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Politics Play on Fear of Outsourcing

July 7, 2010

Is the concept behind Nelson J. Roach’s racist courtroom tactics being used to sway elections? Sepia Mutiny blogger Amardeep may have put it best when she wrote, “You thought it was dead, didn’t you? Nope, the ‘our jobs are going to India’ bogie is also still alive and well in American politics.”

This ad (below), caused quite a stir when it was first aired in Arkansas two weeks ago. It is meant to attack Bill Halter, a candidate in May 18 Democratic primary election for Arkansas’ senate seat, by calling on Arkansas voters’ fears that their jobs will all be “stolen” by cheaper workers in India. The ad is still being aired on some stations, though some have pulled the ad due to public protest.

The ad was put up by the nonprofit Americans for Job Security, which has no affiliation with either candidate. Their president, Stephen told the Associated Press, “The airwaves are crowded there. There are a dozen or more candidates, causes or groups on the air, and we needed to design something that would cut through the clutter and actually get people to discuss this issue. We think that so far, that’s working.” They have no plans to pull the ad, and make no apologies for any offense it may have caused.

Blogger Suzi Parker of Politics Daily suggests that this may be the “Worst ad ever,” and Lakshmi Gandhi, whose blog focuses on Western media’s portrayal of South Asian culture, declares that, “I now have a new favorite political attack ad of all time,” before going on to lambaste the ad.  The New Republic is asking why more Republicans haven’t stepped up to condemn the ad’s tactics, as well. The Democratic blog Blue Arkansas points out that the Republican candidates for senate have spoken out against the ad.

However, the concept behind the ad—calling upon the average American’s fears that all of India is out to steal their jobs—is still considered a reasonable argument by many. Bill Halter has filed a complaint with the FEC over the ad, but it (available in PDF form here: Halter complaint to FEC v AJS FINAL) focuses only on the fact that Americans for Job Security refuses to disclose where the funding for the ad came from.  The truth of the ad’s claim, itself, is shaky: Halter served on the board of a company that opened an office in India, but there is no evidence that any American jobs were outsourced there.

Halter’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Senator Blanche Lincoln, has publicly condemned the ad, and yet her own campaign sent out a mailer showing photos of Halter and of the Taj Mahal, and saying, “Bill Halter’s company put profits first and sent American jobs to India.” It appears that, though some stereotypical images may be considered politically incorrect, playing on fears of “foreigners out to steal jobs,” and anger towards any company that does business in India is fair game in our elections.

What do you think? Is everyone who does business in India in danger of being vilified by American public opinion? Is it fair to play on these fears? What can be done to fight this problem? Share your thoughts here, and come to NASABA Convention 2010 to help build bridges beyond fear.

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