The Indian American blogosphere has been hyper-activated the past few days since Obama campaign attacked Hillary & Bill Clintons’ “support” for Outsourcing. Expectedly, this smear memo has also caused much heart-break and consternation amongst the South Asians warming upto Obama, especially because of the ill-founded and unnecessary remarks about some leading Indian Americans included in the memo. Obama’s latest attempts to own up and apologize would perhaps not go too far in mending his bridges with the South Asian community.
Full coverage of the issue (including Obama’s lame apologies) and a rich debate amongst comments at SAJAforum.org
(What’s interesting about the debate going on at SAJA Forum is that not only has it transgressed into the already on-going Immigration debate but also there are evident fault-lines in Desi-opinion along the lines of citizenship & status of immigration – as in US citizens Vs Green Card Aspirant H1Bs.)
However, I see broader issues to ponder here than just Desis talking to Desis about the virtue or evil of Outsourcing or the current VISA regime.
Quick Disclaimer, first : These opinions are definitely Outsourced (or volunteered/usurped, more appropriately) as I am but an uninvolved-yet-interested-observer of US politics. I am neither a US citizen nor a Green Card aspirant/H1B holder – therefore much removed(and shielded) from most stakes in this debate.
So here goes a few :
1. Xenophobia wins in Immigrants’ El Dorado?
The most important question to ask is if justifiably the most liberal and inclusive society in modern history is so unsure and insecure about itself that it can only be rallied around by political slogans bordering on Xenophobia ?
While there are obviously many issues beyond the Iraq War & War on Terror that are rightfully finding space in news columns in the run-up to this election – like the size of the government, healthcare reform, climate change, middle-America’s economic insecurities – the disheartening phenomena is to see most issues on foreign or trade policy being reduced to a simplistic “Us vs Them”. Whether it is the Reds’ Political-Social Xenophobia (More accurately, Islamophobia and Latino phobia) or the Blue’s economic version, this fear of the other or the outsider refuses to leave the American political mainstream. Most GOP candidates continue the rhetoric of “THEY are bent on killing and destroying us” to drum up support amongst their conservative base without an effort (or lacking the understanding) to make the distinction that “THEY” is not really one people – neither is it only Al Qaeda, nor is it all the Muslims ! Some of them also unabashedly provoke emotions against the millions of illegal immigrants who tend to the same candidates’ sprawling lawns or ensure that the Senators get clean laundry every week. On the left, Obama’s recent (and claimedly inadvertent) attempt to reignite the outsourcing debate is just a sign of things to come as he and his Blue comrades(particularly Edwards) would not leave an opportunity to find the sympathies of middle-class America who in-general is more insecure of her economic future than ever before, despite all macro-economic indicators to the converse.
On balance, one could still argue that there is valid ground for the fear that Jihadi terrorism inspires and therefore the political backlash against Muslims & Browns-in-general could be explained (though not justified) but the insecurities that either Latino Immigrants or Indian outsource operations seem to inspire are basically economic and therefore ill-explained in the mecca of free-enterprise and capitalism.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that, in its most trying times, the society that had the foremost claim to be the beacon of inclusiveness and sanctuary of free-enterprise, is choosing to be swept away by shades of the same narrow & divisive rhetoric that it fought world over in the last century. It has chosen to fall prey to promoters of its own insecurities and fallibility than lay trust in its organic ability to assimilate and let thrive.
I could go on ranting on this and proffering my opinion on what is right or wrong but for now, it is upto Americans to ponder if they have essentially turned extremely Xenophobic!
2. Inherent contradictions : Free-Traders who hate immigrants/outsiders and Protectionist who’d rather have open borders !
Whoever said that politics is all black & white, certainly not in a democracy. But even for somebody who has seen “politics is the art of the possible” dictum play out wonderfully in the Indian politics in the past 10 years with ever changing and reforming alliances and ideologies, I find the above contradiction in 2 American parties’ stands intriguing. Part of the reason, I am learning only now, is that the two US parties are more a loose amalgamation of roughly like-minded individuals and aligned interests than a strictly common platform ruled by a party whip.
Even then, it shall be interesting to see how this campaign unfolds. Besides the complicated and passionate issue of “war on terror” and its attendant domestic issues, the whole interlinked piece on Free Trade, Immigration reform and Outsourcing would be an interesting play. I am quite interested in seeing if the Outsourcing issue does become big again, like in 2004, how does the generally Xenophobic but Free Trade supporting Right respond to it.
My personal bet however is that the anti-Chinese exports noise would perhaps take more limelight this season than the anti-Indian outsourcing noise. Not only because “made in China” products are ever more pervasive in American life (especially if you shop in Walmart) than the funnily accented Bangalore kid attending your Dell call but also because the suspicious quality of Chinese products has suddenly caught much focus with recent cases of pet-food and toys withdrawals. (Again, it is worth noting that much of the media rhetoric has been against the Chinese producers and authorities than the American importers of such stuff which finally sold it under their brand)
3. Is Obama really audacious in his hope or just his ambition ?
The least important of all issues that I have to raise is about how truthful Sen. Obama has proven behind his call for a new type of politics; the fresh air of bipartisanship and inclusiveness that he so eloquently has spoken about; the multi-culturalism and audacity of hope he seemed to represent. Whether this latest issue was a genuinely misplaced enthusiasm of a junior staffer or well-researched salvo back firing, there are atleast 2 facts about Obama’s campaign that Americans can not disregard – especially the young voters who have seemingly got bored with the old crop of politicians :
– Obama has shown that he is not above petty politics. He has been taking pot shots at his competitors, esp Hillary, and also finally displayed his fallibility for the narrow political & exclusionary rhetoric that he so pretends to disown.
– Obama’s campaign has also betrayed their inexperience in running such a crucial and closely scrutinized operation despite their head-start in generating enough buzz about him using viral media and blogosphere. Twice now, his campaign has attempted a seemingly “smart” smear campaign against Hillary (first, the 1984 Apple Ad parody & now, this Senator from Punjab take) and at both occasions, Obama has ended up with the proverbial egg on his face.
All said, it should be an interesting presidential campaign for a chair that arguably continues to be the most powerful political post on Earth despite the incumbent’s abuse of this privilege so much as to jeopardize the privilege itself ! It would be surely be an interesting time for a self-styled Outsourced Political Observer to keep wondering if India’s interest get furthered more by the conservative right-wing which sees us as the “natural strategic ally” and a counter-weight to China but is bent upon making our neighbourhood and the whole world a more dangerous place or by the trade-protectionist NPT-die-hard left which would definitely make the going on Nuclear and Trade co-operation more difficult but would hopefully engage our volatile neighborhood in a more productive dialogue.
But most importantly, it will be important to see if this generation of Americans collectively decide if they would let their inept politicians carry out a miscarriage of reconciliation & inclusiveness because it was too painful to go through the labour of pregnant nuances in each political debate !
Well, if you found yourself here : pl do drop a comment and let me know what you think…