose tax burden evens out to zero after claiming deductions. They are not deadbeats; they contribute through their work and their payroll taxes.

It is the freeloaders at the top end of the economy who may be a larger drag. According to the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, close to $100 billion goes towards corporate welfare in terms of business subsidies. While Democrats and Republicans are both responsible for this affront to free enterprise, when coupled with the free-for-all deregulation championed by Republicans, it often helps line the pockets of the top brass of the companies. The street credo that Republicans are chums with such robber-barons of industry is not off the mark.

In reality, the more sinister income-redistribution may be the money taken from the middle-class for the “welfare” of executives drawing multimillion dollar salaries—even as the companies they lead file for bankruptcy. This not only siphons away millions of dollars from circulation, but also hurts the buying power of the thousands who get laid off—a double whammy on the economy.

Many Indian-Americans came to this country with the proverbial $20 in their pockets, and went on to carve successful careers and lives. In a disproportionately high percentage, many of us rose to dizzying heights in industry, enterprise, academy, arts, and innovation. This, to me, is not a profile of a community that would fall for myths manufactured by propaganda. This, I suspect, more than anything, is responsible for our overwhelming tilt towards the Democratic Party.

Indian-Americans vested with the Republican Party invariably cite issues such as outsourcing as a reason to align with the right. Sure, India is perhaps the largest beneficiary of outsourcing. Indian-Americans, however, need to ask themselves: is electing an American president about being pro-India? This matters only if all other things are equal. Only if the Republicans and Democrats were virtually the same, and one were pro-India, then it makes all the difference. As to outsourcing, a country is well within its rights and responsibilities to promote business and job growth on its soil instead of proactively pushing it to foreign countries.

Romney: a fiscal extremist
Romney made it through the wrangling Republican primaries because he seemed the most moderate in a party that has hunkered down in its hardcore shell—and not on classic conservative values of individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and free enterprise—but on religious and social fundamentalism.

That assessment of Romney as a moderate was befitting a few years back. Today, as candidate Romney, he has morphed into a peon for the far right. More importantly, on the issue that is center stage for this election—the economy—Romney is far from moderate. During the run-up to the primary elections, none other than Newt Gingrich pointed out that Romney is the kingpin amongst all the GOP contenders of the kind of fiscal policies that brought America to its knees at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency.

The criticism of Romney’s lack of ideas, solutions, and vision is mounting, and it is not just from liberals. In an article titled, “So, Mitt, what do you really believe?” The Economist, the reputable champion of free enterprise, writes about him, “A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlies the main doubt: nobody knows who this strange man really is.”

Obama’s fault: That he is no God
What is the overarching and relentlessly repeated criticism of Obama? It boils down to this: that he failed to restore our country to good times like those seen in the Clinton years from the wreckage caused by the Bush years.

This would be perfectly legitimate criticism if Obama had been a passive president. Quite, the contrary, he acted extensively and boldly—like no other president in recent history. Are we there yet? Of course not. I empathize with the worry and fear for our future that persists. But laying the blame on Obama for failing to be God and miraculously turning around, in less than four years, a historic mess unseen in 70 years would be a mistake.

Even as the myth machinery of the extreme right tries to portray Obama as a socialist czar bent on unraveling America, some of those who value true conservatism are fleeing the party. A grassroots organization called “Republicans for Obama” says, “Our current Republican leadership is unable to stand up to the most extreme elements in our party, no matter the circumstance. Meanwhile, President Obama has challenged his own party on numerous issues, including taxes, healthcare, and foreign policy.”

There are no shortcuts to weight loss. And reviving a broken economy of unprecedented proportions is far more improbable by someone who has little more than “tax cuts” in his arsenal.


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