Sunday, November 02, 2008

Features focus on Vietnamese Support for McCain

This morning's Weekend Edition Sunday program on National Public Radio aired a segment exploring how the national trend of Asian Americans leaning heavily for Barack Obama is being bucked by large portions of the Vietnamese American community. While most national Asian American organziations and the largest proportions of polled APAs from diverse ethnic groups and regions are continuing their leftward trend in 2008, Vietnamese Americans have collectively remained Senator McCain's most stalwart supporters among Asian Americans.

Reporting from Little Saigon in Orange County, Ca., NPR interviews supporters explaining a strong connection they feel for the candidate, in lagre measure out of respect for his serving years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Online audio for this story will be available at approx. 12:00 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, as more detailed coverage by the Associated Press' Amy Taxin observes, the "special tie" many Vietnamese Americans feel for McCain has carried over from his time in Southeast Asia to his service in Congress. McCain's subsequent "efforts in Congress on behalf of Vietnamese refugees is being repaid" Taxin writes, in her report from a campaign office in a strip mall in Westminster, which she describes as "ground zero for efforts by Vietnamese-Americans to elect the Republican presidential candidate and, at the same time, increase their political influence."

On the Vietland website, a commentary attributed to Shandon Phan suggests that this sense of connection is not lost even on younger Vietnamese Americans, who may be at a generational remove from the war.
"As young Vietnamese Americans, some of us grew up listening to our parents
tell us bedtime stories of the war...Some may call it a burden, but we take
pride in treasuring that part of our history," Phan writes.

This recognition of the community's history carries a feeling of obligation and gratitude for many voters.
"As Vietnamese Americans who believe that Senator John McCain is uniquely
qualified to lead our nation, we have been handed an unprecedented opportunity
to express our gratitude for his sacrifices. Recognizing this opportunity also
demands us to act," Phan says.

A number of commentators are also watching the Vietnamese American vote closely this Tuesday, seeing it as significant not only for McCain in particular, but also as an indicator of the community's clout. In recent years, much has been written and forecast about the rapidly swelling political influence of Asian American voters overall, and of the growing California Vietnamese community in particular.

However, California's VietAms faced some bracing setbacks in the 2006 elections. As Andrew Lam of New America Media observed, the midterms left Vietnamese Americans "mulling a poor showing byVietnamese American candidates" and "asking why only three out of 18 Vietnamese candidates from California [all incumbents] won their races for city, state and national offices...What happened to the growing political clout of the state's Vietnamese community?"

The community suffered the further blow of scandal, as a scare-letter campaign targeting Latinos dogged O.C. congressional candidate Tan Nguyen well after losing his election effort, and gave rise to a stigma that seemed to unfairly mark the wider community and its candidates. Even though the state AG cleared Nguyen of intending to intimidate voters, the feds charged him with attempting to impede the investigation itself. Nguyen was indicted by a federal grand jury on an obstruction-of-justice charge just last month, and on Oct. 14 entered a not-guilty plea in advance of his December trial, according to the Orange Country Register.

All of these setbacks may be only so many "growing pains," however, as Andrew Lam wrote in his midterms follow-up, "Big Politics in Little Saigon". In the event of a McCain victory on Tuesday, the profile of Vietnamese Americans as a voting bloc could be raised considerably. This would likely position the community to have an important role within the Republican Party, which has otherwise seen a continuing mass-abandonment by other Asian American ethnic groups over several cycles now. As such, it could play also be positioned to play a large role in representing the wider Asian American community itself.