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Turning Up the Pressure

On February 8, 2008, CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” ran a segment on the strong support Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gets from Asian voters — in the California primary, they voted for her 3-1 — which led reporter Gary Tuchman to ask why so few Asians support Barack Obama. The report left the impression that Asians (and Hispanics), most of whom are recent immigrants, do not want to vote for a black, and generally oppose “change.”

A week later, the program aired another segment on Asian support for Mrs. Clinton. This time, Gary Tuchman interviewed Dr. S.B. Woo, former Delaware lieutenant governor and founder of the Asian political lobby, the 80-20 Initiative. Dr. Woo claims it was his organization’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton that resulted in overwhelming Asian support, not their supposed fear of blacks or change.

Mr. Tuchman failed to mention in the program that between the two segments, CNN came under pressure to change its mind about why Asians support Mrs. Clinton. Shortly after the first segment aired, Kathleen To, president of the 80-20 Initiative, sent its members a “Call to Action,” urging them to sign an on-line petition to CNN to take the video off its website and “do another segment with balanced reporting.” Miss To warned that any suggestion that Asians are afraid of a black candidate was “very serious” and “could cause racial disharmony between the black community and ours.”

Two days later, 80-20 sent another “Call to Action,” noting that 1,250 members had already signed the petition, and urging more signatures. It was important to “keep up the pressure,” because “the resounding success of the petition is proof positive of our community’s newly established political cohesiveness — news for CNN!”

Three days later, 80-20 sent out a victory message, entitled “CNN airs OUR view on AsAm [Asian American] cohesiveness tonight.” It boasted that Dr. Woo had explained that it was the 80-20 Initiative that is delivering Asian votes for Hillary Clinton.

Model Minority

Asians have often been described as the “model minority.” They do well in school, commit few crimes, and rarely suffer from the degeneracy common among blacks and Hispanics. They have the highest incomes of any racial group and have made the fewest political demands upon the white majority. Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans have been particularly unobtrusive, and most socially and politically compatible with the majority.

Over the past decade, however, Asians who, after Hispanics, are the fastest-growing racial group in the country, have begun to organize politically. Particularly since the presidential election of 2000, they have tried to build an explicitly pan-Asian-American political bloc to promote their interests.

At the forefront of this effort is the 80-20 Initiative. Founded in 1997, 80-20 describes itself as “a national, nonpartisan, Political Action Committee dedicated to winning equal opportunity and justice for all Asian Americans through a SWING bloc vote” by which it hopes to deliver 80 percent of all Asian votes to candidates it endorses.

80-20 lobbying takes place almost entirely by Internet and consists of mobilizing members by e-mail. 80-20 claims it has 750,000 addresses, and in his interview on CNN, Dr. Woo claimed 80-20 can reach 55 percent of the “Asian American community” within eight hours. In certain elections in certain districts, any group that really could deliver 80 percent of the Asian vote would wield considerable power.

One of 80-20’s standard complaints is that Asian-Americans do not get the high positions they deserve. To make this point, it runs ads like the one on the previous page, which appeared in the Washington Post in 2006. It used graphs to claim that Asians are only half as likely as non-Asians to be promoted to management levels in industry, and only one-third as likely to be promoted in the federal government. The group claims women, blacks, and Hispanics all do better than Asians. 80-20’s conclusion? Despite the “deep sacrifices of parents and sheer diligence by their children,” at current rates of progress, “equal opportunity will not be reached in another 75 years.”

The pose of victim is not very convincing for a group that has had such prominent successes, including high-profile entrepreneurial records in companies such as Yahoo and Cisco Systems. Nor do the officers of 80-20 seem to have been held back because they are Asian. The founder, Dr. Woo, was born in China in 1937 and immigrated to the US in 1955. He is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Delaware and served as lieutenant governor of Delaware from 1985 to 1989. Current president Kathleen To is a former cancer researcher at the University of Texas and retired foundation president who served on the New York Life Insurance Woman’s Advisory Board. She has been a regular writer for the Dallas Morning News, and was appointed honorary commercial attaché by former Texas governor Ann Richards. All officers and board members appear to have had distinguished careers and are hardly abject victims of the “glass ceiling” of which they complain.

This is nevertheless something of an obsession for 80-20. During the 2004 election, it sent letters to each of the presidential candidates, asking for three promises. If elected, the new president would first order the secretary of labor to hold hearings on discrimination against Asians. Second, if statistics suggest there was discrimination, he would have the labor department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance crack down on it. Third, two years later, he would meet with Asian-American leaders to discuss progress in fighting that discrimination.

80-20 people really seem to think they face unique barriers. As board member Frank Lee said in a statement this January, “We are truly fighting for . . . rights already enjoyed by ALL Americans except for Asian Americans.”

In 2004, John Edwards, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Joe Liebermann, and Dennis Kucinich all made the three promises 80-20 asked them to. Every Republican declined.

This year, 80-20 has extracted yet more promises. On June 1, 2007, it sent a “Presidential Candidate Questionnaire” by fax, e-mail, and priority mail to everyone in the race, Democrat and Republican. It kept the promises from 2004 about stamping out “discrimination,” and added three more about appointing Asian judges to the bench. In the first version of the questionnaire, candidates had to promise to appoint at least two Asians as appeals court judges — none is Asian now — and “consider” filling a Supreme Court vacancy with an Asian. At the district court level, 80-20 wanted an outright quota. Each candidate had to promise that during his first term he would appoint enough Asians to boost their numbers to half their percentage of the population. That would be an increase from the present 6 to 21 judges — a more than 300 percent increase — and would mean the president would have to send up a parade of Asian nominations. Candidates also had to promise to meet with Asian-American leaders to “review the progress in adding AsAm Federal judges.”

Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel all took the pledge in June 2007, just days after they got the questionnaire, and bound themselves to a quota for Asian judges.

For six months, 80-20 got no more bites, and decided to lower its sights. Hillary Clinton’s people negotiated less binding terms. On Dec. 10, she signed what 80-20 calls a “revised” version. The promises to end “discrimination” against Asians were unchanged, but instead of an outright quota on judicial appointments, Mrs. Clinton promised to “seek to increase” in Asian nominations “until the current dismal situation is significantly remedied.” The language of the promise goes on to explain: “To put things in perspective, not meaning to imply quota, presently there are 0.6% Asian Am. Federal judges, while the Asian Am. population is 4.5%. . . .”

Not imply quota? A quota is exactly what they wanted, but couldn’t get from Mrs. Clinton. What she promised is a quota in everything but name, however. She agreed that at both the district and the appeals level the current situation is “dismal,” and she promised to improve things “significantly” during her first term. She has thus committed herself to openly race-based judicial appointments, and has promised to submit to a meeting within two years of taking office in which Asian-American “leaders” will pressure her for yet more appointments. John Edwards and Bill Richardson later signed the same “revised” version.

What did Mrs. Clinton get in return? 80-20’s endorsement before the California primary, and a promise that the group would spend $30,000 on political ads for her in the Asian ethnic media. Mrs. Clinton won the Asian vote 3-1 over Mr. Obama, and 80-20, of course, claimed credit.

The results of the California primary may have been what finally persuaded Barack Obama to take the pledge, but he has been the cagiest player of all. He swallowed the demands to correct “discrimination” against Asians without a gurgle, but his people rewrote the questions about judicial appointments. He promised only that he will make it a “top priority” to appoint Asian-Americans as district and appeals court judges. Presidents are, of course, busy people with lots of “top priorities,” so Mr. Obama got away with promising the least. (For the exact terms of each candidate’s promises see the 80-20 web page at

80-20 has duly endorsed every candidate who took the pledge, and so is now officially neutral in the Democratic primaries. Not one Republican candidate bothered to return the questionnaire, and John McCain shows no sign of doing so.

Let us be frank: 80-20’s “endorsement” process has been cynical and even dishonest. It started by saying it would endorse only those candidates who made certain promises. Why, then, did it let Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama successively water down the promises others had already made? It cheated Senators Dodd, Biden and Gravel when it let Mrs. Clinton make weaker promises and then gave her the same endorsement it had given them — they were still in the race. It then cheated Mrs. Clinton when it let Mr. Obama sign an even weaker pledge to get the same endorsement. 80-20 is playing the candidates for fools and getting away with it. Needless to say, they have all been very quiet about how they were tricked and about the race-based judicial appointments they have promised to make.

A Record of Success?

80-20 claims that in both 2000 and 2004 it came close to its goal of delivering 80 percent of the Asian vote to its chosen candidate. The initiative endorsed Al Gore in 2000, and takes credit for getting him 66 percent of the Asian vote, and 70 percent in California, “where 80-20 specifically focused its efforts.” In 2004, 80-20 endorsed John Kerry “with reservations,” but promised to give him a 30-point victory among Asians. The 80-20 website quotes a Los Angeles Times poll showing that the Asian vote went 64-34 for Kerry. According to another exit poll it cites, 75 percent of Asians voted for Kerry. 80-20 further notes that while black, Hispanic, and Jewish support for President Bush was up in 2004 over 2000, the group takes credit for lowering his support among Asians.

Is this coincidence? Does 80-20 just figure out how Asians are likely to vote and then claim credit for it when they do? There is no way to tell, but the book Click on Democracy, by three Syracuse University professors, concluded that 80-20 appeared to be “one of the most successful grassroots efforts to emerge from the 2000 political season.”

Some 80-20 claims sound like empty boasting. The group says it persuaded Bill Clinton to make former congressman Norman Mineta commerce secretary in 2000, thus making the Japanese-American the first Asian cabinet member. It also says it pressured George W. Bush to hold Mr. Mineta over in his cabinet as transportation secretary, and to appoint Elaine Chao as labor secretary.

When it is not tormenting politicians, 80-20 likes to police the media. In 2002, the Seattle Times ran the following headline about figure-skating: “Hughes Good as Gold: American Outshines Kwan, Slutskaya in Skating Surprise.” “Kwan” was Michelle Kwan, a skater born in the US. 80-20 says it got Seattle Times executive editor Mike Fancher to apologize personally for the implication that Miss Kwan was not American. In 2004, 80-20 forced TNT sports analyst Steve Kerr to apologize for referring to Chinese NBA player Yao Ming as a “7’6” Chinaman.”

In 2002, 80-20 took credit for persuading Abercrombie & Fitch to stop selling T-shirts it claimed were offensive to Asians. One, for example, had cartoon Chinese men on it advertising Wong Brothers Laundry Service, phone number: 555-WONG. The company motto was “Two Wongs can make it white.” Another T-shirt advertised “Wok ’n Bowl,” or “Chinese food and bowling.”

A Wise Strategy?

80-20 claims to be working for all “AsAms,” although officers and board members are overwhelmingly Chinese, and Dr. Woo started 80-20 by soliciting fellow Chinese. The group has tried to cast a wider net, but without much success. One of 80-20’s key claims — that Asians are victims of discrimination — is not going to go down equally well with Filipinos, Indians, Samoans, and Japanese. Nor will all these groups obediently do what a largely Chinese organization tells them to.

One strategy for high-IQ North Asians could have been to emphasize their common interests with whites — eliminating “affirmative action,” promoting tough sentences for criminals, keeping out illegal Mexicans — rather than acting like the NAACP or La Raza. Unlike blacks and Hispanics, Asians can make it on merit, and they are already heavily represented in many technical fields. If they insist on quotas for judges and CEOs, they could find the tables turned on them in other areas. It will come at their expense (and at that of whites) if blacks and Hispanics get quotas in engineering and medicine. Many Asians are uncomfortable about joining their “black and brown brothers” against the white “oppressor.”

In the end, however, the advantages blacks and Hispanics gain from racial activism, bloc-voting, and an aggressive victim mentality may simply be too attractive even for Asians to forgo. It may be, that as the United States continues to lose racial and cultural coherence, Asians will decide they have nothing to gain by informally allying themselves with whites and staying out of explicitly racial politics. Why should they line up with a majority that does not even defend its own interests?

At the same time, now that one Asian group has taken a prominent position as an explicitly race-based pressure group, it will be harder for less militant Asians to get support. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has been around a lot longer than the National Council of La Raza. It used to emphasize assimilation and citizenship, but as soon as more radical groups came along and started getting money and attention, LULAC became a carbon copy of La Raza. Many blacks and Hispanics now think the way to get ahead is to shout “racism” rather than put their heads down and work.

It looks as though Asians are beginning to see things the same way. What was once a model minority may have finally decided that, in the age of “diversity,” power comes from racial solidarity. When will whites reach the same conclusion?

‘Dismal Situation’

Here are 80-20’s figures for the current racial mix of federal judges:

Black:88 or 10.7 percent
Hispanic:54 or 6.5 percent
Asian:6 or 0.7 percent

80-20 wants a quota for Asian-American judges, but will settle for efforts to correct the “current dismal situation.”