The Racial Logic of Politics: Asian Americans and Party Competition

Claire Jean Kim
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Spring 2008
Academy of Political Science
The scholarship that addresses Asian Americans in relation to electoral politics is still small, though growing. Thomas Kim's book is a welcome addition to this literature. Kim poses a question about election year 1996: Why did Asian American political elites who appeared poised to realize gains in political influence in the presidential election season find themselves not only marginalized but also vilified by both Democrats and Republicans as agents of Communist China? The short answer, according to Kim: Asian American political elites fundamentally misunderstood the possibilities for attaining political power in the two-party system. Using the campaign finance scandal of 1996 as his main example, Kim argues that the two-party system creates structural incentives, indeed imperatives, for both parties to exclude Asian Americans and to treat them as a racial bogeyman that must be kept at bay. With Asian Americans racialized as perpetual foreigners working as agents of foreign powers, party leaders engage in a rational calculation that tells them that the political costs of bringing Asian Americans into the party outweigh the benefits. Party leaders need not be racist or hold prejudiced attitudes, Kim emphasizes; they need only behave strategically for this dynamic to hold. Destined to remain at the gate looking in, Asian Americans should turn their attention, Kim avers, to community-level political work and give up on attaining power in the national electoral arena.
Political Geography
America, Asia