How Not to Appeal to Asian Americans

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Dem / Flickr

Of the various post-election stories, the GOP’s “Latino problem” is one of the most prominent. At some point over the last three weeks, every prominent Republican leader has had something to say about the party’s poor performance with Latino voters.

Less remarked upon, but just as important, is the GOP’s abysmal showing with Asian Americans. Most exit polls show President Obama winning Asian Americans 3-to–1, a larger spread than his margin among Latinos, and second only to African Americans, who gave nearly all of their votes to the president.

As with Latinos, Asian American movement to the Democratic Party has a lot to do with with the explicitly anti-immigrant stance of the GOP, as well as the overwhelming sense that the GOP is a party for hidebound whites, and actively hostile toward nonwhites of all stripes.

There’s a policy component in this as well; the Asian American community is highly diverse (ethnically, economically, and otherwise), and there many who would benefit from the core Obama agenda of health care reform, stronger social services, and investments in education and other programs. Still, even with that in mind, it’s fair to say that Asian American support for Obama is as much about inclusion as it is about policy.

Which is why this piece, from conservative scholar Charles Murray, rankles. Rather than consider Asian American political preferences on their own terms—or even acknowledge the range of experience among different Asian American groups—Murray lumps them all into a single, undistinguished mass of model minorities, and then wonders why they don’t vote for Republican candidates:

Something’s wrong with this picture. It’s not just that the income, occupations, and marital status of Asians should push them toward the right. Everyday observation of Asians around the world reveal them to be conspicuously entrepreneurial, industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant. If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define “natural.”

It’s worth noting the implicit contrast here. Entrepreneurism, industriousness, family-orientation, self-reliance—these are things that Murray sees as unique to Republican constituencies. Which must also mean that these are thing that go unvalued by Democratic constituencies, namely, African Americans, Latinos, young people, and single women.

In any case, if Asian Americans “should” be voting Republican, but aren’t, what explains the difference? Murray explains:

[S]omething has happened to define conservatism in the minds of Asians as deeply unattractive, despite all the reasons that should naturally lead them to vote for a party that is identified with liberty, opportunity to get ahead, and economic growth. I propose that the explanation is simple. Those are not the themes that define the Republican Party in the public mind. Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

Nevermind the fact that the modern GOP is actually fundamentalist, anti-gay, and anti-reproductive rights. The real story is that Asians—and everyone else—has been duped!

Again, this grossly ignores the actual experiences of Asian Americans, which include economic disenfranchisement, political isolation, and racial discrimination. Republicans have few solutions for the first two, and actively ignore the latter, to say nothing of the Republican candidates who attempt to win office by exploiting prejudice against nonwhites, including Asian Americans.

Indeed, it’s hard to miss the outright racism in Murray’s argument. From treating Asian Americans as a monolith, to implicitly denigrating the values of other minorities, and outright dismissing the preferences of Asian Americans as nothing more than the unfortunate consequence of a mass delusion.

Eighteen years ago, Charles Murray won national prominence for his widely-criticized book, The Bell Curve, which presented racist ideas about the intelligence of African Americans in more acceptable terms. Somehow, Murray has escaped the shadow of his debunked exercise in scientific racism. But every so often, he helpfully reminds you of his history. This is one of those times.