PAC Launches Racist Attack Against Ro Khanna Using Mike Honda's Talking Points (#CA17)

I wasn't going to bring up the point of xenophobia in this piece, because I thought that maybe I was a little too close to it. I'm an Indo-American, and the three mail pieces my household received from a labor PAC supporting Congressman Mike Honda (the same one that last week sent mailers asking voters in my district to vote for a Republican), stuck out at me as ridiculous and xenophobic, as it fronted a darkened photo of Ro Khanna, with red outline, reading "Don't let Ro Khanna outsource our jobs!"

Immediately, the words that came into my head were xenophobia and racism. There's nothing in Khanna's record or positions advocating for offshoring, so what else? Khanna's Indian, and corporations are outsourcing technology jobs to India, so, ya know... you can make the connection, can't you? Wink wink.

But still, I didn't want to say it. Could I be a little too sensitive given my own ethnicity?

Then, something happened, and I wasn't expecting it. A friend of mine was over, who's not Indian, and he saw the mailer laying on my coffee table. He'd never seen that mailer before. And the first thing out of his mouth was, "This is so xenophobic!"

At that moment, I realized that I wasn't being oversensitive, or wrong, to think the mailer contained ethnic over and undertones, and sought to scapegoat Indo-Americans for the impact of a fast-globalizing economy. And neither were a number of Indo-American community leaders who sent a letter to Mike Honda asking him to repudiate the mailer, which he has thus far refused to do.

The Honda camp's attempt to wash their hands off the xenophobic mailer, without rebuking it directly, takes a familiar tone: we can't be held accountable for everything our supporters say, is essentially their line. That would be fine (what with given the legal wall of separation between candidates and political action committees), except for two things.

First, this is not how a statesman operates. John Edwards was many things, and many of them rotten, but during the 2008 primaries, he said something that moved me: "If you are voting against Senator Obama because he's black or if you are voting against Senator Clinton because she's a woman, I don't want your vote." Edwards certainly didn't have to do that, as he was the one that at the time stood to gain from racist sentiments against Obama and misogynistic ones against Clinton.

It is a really sad state of politics when Mike Honda - a Silicon Valley staple and known as a genuine nice guy - lacks the courage to come out and say, If you are voting against Ro because he's Indo-American, I don't want your vote. It's the least he should be able to do.

But far more practically, the Honda campaign cannot simply disown this mudslinging because its hits on Khanna are practically lifted off the three talking points Honda's campaign itself has pushed against Khanna. Here they are, on the back of the mailer.

The talking points, that Khanna is somehow for offshoring American jobs, is a puppet for the wealthy and is for reducing corporations aren't merely lifted almost verbatim from Mike Honda's own campaign website, they are also plainly false and easily debunked. So let's do that quickly.

Khanna's position on repatriation of overseas profits: To say that Khanna supports lowering the repatriation tax in order to help create more jobs overseas is a patent falsehood. It is true that Khanna supports lowering the tax rate on repatriated profits, but he would only do so only for companies that are willing to use the break to demonstrably create jobs at home. That position is made clear in the San Jose Mercury News source article that both the attack piece and Honda's campaign use as well as the other source article from Salon used by the Honda campaign and consequently this mailer.

Salon noted that in his book, Khanna crafts a targeted plan to link the tax break to not only American jobs but to reducing American unemployment.

Only those multinationals that expand their total U.S. workforce, measured by the number of people on the payroll, should qualify. The amount of dollars these companies repatriate at a discounted tax rate, moreover, should be directly tied to the number of unemployed workers that they hire and keep employed for more than 12 months. These provisions would help overcome the loopholes in the 2004 effort, preventing companies from playing accounting games by using repatriated money to displace money that had already been committed for salaries or domestic investment.

Khanna has also proposed using the tax revenue portion of the reduced repatriation tax to create an infrastructure bank, an idea that President Obama has pushed from the beginning.

Mike Honda's proposal is to eliminate the tax deferment of overseas profits of American companies, taxing them at the corporate rate as soon as they are made. Even if you don't necessarily buy Khanna's argument that it will just encourage more multinationals to incorporate overseas, you may want to consider the fact that Khanna's proposal is much more practical, in that it is much more likely to get through Congress.

Khanna on taxes on the wealthy: both the Honda campaign and the mailer's claim is spurious, given that Khanna has long supported President Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy both by raising rates on the top income earners and closing loopholes. When pushed, it turns out that the Honda campaign's attack lines are based on reports of Khanna being a proponent of keeping the capital gains tax at current levels (which was raised to 20% in the fiscal cliff deal).

Now, I have long been a proponent of taxing capital gains as ordinary income, but in the mean time, the Honda campaign or its supporters have no face attacking Ro Khanna for shifting the tax burden to the middle class and the poor when Honda supported raising taxes by as much as 50% on the poorest taxpayers as part of a "Progressive Caucus" budget to eliminate nearly all Bush tax cuts, not just on the top income earners.

I should also note that the dispute on capital gains is easily solved by the Buffett Rule proposed by President Obama, in which anyone making an individual income of over $1 million a year pays at least 30% in taxes.

Khanna's position on corporate taxes: Khanna's position on this is identical to President Obama's. Both support collecting more tax revenue from the largest multinationals while ensuring a level playing field for small and medium-sized businesses by closing loopholes which allow the largest companies to often evade any taxation at all. Both also support bringing down the corporate tax rate, contingent upon closing these loopholes, in order to increase competitiveness of American business.

If Congressman Honda and his supporters want to tell us that he's for continuing the status quo, where the nominal corporate tax rate is at a feel-good high for progressives but in reality the largest corporations laugh all the way to the bank, then they should have at it, I suppose.

But Congressman Honda's campaign can only shirk responsibility in the public eye for so long. I don't believe that shirking is legitimate any longer when the talking points used to launch a vicious, xenophobic attack on his Democratic opponent are essentially lifted from his campaign literature. There is no excuse for Honda not to step out and condemn the xenophobic nature of a mailer that is trying to shore up his votes, even if he is still refusing to have a public debate about the issues on which he says he and Ro disagree.

Let me be perfectly clear: falsely attacking an Indo-American candidate for office for outsourcing is no different from attacking a Latino politician for undocumented immigrants "taking American jobs" or from a dog whistle against an African American candidate as an "Affirmative Action candidate."

Honda and his supporters are growing more desperate by the day. If Mike Honda won't consider his responsibility as a statesman to condemn these desperate tactics, he may want to at least pay attention the fact that desperate mudslinging in the 11th hour more often dooms the mudslinger's preferred candidate than his opponent in diverse districts.