This morning’s Los Angeles Times had an article examining the way in which Hillary Clinton often straddles the fence on the outsourcing issue by cleverly playing to both Indian Americans and to big labor (two of her big money supporters):
To many labor unions and high-tech workers, the Indian giant Tata Consultancy Services is a serious threat — a company that has helped move U.S. jobs to India while sending thousands of foreign workers on temporary visas to the United States.
So when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) came to this struggling city to announce some good news, her choice of partners was something of a surprise.
Joining Tata Consultancy’s chief executive at a downtown hotel, Clinton announced that the company would open a software development office in Buffalo and form a research partnership with a local university. Tata told a newspaper that it might hire as many as 200 people.
The 2003 announcement had clear benefits for the senator and the company: Tata received good press, and Clinton burnished her credentials as a champion for New York’s depressed upstate region. [Link]
p>In this arrangement, both sides appear to win. Buffalo gets new jobs and a big Indian business becomes more credible in its future dealings with the U.S. My impression is that most Indian Americans (especially second-gen) don’t care much about the outsourcing issue purely on its merits either way. There are a lot more important things to debate. What is much more important to Indian Americans is the skill with which the candidate handles the issue. The slightest hint of xenophobic or protectionist speech in an attempt to assuage big labor (or xenophobes) pisses off the South Asian voter. Obama’s campaign figured that out the hard way earlier this year. In truth, Obama and Clinton both want desi money but they have to pocket it by staying just far enough away that they don’t come off as curry lovers. For example, earlier this month wealthy IITers held their annual alumni conference in Santa Clara. IIT + Silicon Valley = $$$. Destitute John McCain would have been there in a heart beat if invited. Clinton however, appeared by videocon. This way she could appeal to Indian Americans and get their money without pissing off big labor by actually being in a room full of foreign educated Indians. That’s some skill. The true test for Clinton (and the other Dems) lies ahead. Big labor is getting smart about her game and is begining to raise a ruckus:
… in Buffalo, the fruits of the Tata deal have been hard to find. The company, which called the arrangement Clinton’s “brainchild,” says “about 10″ employees work here. Tata says most of the new employees were hired from around Buffalo. It declines to say whether any of the new jobs are held by foreigners, who make up 90% of Tata’s 10,000-employee workforce in the United States.
As for the research deal with the state university that Clinton announced, school administrators say that three attempts to win government grants with Tata for health-oriented research were unsuccessful and that no projects are imminent.
The Tata deal underscores Clinton’s bind as she attempts to lead a Democratic Party that is turning away from the free-trade policies of her husband’s administration in the 1990s and is becoming more skeptical of trade deals and temporary-worker visas. [Link]
p>Even though the above passage seems to indicate a victory for Indian business at the expense of American big labor, Clinton is able to massage it into this:
Clinton often laments a system that, as she told a government workers union last month, rewards companies for “moving our jobs overseas.” “Outsourcing is a problem, and it’s one that I’ve dealt with as a senator from New York,” Clinton said during a Democratic candidates debate in June. She said she had tried “to stand against the tide of outsourcing…” [Link]
This issue will continue to be the Democrats Achilles heal in the eyes of South Asian voters. The real question here is to see which democrat calls Clinton out on her hypocrisy. The irony is that calling her out (presumably in favor of big labor) would be foolish and will simply alienate the Indian American vote. On the flip-side I don’t think any candidate will have the courage to come out squarely in favor of outsourcing and the inevitability of a global economy.