Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

2G2K Circus :: Why Latinos And Asian Americans Went Hillary

Ferentz called Huckabee right here. I’m going to move to a different topic.

Among Latino and Asian American circles, Super Tuesday brought a sense of giddiness. Thanks to the central importance of California to the primary elections, here was a chance to not just be heard, but to be recognized as a voting bloc right up there with the privileged masses of Iowa or New Hampshire. Boy, did they make some noise.

In California, while Obama took a plurality of white voters (including white males) and the overwhelming majority of African American voters, Hillary won the popular vote by 8 points. So how did Hillary make her 10% margin of victory? A big part of the answer was in the Latino and Asian American votes. A CNN exit poll last night indicated that Latinos in California went for Hillary by a 2-1 margin, and Asian Americans went for her 3-1. Democratic polls showed Hillary winning Latinos by 3-1.

Soon we’ll be hearing a number of crackpot theories as to why this was so. Are Latinos and Asian Americans in fact slightly more conservative on immigration issues than everyone previously thought? Ridiculous. Are Latinos and Asian Americans unwilling to bring themselves to vote for a Black man? Get out of here with that.

The reason Hillary won is because the Latino and Asian American votes remain emergent, not yet insurgent.

Emergent voting blocs respond to leaders in their community. If the candidate wins the leader, she wins her followers. Insurgent voting blocs instead respond to calls for change, and may focus more on single issues or agendas. If a candidate stakes out a good position, she captures the community. Hillary played the politics of emergence.

Early, she locked down important leaders in the Latino and Asian American communities. In Los Angeles, that meant securing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s support, and the predominantly Latino unions that have supported him. She also landed the support of Fabian Nunez and Dolores Huerta. In San Francisco, that meant seizing on Mayor Gavin Newsom’s popularity amongst Asian Americans. She also captured a who’s who of Asian American elected officials starting with Controller John Chiang and moving on down. Just as important, Hillary’s campaign locked up a huge number of the leading Latino and Asian American party operatives–the people who actually deliver the voters.

All of them–from Villaraigosa to the Asian American precinct captain–were responding to what might be called aspirational politics. The individuals become proxies for the community. You hear them say in their campaigns, “When I win, you win.” Clinton’s main advantage is that she has the access to power and the party structures that deliver promises to officials and operatives. Obama doesn’t. Emergent politics favors individuals seeking power. Think of it this way: Hillary, the woman candidate, is bringing Latino and Asian American leaders into the old-boy’s network.

These leaders, in turn, deliver votes via their community’s structures of power: business groups, labor unions, voter groups, community organizations. Those groups tend to deliver an older voter who is already “in the game”, who can directly benefit from the opening of the old-boy’s network. “Experience” really is a cover for “access”.

Latinos and Asian Americans in California are overwhelmingly Democratic, and will likely remain so for a very long time because of Reep immigration demagoguery. But they also tend to be more mainstream and conservative. Remember that, to the great embarrassment of many Asian Americans, it was the influential Chinese American Democratic Club in San Francisco that sponsored anti-affirmative action attacks on the prestigious Lowell High School. It’s also possible Obama’s call for change is received differently even among dissatisfied immigrants. Who better understands the disruption and dislocation that change can bring?

And finally, one should never underestimate the ability of Democratic party operatives to screw up a good thing. Although Obama is from Hawai’i, has Asian family members, and is beloved there, his largely white campaign staff blew it big time early in the campaign last year. After circulating an anti-outsourcing memo to the media that called Hillary “the Democrat from Punjab”, Obama was forced to apologize and distance himself from his staff. The episode barely rippled outside of the community, barely inside of the community, to be fair. But it had a number of Asian American political insiders and campaign donors bolting for Hillary’s camp.

Emergent groups are highly sensitive to perceived snubs. The so-called 80-20 Initiative, an effort led by former Delaware lieutenant governor S.B. Woo (a Democrat) to unite 80% of the Asian American electorate “defeat Obama”, began when Obama staffers answered a yes-no questionnaire with a “well, yes but…” on a question asking whether he’d promote affirmative action for Asian Americans. Hillary’s campaign, with ample access to Latino and Asian American leaders, never made any of these mistakes.

So Hillary won by old party-style top-down appeals to Latinos and Asian Americans. Dems shouldn’t rest thinking that this strategy will hold for long. Younger Latino and Asian American voters were energized by Obama, and formed a visible and crucial part of his GOTV ground troops. They had an impact. Roberto Lovato notes that Obama was able to bring down Hillary’s overall 4-1 advantage among Latino voters to a 3-2 advantage by Super Tuesday. It could be argued that Obama’s bottom-up machinery hasn’t yet taken full advantage of the pent-up energy amongst young Brown and Yellow voters.

When that power is unleashed, it will be unpredictable. The 1.5 generation, young Latino and Asian Americans from the ages of 16-40 who were born elsewhere but raised multilingual and multicultural in the U.S., represents a massive demographic bulge in those communities only beginning to feel itself. Before long, they will turn their communities’ emergent vote into an insurgent vote. And then the country will really discover not just the necessity of the Latino and Asian American vote, but what it is that they really want.

posted by @ 8:01 am | 11 Comments

11 Responses to “2G2K Circus :: Why Latinos And Asian Americans Went Hillary”

  1. Monxo says:

    This piece I wrote for myself…it is way harsher than your piece, moralistic and less didactic, but you write to be read…I write to rant…ha ha ha. I also think that there is some built-in (and for me heart-breaking) racism at least in the Hispanic community.

    Obama and Hispanics: A principled moron or a visionary?

    I am a Puerto Rican living in NYC and proud that Obama took 49% of Brooklyn. That’s a HUGE deal and should be put up there for everybody to see. So, please, work your magic.

    I live in the South Bronx (unfortunately she took around 60% here), and I am currently finishing a Ph.D. in political theory. Being a scary political freak I can confidently say that I know the city politically, and the Latino vote specifically.

    Please bear in mind that in NYC when we speak about Latinos we are talking overwhelmingly about Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.

    Here is my story….

    While volunteering for the Obama campaign in New York City I pleaded with them to organize political guerrillas along ‘ethnic lines’ because that is the way this city works (unfortunately). To find Mexicans to speak to Mexicans about issues dear to the Mexican community, the same for Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians, etc. They ignored me.

    I pleaded with them to do more than just translate his flyers and posters, and to produce literature tailored to Hispanic/Latino concerns and issues. They ignored me.

    Being well-educated I have a built-in aversion to Spanish-speaking TV, but I still tuned in (just a tiny bit) to see what was going on: not much.

    The only thing the Obama campaign wanted from me and my wife was for us to stand in a Bronx corner with signs to engage with the voters. We happily obliged.

    Then I spoke with journalist friends from other cities, and read Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) complaining that he was being under-utilized by Obama’s campaign; I then realized Obama was going to loose the Hispanic vote. He lost it on principle.

    And that’s a good thing; although, unfortunately, it could eventually cost him the election.

    This is our take on this (my wife is paramount in this hypothesis).

    Obama will not tailor his message to any specific community because his message is ample enough ALREADY to include everybody. The most he will do is translate it. That is the end of identity politics. Quite simple, after all. Just don’t bullshit people around and treat them like normal human beings!.

    If you don’t get Obama’s message, he will repeat it two or three times; if you still don’t get it, fuck you, vote for the candidate you do understand. But he will not change his message for you, he will not tailor his message to you. The message is what it is.

    Obama’s modus operandi could not be more alien to Hispanics, cause this is the way we’ve done our politicking so far (and this is barely a simplification): Hispanics either need to feel that they are supporting a well known brand (to feel validated and secure) or they need to feel they are part of a quid pro quo victimized and insurgent minority (it reminds us of Latin America!, backroom politics, etc.) The first example is voting for Bush and Clinton just because of their name-brand. The second example will be voting for Dinkins in NYC (‘you support a black candidate and we will then support your Hispanic candidate’).

    Hillary offers a lethal and stinky combination: the ‘victimized’ brand. Everybody knows her, and everybody knows that she is just so against the odds.

    It has a little to do with Catholicism: she is the weak and weepy one (the Virgin!); you must support and help her save your soul. It also has to do with the mega-brand: by supporting a Clinton you take a step towards the mainstream. Or feel as if you are part of the mainstream.

    But it also has to do with the Latin American political tradition, and that’s the scary part that Obama refuses to deep into.

    Well connected Hispanic ‘friends’ in the city government and agencies (both Republican and Democrats) had Hillary AND/OR Guiliani as their first choices for President. The reason is quite simple: they see government, the state, as the Golden Cow and Hillary and/or Guiliani meant business. For Hispanics political actors and mediators there is no genuine hardcore ideological alignment as such: it is pure business and convenience. Hillary offers a near perfect match, but Guiliani is not bad either. They are both ideological bastards that will tailor-made their message on the run, and work the backroom like experts.

    But there is a genuine element of racism in all of this as well. My friends (and they trickle down this to the voters downstairs) gather that the political system (across the nation, not only in the city) is currently built to pit blacks against Hispanics to compete for handouts from the government. Obama, according to them, would be a field-day for those fucking blacks. They will get uppity on us, and crush us. If the black candidate is not offering something specifically to us (the quid pro quo) better to keep a white person ‘mediating’ conflict and handing out political goodies. That’s the way it works. And it stinks so very much.

    Ironically, Hillary didn’t even try in New York City among Hispanics; just a few signs here and there. And that enraged me even more: seeing ‘my’ community selling itself so easily.

    California, though, presented an interesting –if predictable- picture: the Kennedy-brand v. the Clinton-brand. But still, he did not change his message; and lost.

    Back to Obama.

    Obama offers forward-looking, inclusive, open-negotiating Hispanics the opportunity to wage a different kind of campaign. If he wins, Hispanics will have to produce their own weighty national leaders and stop waiting for the government to give…they will have to ask themselves what they can offer the communal pot, rather than what the government and the mediators can give them. A win by Obama will force Hispanics to come out of the shadows, because the pandering, mediating and clientelism will receive a huge blow. We will have to demand things by our individual selves, and not as a community. Isn’t that nice!

    I know that we sustain half of this fucking economy through cheap labor, and that we cook for the nation, and that we take care of the nation’s babies, and that we build the nation housing stock, etc. I know all of that. But that is not political life; that is the realm of necessity and victimization. Hillary plays perfectly to that: ‘you are soooo fucked Jose and Maria, but you can still vote for a Clinton (the brand), you are in!!!’

    Obama plays neither to victimization, nor to latent Latin Americanism…and believe me, that IS a good thing. That is, after all, why most of us ended up here.

    Will this cost him the election? Maybe. But I will still have John McCain.

    But if Obama wins…ha ha ha. If he wins, he will do so in his own terms, with his own unchanging message, and he will force Hispanics to come to the mainstream for real. Not through brands and back-rooming, but through inclusion and transparency. And that will lift us all. That is the end of identity politics.

    Thanks. Monxo and Libertad.

  2. Zentronix says:

    Thanks Monxo y Libertad for this!

    I’m still digesting it all. First reaction I have is that the general will actually encourage the old brand of what you’re calling ‘identity politics’. And I wonder if what you all are saying regarding Obama’s refusal to do the roll-up-the-sleeves work in the Hispanic community in NYC has to do more with the fact that his campaign staff is, ahem, not diverse.

    Plus I think there’s a really good debate to have here about the differences between Jesse Jackson’s 88 Rainbow Coalition campaign or Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign–which kinda defined the party model of insurgent politics amongst communities of color–and Obama’s “Hope, Part 3” campaign. But I’m gonna digest more before I blah-blah-blah some more!

    But all this raises an immediate q for me: what have all of you who volunteered for Obama these past few weeks experienced?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting article…but the naked truth is, there definetly exists an anti black sentiment within these latino and asian (especially the older generation) communites… to dismiss it as “ridiculous” is ridiculous

  4. Zentronix says:

    anonymous, no one–certainly not me–would argue with you. what i’m arguing is that it’s not the reason that obama lost to hillary in california. anyone who wants to try should at least come with some evidence.

  5. Anonymous says:

    zentronix, you agree but yet u ask for evidence? as if anyone is going to be public with their prejudices… racist sentiments are easily a tipping point in favoring one person over the other. obama is a transformative candidate with an inclusive agenda…his mantra is: change… he has not made a play for any particular demographic… its easy to see why older ppl would be resistant to him as they are from a bygone era but somehow asians and hispanics are the only demographic who are almost, on the whole, not feeling him. you would think they would be the first on board to ride the obama wave considering his background and agenda to make america reflect our diversity but no.

  6. John Delloro says:

    Jeff, you raise really good points. however, Obama did not get the majority of the young Latina/o in L.A. He did not get the young AA/PI vote in New York. Because the key to Obama’s campaign success is its ground operation that is based on a grassroots community organizing model (a la Marshall Ganz), any time the campaign treads the traditional top-down and tested electoral campaign approach the Obama campaign falters in that area. I don’t believe the kind of structure that existed in S.Carolina and Iowa existed in AA/PI immigrant L.A. or Latina/o L.A. If SEIU in LA had switched for Obama earlier and hit the ground, that structure would most likely would have existed. the past L.A. Latina/Labor alliance electoral work has proven this to be true. Maria Elena Durazo got involved with the Obama campaign without the usual footsoldiers she has on hand to make things happen. I don’t believe it is just a case of whether a particular community has reached a particular zeitgeist of generational insurgency but the presence or absence of grassroots organization in particular communities.

  7. O.W. says:

    3-1 Asian American voter pref for Clinton over Obama.

    I don’t presume all – or even most – of that is due to anti-Black racism. But some?


    Your post makes the mere thought seem out of hand. You don’t think voters carry irrational bias with them into the voter booth? You really require evidence of that? I mean, I’ve never done an exit poll but I don’t presume they normally ask, “do you mistrust or hate Black people?”

    Again: 3-1. I’m sorry but that number just leans out and slaps me across the face.

  8. white as cole says:

    i dont understand why obama must make a specific play for hispanics. aren’t hispanics concerned about the same issues as every other american? must he start appearing at rallies wearing a sombrero?
    zentronix, anti-black racism is real, all your high intellectualizing fails to consider that fact. as much as we like to believe that we live in more enlightened times, your parents’ generation are much more subtle and veiled with their prejudices…peace

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Clinton’s commitment to Latinos is long and proven, not some Johnny come lately last ditch attempt. Also, given the real challenges Latinos face they are more likely to vote retrospectively than to take a risk on an unproven entity simply because he puts on a good show on the stump.

    The other key thing is that Latinos seem to be sensing they are becoming a key swing vote that could win the nomination for Clinton, just like evangelicals did for Bush. Latinos are hoping that they get as much out of a Hillary administration as evangelicals did out of the Bush one. Latinos are voting smart to get as much political leverage for their community as possible, not relegating themselves to an unimportant block of voters which is what they would be if they joined the Obama coaltition. Obama is going to have to do a hell of a lot more than he is doing to win over that vote. It has been too little too late so far.

  10. joey says:

    Zentronix, stop trying to make excuses for the anti black racism in the asian and latino communities… on super tuesday, obama only got 50% of the latino vote in his homestate which he won in a landslide thanks to blacks and whites who voted overwhemingly for him

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