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McCain or Obama? Indian Americans Debate

India Currents , Commentary, Ro Khanna and Harmeet Dhillon Posted: Oct 03, 2008

Barack Obama - The Strength of Our Ideals

by Ro Khanna

Perhaps more than any other leader, Abraham Lincoln understood Americas exceptional place in human history. The United States is not a nation united by blood or a particular religion, but a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Lincoln believed that Americas founding ideals, rooted in the Enlightenment, are worth dying for, and that because of these ideals, America represents the last best hope of earth.

The ideals Lincoln identified have stirred the soul of human beings regardless of identity, whether black or white, Latino or Asian, gay or straight, male or female, Christian or Jew, Hindu or Muslim. Some have risked their lives and fortunes to come to America and be part of our great experiment. Others have admired the nations ideals from afar, and sought to advance them in some form in their own land.

A few extraordinary Americans have given voice to American ideals in a way that commands respect and admiration both at home and around the world. One of the reasons I am proud to be a Democrat is that our leaders, from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, have done that.

Barack Obama is such a leader.

The tragedy of the last eight years has been the current administrations failure to inspire belief in American ideals. After the brutal attacks on 9/11, the world looked to America for leadership. We had and still have the moral high ground compared to terrorists and to many of the dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. We are, after all, on the side of religious pluralism, gender equality, racial equality, freedom of the press, liberal education, tolerance regardless of sexual orientation, and the rule of law. Yet, remarkably, we have failed in convincing ordinary citizens in other parts of the world to embrace the American cause.

Whether this failure is due to President Bushs poor choice of rhetoric early on (e.g. bring it on), or strategic mistakes, is debatable. What is beyond debate is that President Bush has not successfully used one of the greatest weapons in our arsenal: the soft power of our moral leadership.

The Republicans would have us believe, yet again, that this election is about who will be stronger on defense. But that is a false distinction, and they know it. Both John McCain and Barack Obama believe in the strong use of the military and will go on the offense to hunt down and defeat terrorists.

Here are the real questions:

Who will strengthen America by adding the power of our ideals to our military power?

Who can inspire moderate Muslims to join the American cause, and to push for reforms in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and other regimes with oppressive leadership?

Who can convince young Chinese citizens that they should bet on democracy as the hope for their future?

Who can persuade developing nations to adopt principles of fair trade and the free market so that they can improve the lot of the poorest residents of this world?

Who will be the best advocate for the principles in which we Americans believe? Is that not what representation means, at the deepest level?

The ultimate test is not whether a person may share some common trait with us (e.g. they play the same sports, like the same music, drink the same beer, or have a similar family background), but whether he or she can be a strong spokesperson for what we believe, at our core, it means to be an American.

Barack Obama is the right voice for America today. His story is proof that America is a nation conceived on the universal ideals of liberty and equality. That the son of an African with a Muslim middle name can become President in an overwhelmingly white, Christian nation is a story only possible in America. His life work as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, and legislator has been dedicated to creating a more participatory and inclusive democracy.

Obamas experiences allow him to speak movingly about the hope and promise of America. He can speak to the struggling Chinese dissident, or the Muslim reformer, about how and why American ideals have a place for them, too. Through Obama, reform-minded citizens in oppressive regimes may once again see America as the hope of the world, not its enemy. Obama put it best when he said, [W]e gather to affirm the greatness of our nationnot because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago.

The Democratic Partys selection of Barack Obama does not stem, as critics suggest, from a Kumbaya vision of the 21st century. We will always need the heroism of leaders like John McCain and our brave men and women in uniform to defend our country from Americas enemies. But, right now, with our military stretched, and our veterans exhausted, there is an urgent need for a leader who will fight not just on the military battlefield, but also on the battlefield of ideas.

We are fortunate today to have such a leadera thinker, a public servant, and a chronicler of the American experience, who is prepared to engage in that battle by invoking our nations highest ideals. He will lead us to victory with force, when necessary, but aided always with an appeal to reasoned argument that has been, since our very Declaration of Independence, the distinctive American way. A President Obama will remind us, and the world, why America is the last best hope of earth.

Ro Khanna serves as Chair of the Indian American Council at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Speaker Pelosi.

John McCain - A Reflection of Our Values

by Harmeet Dhillon

This is the most important election in a generation. Our nation is at a crossroads of financial uncertainty in the markets, ever-increasing budget deficits and federal spending, an ongoing mortgage crisis threatening American homes, world terror and war in the Middle East, and an energy crisis. At the same time, our country and the world face new opportunities for cross-border trade, clean energy, global growth in technology and new industries, and an increasingly multicultural and pluralistic world.Dhillon and McCain

This election season provides an opportunity to reflect upon deeper issues of political philosophy, the immigrant experience, and the implications of this years stark choice not just between John McCain and Barack Obama, but between the Republican and Democratic parties.

I am a registered Republican, and have been so since I was first eligible to vote. And even before I could vote, my parents were both registered and active Republicans since the day they became naturalized U.S. citizens. As the Republican nominee for California State Assembly, District 13, I am the first Indian American candidate to ever win a major party nomination for state office in California. So my views on politics are uniquely personal and are the product of over 20 years of active involvement in American politics as a voter, volunteer, and now candidate.

At the dinner table I learned that in America you could study hard, work hard, act responsibly, and ultimately achieve success. Unlike the country we left behind, your name, gender, religion, or place of birth would not dictate the course of your life. As I became old enough to vote, the Republican Party better reflected my understanding of the American Dream. And Republican principles offer the same promise to all immigrants, though only a minority of Indian Americans seem to be getting the message.

We are a community of professionals, small-business owners, and high-tech entrepreneurs. We create more than our share of jobs, pay more than our share of taxes, contribute more to the intellectual capital of our universities, and generally produce stable, peaceful and law-abiding families. Like most immigrants who are business owners, I work hard to provide services to my clients and to create jobs for my employees, and see first-hand the failings of government bureaucrats to understand business and serve the people, instead creating entrenched and bloated, self-perpetuating bureaucracies. Republicans believe that individuals should contribute time and resources to serving the poor, vulnerable, and less fortunate members of our society. Like many of my friends I devote a substantial portion of my time to community service in furtherance of this principle, believing that direct action is far better than social engineering through taxation and wealth redistribution.

The Republican Party has always been an advocate of lower taxes on all classes of society, smaller government, less regulatory burdens on small businesses, and the promise of a rising economic tide that lifts all boats, not a zero-sum game of class warfare such as that advocated by Obama and Joe Biden, who seek to pit the lower and middle classes against the rich. The problem is that their definition of rich presupposes that lower income Americans see themselves as forever locked in that status, whereas most immigrants hope one day to be among the wealthier members of society, and are not working hard to achieve success only to see their accomplishments result in wealth redistribution to others who have made different choices. The Democrats politics of economic balkanization stands in stark contrast to the Republican ideal of a simplified tax code that empowers individuals to create jobs and grow the economy.

Free trade and outsourcing are yet another example of a clear choice between the parties which points emphatically in one direction. Obama openly supports trade unions efforts to shut our borders to trade in goods and services, especially in the high tech and services sectors. Yet many jobs upon which our economy depends should be sent abroad where they can be done more efficiently and cheaply than in the highly regulated U.S. economy, in part because of our Byzantine tax code and de facto taxes in the form of unbridled regulation and a runaway litigation system. The net result of free trade and of the outsourcing that particularly benefits India and China is that Americans can labor fewer hours to purchase the same goods and services that otherwise they would have to pay more for in order to subsidize organized labor. The Republicans promise to allow freer trade and to maximize purchasing power of American workers. Their emphasis on cutting taxes and regulations, moreover, creates higher-quality jobs here at home which are of more interest to the American workforce.

Numerous other social and economic hot button issues highlight the differences between the parties. Democrats advocate a do-nothing approach to the problem of illegal immigration, whereas Republicans favor legal immigration, reflecting that those who follow immigration law should be afforded the chance at the American Dream, and that if you are eligible to receive government services, you should be paying into the system according to your means just as legal residents do. Obama and his cohorts in the Senate successfully blocked Senators McCain and Kennedys immigration reform proposal last year, in part because of their opposition to a guest worker program and a refusal to address the legalization of the over 12 million undocumented aliens within our borders now. They also refuse to address the security and crime implications of allowing a substantial portion of the population to live and work in the shadows, or the human suffering, trafficking and exploitation that result from these failed policies.

Speaking of security, in times of world crisis American voters have usually trusted Republican Presidents to safeguard our borders and our national interest. I trust McCaina storied war hero and victim of torture and oppression at the hands of his captorsto implement foreign policies that keep America safe from the threat of global terror, that safeguard our interests in geopolitical hotspots, and that detect and deter threats within our borders consistent with the limits of the United States Constitution. McCain is on record as opposing torture and is likely to understand the long-term implications of his foreign policy decisions as only a former soldier and independent-thinking leader can. Regardless of posturing as to how being a Senator sitting on a committee bestows foreign policy expertise, in reality Senators mainly second-guess major foreign policy decisions, not make them. John McCain is the only candidate for President who has fought for our country and has real foreign policy expertise.

This year the Democratic Party rejected the opportunity to put a high-profile and qualified woman on the ticketHillary Clintoneither as their nominee for President or Vice President. At the same time John McCain made the brilliant and game-changing choice of Sarah Palin for his running mate. As a working, educated Indian American woman who celebrates the growing presence of women in courtrooms and boardrooms and ultimately, perhaps, the Oval Office, I am proud that the Republican Party made the historic choice of Sarah Palinwife, mother, business owner, Governorepitomizing the Republican promise of a race, gender, and creed-blind world where quotas, schedules, and special interest set-asides have no place.

Indian Americans have directly benefited from Republican administrations at the highest levels. For example, under the current Bush administration more Indian Americans have been appointed to prestigious jobs in the highest ranks of the federal government than in any prior administration. This Republican administration has held more high level meetings with top Indian diplomats, has been more proactive on Indian American foreign policy issues, and has held more joint Indian and American military exercises to strengthen strategic alliances between the two countries than any prior administration in history. The current administration has brought the pending U.S.-India nuclear energy deal to the tablethe same deal that Obama voted against as Senator. President Bush appointed the first life-tenure federal judge of Indian origin, Amul Thapar, to the bench. A Republican, Bobby Jindal (a former senior Bush administration official), became the standard-bearer for his party and the first Indian American Governor in U.S. history.

This historical support by the Indian American community of the Democratic Party fails to reflect a modern and pragmatic analysis of our communitys economic, social, and geopolitical interests, and further fails to adjust for the fact that all of these decades of support for Democratic candidates have failed to pay off during Democratic administrations in better U.S.-India relations, or judicial appointments, or positions of influence and power, or economic policies that benefit job-creating Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Rather than predictably voting for Obama and Biden this year, Indian Americans should take this historic opportunity to examine what the candidates stand for, and vote for the part that better reflects our interests, values, and dreams as a community. For me, the choice is clear, perhaps clearer than it has been at any time since 1980s historic election of Ronald Reaganvote McCain/Palin.

Harmeet K. Dhillon is a candidate for California State Assembly from District 13. She is chair of the Civil Rights Committee of the South Asian Bar Association and co-chair of San Francisco Lawyers for John McCain.

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