Bobby Jindal is the darling of the Republican Party, especially the extremists on the religious right. They see him as competent, as socially conservative and as an example to themselves that they are beyond race. The GOP hasn’t adequately parsed its difficulties with race, and some of their members might see Jindal as Apu of the Simpsons.
Commentary By: Steven Reynolds
I was talking with my friend Jeff the other day. He’s a Pastor of a mainstream denomination church in a conservative part of California. I made a comment like. . . ‘It isn’t that all Republicans are racist, of course,’ formulating thoughts as I went along. Then Jeff finished the statement quite well ‘ ‘it’s just that for so many white people for whom race is an issue, they’re Republican.’ I think you might be able to say the same about the issue of immigration, too, that the anti-immigration nativists tend to be Republicans, and many of them are so because they see white people becoming the minority in this country. All that said, it seems to me the Republican Party has a hugely complicated problem with race in its ranks. So the powers that be in the GOP end up presenting us with Bobby Jindal.
Everyone, though seems a bit coy about Jindal on the subject of race. The news media often talks about Barack Obama as a black man, or as an African American. The Washington Post this morning, in a profile piece of Jindal, calls him ‘nonwhite.’ (Time’s profile of a few years ago refers not to race but to Jindal’s ‘ethinicity’) They catalog Jindal’s supporters, who include Grover Norquist among the fiscal hawks of the GOP, and Tony Perkins from the social conservative wing of the GOP, all the while touting Jindal’s bona fides for governance in Louisiana and also his extremist social conservative stances:
The record is still evolving, like the rest of him. But social conservatives like what they have heard about the public and private Jindal: his steadfast opposition to abortion without exceptions; his disapproval of embryonic stem cell research; his and his wife Supriya’s decision in 1997 to enter into a Louisiana covenant marriage that prohibits no-fault divorce in the state; and his decision in June to sign into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, a bill heartily supported by creationists that permits public school teachers to educate students about both the theory of ‘scientific design’ and criticisms of Darwinian evolutionary concepts.
He voted with his caucus in Congress 97% of the time and gets a 100% pro-life voter rating from the National Right to Life Committee, and also a 100% rating from the NRA, and 0% on lgbt issues from the Human Rights Campaign. (Wikipedia) It is pretty clear that Bobby Jindal has worked hard to appeal to the extremist religious wing of the GOP on those issues, but it just might be that those issues are the real Bobby Jindal. It just may be that Bobby believes that the life of a woman is not as important and the life of the child she is carrying. Certainly Jindal’s religious record reflects the kind of zeal on often sees in converts (he is converted to Catholocism from the Hindu beliefs of his parents). What’s that? Jindal wrote an article on witnessing spiritual possession? That demon over on the left is the illustration that goes with the Jindal article about exorcism in the Oxford Review. I think it can be safely said that Bobby Jindall has made himself in the Christian conservative ranks.
But has Jindal unmade his ethnicity enough? Sure, Bobby renamed himself at the ripe old age of four after Bobby Brady on the Brady Bunch. How cute. But in India, where they are very proud of Jindal, they insist he is still Piyush, with all the ethic baggage that carries with it. They claim Jindal uses ‘Piyush’ on all official documents, for instance. So he’s not hiding his race. No. Not at all. And the Republicans who love Bobby Jindal, they’re sure not counting on their constiuency to be ‘post-racial,’ are they? Not so fast, not so fast.
I suppose that’s the issue that niggles at me. In today’s Washington Post, Krissah Williams Thompson notes that she’s not post-racial, that the campaign trail this year wasn’t ‘post-racial,’ even on the Democratic side, and that even the Barack Obama campaign does not give credit to this ‘post-racial’ notion:
In his speeches, Obama has never defined the kind of unity he seeks. It was commentators who dubbed his campaign a post-racial one and who have now declared that we live in a post-racial America. As Obama puts together his Cabinet, blogs and message boards are going crazy with discussions of whether he should be expected to appoint a team that’s more racially diverse than were those of his recent predecessors. Others argue that his ‘post-racial’ campaign should not succumb to such quotas.
What the president-elect said about race eight months ago in a speech in Philadelphia, which he called ‘A More Perfect Union,’ was much more complex than any cliched notion of unity. He described the country as being at a racial stalemate. ‘Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle,’ Obama said.
Cassandra Butts, a senior Obama adviser who is African American, told the Wall Street Journal in the closing days of the campaign that she doesn’t consider Obama ‘a post-racial’ politician. ‘When people say that, they seem to suggest that we are beyond the issue of race, that issues of race don’t matter,’ she said. ‘I don’t think that is necessarily the case. I don’t think Barack considers himself post-racial in that way. He will tell you he thinks race does matter.’
I agree. For me, the goal has never been negating race through colorblindness ‘ to do so would take a healthy discussion of existing racial disparities off the table. My aim is not for us to be post-racial but to embrace our cultural heritages while refusing to be confined by them.
That last bit is the part I think Bobby Jindal and the Republicans are ignoring. This isn’t about colorblindness. Color in our society has some pretty shameful connotations, certainly, but we can also celebrate color. I need not reflect on chains and on fire hoses when I think of black, but can also think of Odunde, of beauty. It isn’t our job to ignore racial difference, but to value it. ‘Post-racial,’ then, is a bit of a bunch of crap if one thinks of it as ‘beyond’ racial distinction. And that appears to me to be how Bobby Jindall has packaged himself, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Jindal is no longer Piyush, for instance, but Bobby. He is no longer a worshiper of those strange Hindu Gods, but is a very conservative Catholic in the Rick Santorum mold. He talks in a folksy bayou lilt, and never seems to refer to his racial background or ethnicity. I’m thinking that’s not what won people over for Obama, and it isn’t any kind of reflection of what we’ve got going on in this country today as far as race relations are concerned. there were many, many people on the right for whom race played a vital role in their not voting for Barack Obama. At least some of those Republicans are going to see through the Jindal disquise and see him as Piyush, the dark-skinned man who has a very white wife.
What is interesting, I suppose, is the standard evaluation that racism as a factor in voting is more prevalent in the South. The Republicans must be thinking that Jindal won in Louisiana, so race must not be a handicap for him, and besides, his name is ‘Bobby.’ If that’s how they’re thinking, my gut tells me they have it wrong, that they haven’t adequately guaged the racism that lurks within their own party structure. I’m thinking Bobby Jindal as GOP nominee for President in 2012 is a train wreck waiting to happen, that a whole bunch of the Republican rank and file are not going to see Jindal the good politician but Jindal the convenience store owner who is married to a white woman, and they just might reject that image. Were I Jindal, I’d try 2016. The man is instead giving speeches in Iowa. Still, he’s not a stupid man, so maybe he’ll avoid testing the Republican constiuency until they mature just a bit more.