Friday, June 15, 2007

Obama Campaign Goes the Xenophobic Route

[UPDATE: Obama has now distanced himself from this memo. See Sepia Mutiny]

Today's New York Times has a story about the Clintons' recent financial disclosures, and their decision to liquidate all their stock holdings. Fine; makes sense.

But what's really remarkable about this story is the questionable anonymous memo issued by the Obama campaign in response to the Clinton disclosures. The memo amounts to an attempt to smear Clinton as being too friendly to India, and is laced with xenophobic sentiments and insinuations. It starts with the title of the memo itself: "HILLARY CLINTON (D-PUNJAB)’S PERSONAL FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL TIES TO INDIA."

And it goes downhill from there. Obama's campaign memo (read the whole thing) accuses the Clintons of a number of things:

1) They start out by stating that the Clintons own stock in an Indian company called "Easy Bill," which is actually just a company that allows Indians to automate their bill payments. This is not a BPO type company, but a service for Indians within India, so one wonders why is this even included.

2) They then go after the Clintons for accepting speaking fees from Cisco (this is Bill) and campaign donations from Cisco employees (Hillary). Cisco may be more guilty than many software companies of dumping its U.S. based workforce in favor of cheaper Indian engineers in the early 2000s, but it's nevertheless the case that U.S. high tech job market is in pretty good shape again overall -- outsourcing hasn't created the apocalypse that was feared. This is a little bit strange: I doubt that many Americans think of Cisco as an evil outsourcer.

3) They seem to find fault with Clinton's relationship with the hotel tycoon Sant Singh Chatwal. Chatwal has organized two big fundraisers for her, netting a total of $1 million in donations. Chatwal also started "Indian Americans for Hillary 2008," which ought not to be an issue (doesn't Obama have South Asians for Obama hosted on his campaign website?). The Obama campaign's memo underlines Chatwal's various legal difficulties, general financial shadiness, and pending court cases, to make it all look like some kind of shady back-room deal. This accusation seems strange to me, since the fundraisers are completely legit, even if Chatwal himself is in trouble.

4) Finally, they quote Lou "Keep Em Out" Dobbs several times, as he mocked Hillary in 2004 for saying that "outsourcing cuts both ways" (as in, it creates some American jobs as well as sending others overseas). In fact, though her particular example of "10 new jobs in Buffalo" was a bit weak, Hillary was right about this: companies like TCS are opening up a number of U.S. offices, and more generally, the greater efficiency enabled by BPO helps keep American companies competitive on a global scale, and has, in my view, actually helped the U.S. economy. (All of Hillary's quotes about "outsourcing cutting both ways" are from the 2004 campaign season, incidentally.)

So now the question is, how aware was Obama personally of the contents of this "anonymous" memo? If Obama doesn't distance himself from the memo immediately, this macaca is going to be sending his moolah to "Hillary Clinton, D-Punjab."

[UPDATE: Obama has now distanced himself from this memo. See Sepia Mutiny]

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Anonymous said...

the punjab reference is one Hillary made herself.

11:32 AM  
Amardeep said...

Yes, I noticed that -- but the way the Obama campaign has used it has turned it into a slur.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous said...

What's xenophobic about opposing outsourcing? I don't get it. Also, I don't get what's wrong with pointing out the legal problems of a Clinton fundraiser. Obama has gotten into similar trouble over his dealings with Rezko, so it seems like fair game.

11:54 AM  
The Imugi said...

I saw Obama speak some months ago and I have to say, I was disappointed. There was a distinct impression that he was trying to play down his "differences" (i.e. his diverse personal history and ethnicity) and paint himself like "everybody else". Ironically, I was intially attracted to him because of those differences (the multi-national personal history). Now a comment like this from his campaign? That's really not cool.

3:38 PM  
Amardeep said...

The outsourcing part isn't offensive, it's the argument that somehow Clinton is beholden to her Indian donors in an unseemly way. ("D-Punjab" turns her joke into a slur because of the way it suggests she's betrayed her primary constituency in New York.)

Also, what is wrong with investing in an Indian company (Easy Bill has nothing to do with outsourcing)? And what is wrong with being a member of the Senate India Caucus? Why are these points in the memo, if not to create a general impression of Hillary as kowtowing to Indian business interests?

The outsourcing bit at the end might be legitimate (intelligent people can disagree), but it is lumped in with these other attacks that make India seem like the Bogeyman.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous said...

Before everyone loses sight of this point, I feel it should be made at least once: the way the Republicans jumped on the bandwagon over these emails (this one, and the false 9/11 speech claim) show them to be extreme hypocrites. What donations have they made that they don't want known to the public? How much do they make for 9/11 themed speeches?

These skirmishes between campaigns during primary season are hardly anything new. The reason this one received media attention is because of The Drudge Report and other right wing cites jumping on the bandwagon. It's not like this became a story because it was Obama's campaign that put them out there. It was only until the right-wingers leeched onto it that it broke into the MSM.

1:55 PM  
WCB said...

Obama takes full responsibility in letter:

6:59 PM  
Sell me Something I Don't Own said...

I agree with what The Imugi said. Why paint yourself like everyone else? Americans are tired of the same thing and the excitement that Obama created is now evaporating each and every time he neuters himself to appeal to the imaginary moderate base.

5:56 PM  

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