My colleague Peter Beinart has a superb column in Time this week about how the McCain campaign are playing the race card in this election--not through the usual methods of stoking fears of black criminality and freeloading, but through insinuations that Barack Obama is a foreigner, not “the American president Americans have been waiting of,” as the McCain campaign artfully says of its candidate, but a Kenyan, a Muslim, something weird and un-American. Beinart connects the McCain ploy to Americans’ cultural fears of globalization and immigration. He writes, ‘It is these 21st century anxieties--anxieties about changes from outside America that seem beyond average Americans' control--that represent the Republicans' best shot at unhorsing Obama now.”
Beinart’s column brings out something that I learned this summer when I supervised a group of post-grads writing about immigration. One of the things they investigated was what recent immigrants, and particularly Asian-Americans and Latinos, thought about Obama. I feared that these immigrants would follow the example of past immigrants and see blacks as an out-group against whom they could array themselves--and Obama himself as an adversary. I had picked up a little of that in Latino support for Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I expected to find similar support for McCain in the general election. But to my surprise, what the writing fellows discovered in their travels and interviews was overwhelming support for Obama--on the grounds that even though he wasn’t an immigrant, he was somehow like them--perhaps, by virtue of his Kenyan father, but I think on a deeper level by virtue of being the common object of the kinds of animosities that Beinart writes about in his column. So while McCain and his campaign are trying to link Obama to fears of the forces of globalization, many recent American immigrants see him as a fellow traveler in the transformation of America into a genuinely multicultural society.
--John B. Judis