It has become trendy for political analysts to say that Mitt Romney lost the election because he didn’t have enough support from minority voters, and that the Republicans thus need to appeal more to minority voters. While there is some truth to this analysis, liberals have sanctimoniously implied that Republicans need to appeal to minorities by specifically changing their positions so that they essentially become another liberal party. The classic suggestion is that Republicans become more liberal on illegal immigration. It certainly could be true that the “liberal” position on illegal immigration is the morally correct position for conservatives to take, but if Republicans are going to change their political positions, they should only do so because those changes are correct, not because it is politically convenient. After all, no Democrat would ever claim that the Democratic Party should not have pushed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, even though that caused huge electoral problems for the Democratic Party in the South. The question that Republicans have to ask is what minority groups are fundamentally conservative, so that they can appeal to them without changing their positions. As someone whose family immigrated to the US from Vietnam, I believe that for cultural and historical reasons Asians are fundamentally conservative, and that Republicans need to reach out to them (and that they can do this without changing their values or positions).
Most of us Asians immigrated to the United States relatively recently. While people immigrate for different reasons, almost all immigrants come to America for the broad reason of a better future. We believe that if we follow the American dream, work with our hardest effort and save money, we will have more possibilities for a better life than anywhere else. It doesn’t matter what race we are, how much wealth we have, or what religion we believe in: this is America, and anybody can succeed if they work hard. This is why there’s the common (and in my experience, true) conception of the “Asian work ethic,” which is the stereotype that Asians are intensely determined to succeed in education, the workplace, and life. This stereotype is because we as Asians are driven to follow the American dream and enjoy the benefits that are unique to America; the “Asian work ethic” is an offshoot of the American dream (and it’s not inherently Asian). For a large part, the American dream has become or is in the process of becoming true for Asians across the nation.
Unfortunately, the left is stifling that American dream and work ethic. Though liberals don’t intend it, their policies will leave the poor (which will include some Asians) perpetually in poverty and dependent on government assistance. Don’t believe me? Lawrence Summers, who served under President Obama as the director of the White House National Economic Council, wrote in a research paper that unemployment insurance, which liberal Democrats have been eager to prolong, actually exacerbates unemployment. The reason seems straightforward: unemployment benefits incentivize the unemployed to not look for work. Not only is it less imminent that they find a job, but unemployment benefits can actually be more profitable than available jobs. Additionally, Democratic Representative Gloria Moore testified in Congress about how she once begged her boss not to give her a pay raise because she would have lost her welfare as a result. What might be even worse is that the federal government now runs ads glorifying food stamps, saying that they’re a great way to lose weight (shouldn’t food stamps be something that people should aim to get off of?). Without realizing it, the left is advocating a system that not only awards mediocre performance, but also punishes hard work. How the “Asian work ethic” can be compatible with a system that lowers upward mobility and perpetuates dependency is beyond me. Just imagine what it would be like if grades worked the same way as the welfare state, where people are discouraged from getting that A. This system would undermine the “Asian work ethic,” and the same can be said about a massive welfare state, which is what the left aims to create.
It would be one thing if discouraging hard work and success was just an unfortunate side effect of leftist policy. However, the left has actually rhetorically perpetuated cleavage between the successful and the less well off, going almost to the point of demonizing the successful. Just look back to last year, when Occupy Princeton mic-checked investment banking info sessions and moralistically protested the high number of Princetonians that go into finance (how dare Princetonians look for a high paying job in a sector necessary for economic growth!). Look at the campaign: the left campaigned on raising taxes on the rich, as if raising taxes on other people is supposed to be a positive thing that gets voters enthused. Of course, reasonable people can disagree on political issues, and perhaps there’s an argument to raise taxes the rich out of necessity, but trying to enthuse voters by the prospect of raising taxes on the successful is just class warfare. In addition, look at the way that Barack Obama belittled business owners by telling them: “you didn’t build that,” implying that the successful owed their fortune to the government and to everybody else (as if the successful don’t already give back to their community…). The way that liberals thrive on tension between “haves and have-nots” really seems contrary to the “Asian work ethic.” While my parents were not nearly as tough as Amy Chua (the “Tiger Mom”), I still consider my parents to have raised me under this work ethic. When I got a worse grade than I or they would’ve liked, not once did they ever teach me to resent anybody who got a better grade than I did. What was more important was that I improve myself to get better grades, and all of my friends with “the Asian work ethic” felt the same way about their own grades.
Ultimately, conservatives want to create and preserve the correct environment conducive to following the American Dream. They realize that individuals will have to choose to follow the American Dream for themselves, but that this can only be possible with a certain environment. First, conservatives seek to make sure that everybody can keep the fruits of their hard labor by lowering all marginal income tax rates. That way, nobody’s incentivized not to work harder due to a high tax rate that punishes extra work. Conservatives also seek to incentivize personal saving (which is necessary for anybody wishing to move up the economic ladder) by lowering taxes on savings and investment, such as the capital gains tax, taxes on dividends, and the dreaded “death tax.” When government assistance is necessary, conservatives want to make sure that such assistance only provides a hand up, and not a hand out. The key example that stands out in my mind is the 1996 welfare reform bill, which was proposed by conservatives. This bill incentivized many of the poor to get off the welfare rolls and helped pull some of the poor out of the vicious cycle of government dependency. Conservatives also want to preserve the American dream for future generations by cutting spending and instilling budget restraint, so that future generations aren’t hit with higher taxes that would hurt the economy (certainly, we can argue about how bad ending the Bush tax cuts would be for the American economy, but the tax raises that would have to happen in an American Greece-like debt crisis would be so high that anybody would find them economically crippling). As newly moved immigrants know, some sacrifice is necessary to provide their kids with opportunities that they never had. The federal budget works the same way: restraint and sacrifice is necessary to make sure that our kids aren’t footed with a massive bill for the national debt. With a dismal economy, which would certainly happen if the debt issue is kicked down the road, there will be less opportunities for the less fortunate, and American Dream will become just a dream. If you notice, all of these conservative policies merely seek to ensure that the American Dream is possible to follow for those who want to follow it. If the less fortunate want to move up, conservatives ultimately want them to take initiative and do it themselves, and conservatives worry the most about making sure that the correct environment exists so that this is possible. This stands in huge contrast with the liberal plan, which disempowers the less fortunate and makes it harder for them to take responsibility over their own lives. While liberals view the less fortunate as victims and ultimately try to take responsibility of their lives, conservatives view the less fortunate as fundamentally capable of following the American Dream and lifting themselves up. Which is more in tune with Asian ideals?
There are, however, some very positive moments in recent Asian history. Many of these moments happened because of conservative-minded free-market reforms. For example, China’s economy started growing rapidly once China enacted capitalistic reforms under Deng Xiaoping. Although it’s currently popular for the left to bash China, the rise of China should be lauded as a triumph for free markets and capitalism. None of this success would’ve been possible under Mao Zedong. Similar success stories can be found with the Four Asian Tigers: South Korea (just compare the progress South Korea has made to that of North Korea), Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It’s important to remember how far all of these liberalized countries in Asia have come along. As London School of Economics Professor Danny Quah notes, 630 million Chinese people were lifted out of poverty thanks to Xiaoping’s reforms. It would be absolutely wrong to label China as a libertarian paradise, but China’s history serves as a testament to how powerful market liberalization can be at removing poverty and providing opportunity to the worst off. Many more lives were taken out of poverty under China’s liberalization than would have been possible with a large government program. Similarly, Milton Friedman raved about how Hong Kong, despite having few good natural resources and an “overcrowded” population, was able to grow its average capita per income much larger than that of its former colonizer, Great Britain, even though Britain had historically been an economic powerhouse, with the Industrial Revolution. The reason for this counterintuitive outcome, Friedman argued, was because Hong Kong chose a “hands-off” government approach, allowing for market liberalization. In contrast, Britain chose to rely on government, and nobody would seriously argue that Britain’s economy was more liberalized than Hong Kong’s. If market liberalization, lower taxes, and celebration of success worked for our brothers in Asia, it does not make sense that we as Asian-Americans associate an ideology that supports the opposite of these policies.
Currently, most Asians are not voting for the conservative party. As Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg writes, Asians voted for Obama and the Democratic Party 3 to 1. However, this does not prove that Asians are inherently liberal. Republicans have not made a great effort to appeal to Asians (or any other minorities for that matter), and the current stereotypical image of the Republican Party as the party of the “old, white, Christian man” has not been particularly appealing to non-white voters. However, this says nothing about conservative ideology’s electoral viability with regard to Asians. From my experience, it’s fairly clear that most Asians are incredibly motivated to follow the American Dream, and are not content with the idea of not taking responsibility for one’s own life or of blaming somebody else for one’s misfortune. In my view, this is why Asians are fundamentally conservative. It is time for Republicans to take charge and reach out to Asian voters by demonstrating to them that conservative values best represent Asian values.
By Han Tran