Banana Republicans for Obama!

I read this article in the NYT about young voters who lean on their boomer parents to vote for Obama, and I totally identified with them.

I should explain: while I’m no college undergrad, I do nudge my parents to vote certain ways. Always have. I figure, as a kid of strict immigrant parents, I lived under their loving mind-control through my late teens, so it’s only fair that I reciprocate.

And I’m an American-born Chinese while my parents, both college teachers, are naturalized American citizens. Dad’s a Democrat; Mom, I suspect, votes Republican when she gets around to voting. And in our family, we’ve always discussed and debated current events. It was perfectly reasonable conversation for the dinner table, and no one thought otherwise, even if people got all het up. (To give my parents credit, they treated me with the expectation that I’d have informed, intelligent, well-articulated opinions, or at least try to.)

I even–gasp!!–do some really subtle side-lobbying of my in-laws, immigrant Taiwanese Americans who are Rudy Giuliani-style Republicans. My father-in-law, for example, has been known to call that upwardly-aspiring mass merchant of office casual togs “Banana Republican,” which is an inadvertent play on racial passing and politics.

For my in-laws and the general election, I strategized a tiny bit and let my spouse do the heavy lifting on Obama. I think we’ll hit the Iraq War pretty hard, as in, “Vote for McCain, and your grandson might have to go to battle for years in a 100 years’ occupation. Vote for Obama, and he’ll live a peaceful life.” As it’s not an unlikely outcome for a McCain presidency, I think they’ll see the light.

With China in the news lately regarding U.S. recognition of the struggles of and violent retaliation against Tibetans trying to gain sovereignty from the People’s Republic, I’ve had to tiptoe on eggshells. The PRC-Taiwan thing is already touchy enough in my family. But my parents really do maintain incredibly durable and strong ties to the country of their birth. Like so many Jewish Americans of a certain generation and political stripe who wonder about Israel, often my parents’ litmus test on a presidential candidate or foreign policy decision is, “But is it good for China?”

For my parents, getting them to vote Obama is trickier. I nudged them hard to go vote in the primaries, and failed. But we did start some discussion about whether they supported Clinton or Obama. Interestingly, my father, who *ahem!* is hardly a feminist shall we say, even after years of living with two extremely strong-minded and willful women, allowed as how he might vote for Clinton. For the race barrier to be higher than the gender barrier for my dad is an interesting thing, and may speak to some latent racism that gets expressed as “electability” or “he’s too young to trust with a big job.” Or, it may have to do with wanting to back an “emergent” candidate (Clinton) versus an “insurgent” one (Obama), as Jeff Chang explains about Asian Pacific American voters.

I probed. I questioned. It seemed to come down to this: Senator Clinton benefits from the coattails of her husband former president Bill Clinton’s adminstration’s friendly relations with various Chinese fundraisers and concomitant laissez-faire attitude toward China’s internal politics. So far as I can tell, my dad’s interpretation of foreign policy attitudes toward China under the Clinton years was, “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.” I don’t recall him mentioning specific policies that underlie this predisposition.

I tried to play to my dad’s strong ethnocentric pride in China’s rise as a world economic power and political player by forwarding him an article excerpted from a book on shifting multipolar/multi-national alliances (and the decline of the U. S. as a “superpower”) by Parag Khanna, who is an informal Obama advisor. I tried to show how their strong anti-Iraq war sentiments were best matched by Obama’s past and present positions on how to stop our imperial misadventure in Iraq now that we’ve been there for over six years with a thoughtful, conscientious, gradual removal of troops.

Now, however, Clinton is responding to vigorous, bloody protest of the Olympic torch relay in Paris and protests of Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 summer olympics here at home with calls for Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Because of China’s treatment of Tibet.

In my dad’s book, that’s a huge no-no. I think he’s with the party line, literally, on Tibet: China has always owned Tibet, Tibet has always been a part of China. It goes something like this: monks lived like aristocracy and the ordinary people were like serfs and it wasn’t until the Communist Chinese came along to liberate them that the Tibetan people got out from under the religious aristocracy.

My own thinking is messy and tangled up with my abiding love for my parents, loyalty to them, and really really ambivalent feelings about China and the supposed relationship I have to that land, a relationship as much built on supposition, obligation, fantasy, and ignorance (willed, and osmosed from a generally isolationist American education and worldview) as it is on a particular experience of some cities in China and actual Chinese and Chinese American culture. We in the diaspora feel China like a phantom limb– occasionally it itches, throbs, or makes contact with an equally imagined solid object. But I allow for the fact that on this one issue, Tibet, my dear parents may be terribly, tragically wrong. The “wrong side of history” kind of wrong.

And I think Clinton’s call for Bush’s boycott of the Beijing 2008 Olympics–the dream of many Chinese in order to proudly demonstrate China’s modernity and other social and economic advancements on the world stage, also dreamed by diasporic Chinese like my parents–may be the one thing, ironically, and it gives me no happiness to say this–that makes my parents Obama supporters.

Cross-posted on MOMocrats.

4 thoughts on “Banana Republicans for Obama!

  1. interesting phenom! we have similar, tangled discussions in my family — about israel. of course, none of us have ever lived there.

    i find what’s happening with my parents — and i hope i don’t offend you — is that neither my mom nor i like any of the candidates. we are seriously considering not voting in the election. for the very first time. it’s a very, VERY weird place to be when you consider i have a masters in poli sci and feel VERY strongly about voting.

    i know, i know. you hate me now.

  2. Wreke,
    I don’t hate you–but I do recognize that for you to want to sit out the election is a BIG deal. You should blog about this. I’d love to see what your reasoning is. There are so many things at stake in this election. For me, pro-choice and the war are two biggies among many.

    I’ve been slowly chipping away at a piece about Tibet. I have very mixed feelings about it and it always amazes me how I’m forced to confront the connection to another country that I otherwise would feel mostly indifferent about. I can’t ignore China or Tibet, it’s baggage I inherited from my parents and now have to figure out myself. Bleah…I’m still trying to sort through the mess.

  3. exactly how i feel about israel. its inherited and a mess.

    and i guess i will write about my conflicted feelings. i just have to sort through it all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>