Presidential Campaigns Reach Out to Asian Americans
By Peggy B. Hu
Representatives from the campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama fielded questions from Asian Americans during a two-hour town hall meeting in Annandale, Virginia, October 28. The gathering was an opportunity to ask questions that have not been addressed on the national platform, organizers said.
Virginia is considered a battleground state for the 2008 elections, and political analysts say Asian Americans could be an important voting bloc in Virginia.
Charles Lu, Obama's chief of staff in the Senate and also a senior adviser for the Obama campaign, led the discussion with remarks on affirmative action. Lu said Obama supports affirmative action, but "the system is not perfect." He said that race should be a factor, but that people should also consider other issues such as socioeconomic background. He said Obama understands that the system does disadvantage Asian Americans at times. Affirmative action describes policies intended to promote access to education and employment for historically and socio-politically nondominant groups.
McCain campaign volunteer Sasha Gong said the core issue in affirmative action policy is ensuring that qualified people can get access to educational and employment opportunities. "What do we want - quotas or fair opportunity?" she asked the audience. "We need equal opportunity and an equal footing, not handouts," she said.
Lu said that Obama supports the 80-20 Initiative's goal of increasing the number of Asian-American federal judges and executives to a level proportional to the number of Asian Americans in the U.S. population.
The 80-20 Initiative is a national, nonpartisan political action committee dedicated to "winning equal opportunity and justice for all Asian Americans" by directing 80 percent of the community's votes and money to the presidential candidate it feels best represents the community's interests. The committee maintains an e-mail list of 700,000 Asian-American voters and is credited with achieving Asian-American bloc votes in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. It has endorsed Obama in the 2008 election.
"There is still a glass ceiling," Lu said, but Obama is trying to change that. He cited his own selection as Obama's chief of staff as an example of the candidate's commitment to diversity and said Obama's previous chief of staff also was an Asian American. Obama also has a half sister of Indonesian ancestry married to a Chinese Canadian.
IMMIGRATION AND VISAS
Song Park, a McCain campaign volunteer, said McCain is committed to reforming the immigration system and worked with Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy in 2005 on bipartisan legislation.
McCain seeks "a path to citizenship for immigrants based on merit," he said. He also said McCain wants to "open the visa waiver program" to allow relatives of Asian Americans and other citizens to come to the United States temporarily without going through a complicated visa process.
Lu called Obama "a child of immigrants" and said Obama has praised McCain for his efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He said Obama never has diverged from his position on immigration reform, even though it might not be popular with some labor unions.
Both sides also addressed questions regarding the candidates' policies toward China and Taiwan.
Park said McCain wants to "open up free trade with China," not levy taxes. He warned that if the United States taxes other countries' products, those countries will retaliate with their own taxes.
Evan S. Medeiros, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a member of the Obama campaign's Asia policy group, said Obama believes in globalization and the benefits of free trade. "China is a big trading partner; that fact can't be ignored," he said. "But trade with China must be fair, balanced and safe."
Medeiros said the United States and China have areas of cooperation such as energy and the environment. He said it is important "to further integrate China into the international system" and to see that China "acts responsibly" through laws, multilateral institutions and dialogue. The United States benefits from trade with China, but we can continue to do so only "as long as China plays by the rules," he said.
Regarding Taiwan, both McCain and Obama representatives applauded the decrease in cross-Strait tensions since the election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in March.
See also "U.S. Economy, Events in Middle East Affect Asia, Advisers Say ( http://www.america.gov/st/elections08-english/2008/October/20081001103513ajesrom0.3545801.html )."
Both sides said the $700 billion financial rescue package is a temporary solution, and more must be done. Lu said the package "is not the be all and end all"; Americans also need middle-class tax cuts and health care.
Park said the package will require "governance" to ensure the money is used responsibly. Lu said the rescue package includes several oversight components. "No one wants to waste $700 billion," he said.
The October 28 gathering was organized by the Chinese American Get-out-the Vote Coalition, with support from the Washington and Northern Virginia chapters of the Organization of Chinese Americans and other Asian-American groups.
More information about the 80-20 Initiative ( http://www.80-20initiative.net/index.asp ) is available on the organization's Web site.
See also "Asian Americans Important Voter Group in Election Swing States ( http://www.america.gov/st/elections08-english/2008/October/20081029172619bpuh0.6643749.html&distid=ucs )."
Source: U.S. Department of State
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