My eyebrows shot up as she said it, but it made a lot of sense. That wasn't the surprising part; things that actor and comedian Margaret Cho says tend to make quite a lot sense. Even Bill Schneider, the seasoned (and white) political analyst seated next to her on our show Sunday immediately chimed in with agreement.
During Sunday's #nerdland conversation about Asian American politics and politicians in this country, it became apparent just how different approaching that voting bloc is from, say, African Americans. The vastly disparate cultural diversity and the geographical factors are just two -- but most interesting is the fact that, as Melissa noted, both major political parties have seemed to ignore them. It seems that is changing.
With swing states like Nevada up for grabs, President Obama -- who was born in Hawaii and grew up for a time in Indonesia -- is pushing hard to appeal to Asian American voters, having hosted a recent big-money fundraiser in the Bay Area. In light of some news today, this section of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's report about that effort stood out:
The political focus on the group — at 17.6 million about 5.6 percent of the country’s population — comes with recognition that it might be up for grabs this year, according to a May poll by the National Asian-American Coalition.
Faith Bautista, the organization’s president and CEO, said the poll showed that “Asian-Americans throughout the nation are probably close to equally divided as to who would make a better president between (Mitt) Romney and Obama.”
So what's that news? The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, in his column today, shone a light on how a new and rather paternalistic effort by Republican Senator Trent Franks could swing the Asian vote in one direction: towards Democrats.
Franks, who is from Arizona, is being nicknamed "Mayor Franks" around the majority-"minority" Washington, DC area for his efforts to legally prevent area doctors from performing late-term abortions. Last year, the anti-choice Franks put forth the (and this is its real name) Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011. Milbank noted that the SBAFDPNA (see how silly that looks?) "relied on the novel argument that African American mothers were discriminating against their fetuses by aborting them on the basis of race."
Franks is at it again. He's cut off the patronizing historical figures and just called his new effort the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). Today, Franks' bill failed. The vote was 246-168 in favor, but as Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones noted in her recap, PRENDA needed 276 yeas to pass.
Milbank describes the main reasons it was problematic, both in the common and political senses:
The problem with Franks’s proposal is that it’s not entirely clear there is a problem. Sex-selection abortion is a huge tragedy in parts of Asia, but to the extent it’s happening in this country, it’s mostly among Asian immigrants...
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Franks didn’t dispute that Asian Americans would be targeted. “The real target in the Asian community here is the Asian women who are being coerced into aborting little girls,” he told me, adding: “When the left doesn’t want to make abortion the issue, they say you’re being against minorities...”
On that last point, you may have noticed lately increase in public awareness and activism concerning the Right's attacks on women's rights and reproductive freedom. That is despite the Right's best efforts to keep us from talking about it. The more that the Left talks about abortion and the Right trying to take it away, the better it is for the Left. So the idea that the "Left doesn't want to make abortion the issue" is hilarious on its face.
Still, despite the American voters not buying it, Franks and his anti-abortion allies are stepping up this whole "Democrats are waging the real War on Women!!" thing. From The Hill:
In a letter Wednesday, Americans United for Life (AUL) urged House members to "stop a real war on women — sex selection abortions" by supporting the legislation from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
A Republican echoed that line on the House floor. "This is the ultimate war on women, Mr. Speaker," Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.) said of sex-selective abortion.
Milbank wondered in his column today whether this was a wise tactic, considering that "according to primary exit polls, 90 percent of GOP voters this year have been white." Even stranger is Franks' idea that the Left has made the debate about people of color -- if anything, that kind of specific attention has been lacking -- except when folks like Franks, who has been known to step into Birtherville, say they should be trusted to "save us" all from atrocities like race- and sex-selective abortions.
Postscript: Melissa's full conversation about the Asian American vote is below the jump.
Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel of actress Margaret Cho, University of Connecticut professor Jelani Cobb, University of Southern California professor Jane Junn, and political analyst Bill Schneider, talk about the largely untapped voter group of Asian-Americans.
Melissa Harris-Perry and her panelists - including actress Margaret Cho, University of Connecticut professor Jelani Cobb, University of Southern California professor Jane Junn, and political analyst Bill Schneider - continue their conversation on Asian-American politicians and voters, and their party affiliations. But should all Asian-Americans be lumped into a single voting bloc?