April 05, 2004
What about the Vietnamese?

Interesting article on how Vietnamese-Americans view the 2004 Presidential election.

The older Vietnamese -- the ones who fought alongside American troops in South Vietnam and then fled to America after the communists took over -- pay close attention to American presidential politics, particularly when it comes to their native country.

These Vietnamese vets do not appear to feel much affinity with Kerry the war hero, as some American vets say they do. Unlike other Americans, for whom Vietnam is mostly a memory, some Vietnamese-Americans continue to dream of overthrowing the communist government in their homeland.

Their opinions of Kerry and Bush have been formed by more recent events.

"The Vietnamese people are not happy with Kerry," said Binh Nguyen, who heads the Houston office of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee, or VPAC. The reason, he and many others say, is House Resolution 2833.

In 2001, the United States House of Representatives, by a vote of 410 to 1, passed a bill that would link U.S. aid to Vietnam to the improvement of human rights conditions in the country. But the bill was blocked in the Senate the following year by Kerry, who was then chair of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

In a statement at the time, Kerry said he believed it was better to push for human rights through engagement with Vietnam. Not mincing his words, the senator took on the Vietnamese then protesting near his office, noting that HR 2833 would "strengthen the hand of the Vietnamese hard-liners who have never wanted the United States involved in Vietnam."

Other Vietnam war vets, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, have also called for improving ties with Vietnam. And many foreign policy experts share Kerry's belief that engagement is the best way to bring human rights reforms, economic prosperity and democracy to countries like Vietnam.

But Kerry's position on Vietnam is difficult to reconcile with his position on Cuba, where he supports continuing the trade embargo. While he criticizes "Vietnamese hard-liners," he courts Cuban hard-liners for his presidential campaign.

"He thinks we are not an important minority," laments Nguyen. "We'd like to have our perspective known to him, but we haven't had the chance."

That's a shame, and I think this is an example of the effect of Florida and its electoral votes on rational policymaking. I think Kerry did the right thing with HR 2833, but didn't follow through on it with Cuba. I can understand it from a crass political perspective, but it's too bad nonetheless.

Speaking of Cuba, this is stuff I didn't really know:

The discrepancy between Vietnamese and Cubans cannot be explained by simple demographics. There are more Vietnamese than Cubans in America, but since Cubans have lived here longer, they are likely to have more registered voters.

Geography offers the best explanation. When the Cubans fled their native island around 1960, they settled in Miami, a small city they eventually dominated. When the Vietnamese exiles arrived 15 years later, the U.S. government forced them to settle throughout the country. The unspoken goal was to avoid the creation of a Vietnamese equivalent of Miami.

The Vietnamese did eventually concentrate in areas like Orange County and San Jose, Calif.; Houston; Seattle; and New Orleans. But they have five or six centers, as compared with one for the Cubans. And the Vietnamese happen to have settled mostly in states that are not in play in this election. There are not enough of them in California to keep Kerry from winning there, and their votes don't much matter in Texas, a state Bush will almost certainly take anyway.

Not clear to me from this article is how these folks feel about Bush. Are they single-issue voters who will pull the lever for Bush because of HR 2833? Are they reluctant supporters, or perhaps not really supporters at all and may vote for Kerry anyway because he's better on other issues? Alas, we don't know from this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 05, 2004 to The making of the President | TrackBack

I'm always fascinated by looks how minorities who aren't, you know, African-Americans or Hispanics weigh in on these things. Fascinating link.

Posted by: laura on April 5, 2004 10:50 PM

Vietnamese are the most heavily Republican ethinicity.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on April 10, 2004 1:38 AM