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Indian Americans Turn Out for Obama Fundraiser

Posted on May 3, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCOPresident Barack Obama has started his fundraising efforts for his 2012 reelection campaign in high spirits, joking with audiences in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles last week as he listed his past successes and urged Democrats to spread the word that “Change” doesn’t happen overnight.

A healthy contingent of Indian Americans showed up among a crowd of 2,500 to hear him speak at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium on the evening of April 20 as part of his fundraising trip here, which included a VIP-only private dinner in the city and an online town-hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook in Silicon Valley.

In a 40-minute speech, he vowed to continue investing in clean energy, science and infrastructure improvements, and promised that “Every single American will get health coverage” (this, to a standing ovation). He also touted the appointments of two “wise women” to the Supreme Court, the changes to student loan regulation, and the rolling back of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among his achievements.

“… And then we dealt with [Somali] pirates, a pandemic and an oil spill,” he said.

But the president also acknowledged that many in his party have become disillusioned with his record in office.

“There’s so much strength, so much resilience out there, but still so much to be done,” Obama noted.

Standing in the Masonic Auditorium, a building that has been used for the naturalization ceremonies for U.S. citizens countless times, Obama said, “No matter where your ancestors came from — through Ellis Island or across the Rio Grande — some of you are frustrated.

“Change in the abstract is easy. Change in the concrete is hard!

“Everybody’s a political consultant. You know who I’m talking about: you!” he said to laughter and applause.

“‘Obama’s changed!’ he mocked. “‘I used to be so excited. I still have the poster!’ I get frustrated, too. There are times I feel so burdened. I know how you guys feel.”

Yet Indian Americans who have supported Obama were largely positive about the direction he’s taking now.

One young woman in the audience said she herself had been naturalized there in the Masonic Auditorium. “I became a citizen when he was president, and it means a lot,” 28-year-old Damini Patel of San Francisco told India-West. Even considering the criticism he’s gotten, she said, “he’s done a great job so far.” Patel was accompanied by her sister, Meena, visiting from England. “People love him in England!” she noted. “We hope he’ll be reelected.”

“President Obama came in with such high hopes that there was bound to be some level of disappointment,” longtime fundraiser and activist Shefali Razdan Duggal told India-West. “However, if you objectively look at the accomplishments achieved by President Obama in the first half of his term — healthcare reform that had eluded multiple administrations before his; passing a bipartisan stimulus package in response to a recession he inherited; the related improving economy and reduction in unemployment, amongst many others — it becomes clear that he has been incredibly productive.”

“He needs four more years to get the job done,” Sujatha Suresh, an entrepreneur based in Cupertino, told India-West after the speech. But she said she would have liked to hear more about other issues, such as “why the Wall Street companies that caused the collapse of the housing market and this deep recession have not been brought to justice,” and “when he will ask folks who took our funds to recover to stop taking fat-cat bonuses.”

Alkesh Choudhary is another Bay Area Indian American with concerns. She owns a business that provides information technology for the federal market. “As a business owner in the private sector, [I see that] we are losing jobs, because big corporations are hiring in India and China and the Philippines. They do this not only to get cheap labor but also to save taxes.”

Columnist Vivek Wadhwa writes, “If the president really wants Silicon Valley to continue to lead the world, he should unconditionally support the Startup Visa, and clear the skilled-immigrant visa backlog.”

The StartUp Visa Act of 2011, created by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), would allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to invest in the immigrant’s startup venture.

“Right now, the president is saying all the right things about the need for skilled immigrants, but is bundling this legislation in with other bills that have virtually no chance of passage,” noted Wadhwa.

Sheetal Ohri, another local entrepreneur, told India-West that she found his talk “very inspiring. He definitely touched the various issues I care about and we have to give him another term to fulfill all the projects he has started.”

And Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a former Richmond, Calif., city council member now serving as governor’s appointee to the Area Board 5 on Developmental Disabilities, said, “What he is doing with the economy needs to be continued. I am wholeheartedly working for him in any way I can.”

Among the prominent Democrats in the audience were House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Jerry McNerney, state Controller John Chiang and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

At least one leading Republican is offering a different take on Obama’s plans for reelection in 2012.

Harmeet Dhillon, chair of the Republican Party in San Francisco, told India-West in an e-mail April 26, “It’s tough to defeat an incumbent president, which is why the conventional wisdom has the star players in the party’s future, such as Ambassador John Huntsman, or Governor Chris Christie, or Senator Marco Rubio, sitting out 2012.

“At the same time, that is exactly the thinking that allowed Ronald Reagan to beat Carter, and Bill Clinton to beat George Bush senior. Even Barack Obama came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination.

“So it’s still early in the game and with today’s online technology, a new candidate could come in and raise all the money necessary to run and win against an increasingly weak Obama. His disruptive, less-successful-than-expected fundraising trip last week so early in the cycle underscores Democrat concerns about losing the White House. I don’t see Sarah Palin running, or enough support getting behind a Huckabee or a Gingrich; I’m predicting a dark horse nominee for the Republicans.”

28 April 2011


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