"We need someone like you to join!" That was such a welcoming statement--especially as I am sitting next to a friendly chatterbox who does not feel threatened by my chain around my neck with the word 'God' written in Arabic. (Perhaps my baseball cap might have neutralized the effect.) Yet, my wary/'smart alec' self responded with, "Do you mean someone that LOOKS like me to join the Tea Party?" By looks, I mean my "Pangean" features where most people are not absolutely certain about where my grandparents came from, and I get to check off 'Other' or 'Biracial.' Are my small business interests going to be represented by the same party that hopes to represent my minority status interests?
I could not help but ask myself if his sincere request took note that I was a small-business owner. Or if it was only because I was from a minority-Muslim background, that the GOP is trying to appeal to in response to criticism for the 2012 elections. Tokenism is not restricted to the GOP; the Democratic party has also been guilty of tokenism as well, according to the 2012 study "The Diversity Paradox: Parties, Legislatures and the Organizational Foundations of Representation in America".
"Occam's razor" would say that the simpler explanation is the most likely explanation until further evidence is presented. Apparently I had the serendipitous opportunity to sit next to a Tea Party supporter on my flight back to Chicago. Mind you: I'm not being sarcastic because he was truly an educated individual from the swing state of Pennsylvania who had strong views about the healthcare industry. To be fair, his points had a fair amount of evidence:
- My seatmate agreed that the lack of medical coverage for average Americans was, indeed, deplorable.
- The government spent a lot of money to bail out American industry.
- mall businesses did need some more support if this sector was any indication of our economy--especially if we wanted to increase our GDP and return to the standards of living our parents had hoped would improve with each new generation.
- He had argued that the Tea Party has gotten a bad reputation, much like American Muslims, have because of negative media attention--aside from Islamophobia.
The last observation was certainly new to my ears. But I was willing to listen. He asked me if I would vote for Romney since I struck him as fiscally conservative and operate a small business. I quickly responded, "Well, I'll definitely follow the Republican National Convention as well as listen to Romney in the coming Presidential debates to see how his party might acknowledge American Muslim voters." Unfortunately, Congressman Joe Walsh did not really contribute towards warm, fuzzy feelings that @TeamRomney needs if they are trying to appeal to swing voters.
But my seatmate had a point: Americans of Middle Eastern descent and American Muslim voters did share some fiscally conservative views with the GOP--and maybe, perhaps with the Tea Party? A BIG maybe. Fiscal conservatives, like my Mr. Flight Buddy also argued that government wasted much money--about 60 billion-- during the Iraq & Afghanistan war. I could not agree with him more on this last point. In 2011, though, the Tea Party has proposed more spending on defense carriers to stimulate job creation. I cannot speak for all American Muslims regarding how they felt about the bailouts in 2008. We are a pretty diverse group when it comes to fiscal policy views.
Moreover, many Tea Party members argue for less government intervention and against the Patriot Act. Given American Muslims' negative experience with police surveillance, I might support less government intervention too.
On September 1st, in Washington, DC, Emerge USA shared at the annual Islamic Society of North American convention some data on American Muslim voting dynamics. Emerge USA organizes American Muslim voters, 100,000 American Muslims in Florida feed into the 1.2 million Muslims whom are registered to vote. To the earlier point of diversity on fiscal views: American Muslims not only reside in swing states like Florida, but they may also swing between parties when time to vote in the upcoming elections, as they have done in the past.
Back to Mr. Flight Buddy's most pressing claim about small businesses--that it is in a small business's interest to align with the Tea Party. Not everyone in the middle class--which includes most small business owners--are buying into the Tea Party, or the larger GOP's, political objectives, according to Shawna Vercher, who comes from the Huffington Post Community. The GOP proposes extending the tax cuts for those that earn over $250,000 per year and speaks of small business interests in the same breath. However, a Treasury Department report indicated that only 2.5 percent of small-business owners would actually face higher taxes if we continue with an Obama administration, which will not renew the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year. The reason: not all small businesses are really small businesses. The definition is so broad, that it may encompass 'S' and 'C' corporations, which report gross receipts in the trillions. So these types of 'small businesses' definitely do not share the financial risk of "mom and pop shops". Nor does the broader definition accurately represent the challenges that a home-based business (like mine) face.
Each American voter represents unique interests. Each American voter also may identify with religious view that are more in line with one party. At the same time, his/her political interests might align with the opposing party. Unfortunately no one party can represent them all at the same time. Regardless of which party wins on November 6th, I am glad that Mr. Flight Buddy decided to engage with me on the deeply divisive issue of party allegiance. Just like I promised to listen to all the presidential debates, he promised that he would read this post since we both walked off the plane smiling about the few points that we could agree upon, like accelerating America's economy.