Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bobby Jindal ascends the Louisiana Governor's seat

On the face of things, so much has changed in the South, and in Louisiana in particular. An Indian American Republican, Roman Catholic convert named Bobby Jindal has won the Governorship of a state that has also elected the infamous David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to a public office in the late 1980s.

This is a very different world, and nation, than the one that the KKK was founded in - where a brown man who is the son of immigrants, can go to corners of Louisiana seeking votes from David Duke's followers, and win by appealing to very fundamentalist, supremicist values. I guess this is the beauty or bewilderment of America, god bless us.

For another, he did not have the support of a majority of the state’s blacks, about a third of the population, who vote Democratic.

Yet Mr. Jindal, with his decisive victory on Saturday, appears to have overcome a significant racial hurdle that blocked him in 2003, according to analysts: race-based opposition in the deeply conservative northern and eastern parishes of Louisiana that once supported the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

A born-again Roman Catholic, Mr. Jindal made a particular campaign target of these areas, visiting them frequently and bringing his brand of devout Christianity to their rural churches. His social-conservative message — teaching “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution in public schools, a total ban on abortion, repealing hate-crimes laws — would have been welcome in these areas.

Bobby Jindal is the intersection of the possibilities that America affords - a study of contrasts and unlikely alliances. And he is by all accounts, a very smart man, unlike Elaine Chao. I.e., I do not think he will be a quiet figurehead like her. This will both be good and bad for APIAs - for one thing, I believe he is eminently qualified for the job, given his resume. But a frequent talking point of Obama's is that two people will excellent resumes, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, got us into our nation's worst foreign policy mistake in this century.

I am glad that we've progressed. But the question is: will Bobby Jindal represent Indian Americans and Asian Americans well? Will he pursue a policy agenda that will truly benefit the working class, immigrants, and folks like his parents when they first moved here? Folks over at Sepia Mutiny have their own questions and concerns. If I had to place my bets, I'd have to say no. But I'd love to be proven wrong.

Amardeep has this quietly moving paragraph:
If Jindal wins, his victory will suggest to me he’s somehow overcome both sides of the immigrant’s anxiety syndrome: the part that comes from others’ mistrust, and also the part that comes from himself — his own sense of being something different, something other than a “normal” American, or in this case, a representative Louisianan. If he wins, I won’t cheer, but I will, I expect, quietly feel a certain sense of pride at his accomplishment despite my strong disagreement with his kind of politics. Not just because he’s a fellow desi — it’s actually more complex than that. Rather, the pride will be because he’s a fellow desi who’s evidently achieved, after a struggle, something I’ve long aspired to do: shake that dude’s hand.
For me, this represents a victory of the Ken Mehlman school of the GOP, the one that reaches out to the National Urban League and recruits Mel Martinez to head up the Republican National Committee. It's the smarter, more future-forward part of the GOP that recognizes how much demographic changes are going to affect national politics for the years to come. It's also this part of the GOP that says with one hand, "come, come, we welcome you" and the other hand is stabbing minorities and immigrants in the back with crappy bills like the immigration legislation that thankfully didn't pass. It's wicked smart - position yourself like you're pro-immigrant, but actually tout policies that would prevent more brown people from entering the country.

For better or worse, this part of the GOP is the one on the wane at the national level. But if the GOP leverages Bobby Jindal correctly and fully utilizes him, they can make a dent in the South Asian American vote and money race. Especially since Bush and company did heavy damage through special registration and by spreading suspicions of brown people all over - at the airport, at school, and at the workplace. I'm not sure that better packaging and marketing of racist, sexist, classist policies by the GOP is something to cheer - because Lord knows I hate Michelle Malkin for providing racial cover for endorsing special registration and internment. Shitty products that burn your fingers off when you touch them are still piss-poor investments, no matter how shiny, or what color the box it comes in is.

I guess the only net benefit I can see to this is that if this inspires more Asian American kids to think that they too can run for office, and if it makes our parents and grandparents think that politics is not the totally evil machine that it sometimes can be, that it can be a worthwhile and achievable goal, then I'd be happy. Meantime, color me 95% unimpressed. I have no high hopes for him pushing forward a progressive social agenda, but I do fervently hope that he doesn't have any hidden foibles like his homestate senator, David "Diaperman" Vitter. Cos you know that would just make brown folks the diaper fetish terrorists who like to wear towels on their heads and red dots between their eyes. On the face of things anyways, that's what people would think on the airplane, before they call security and get your ass hauled off.

Oh, and lastly, I can scarcely bear to watch Lou Dobbs. His two flogging horses of trade and immigration always, always wind up piling on immigrants in a no-win situation - Latino and Asian American. It's a psuedo-populist appeal that has been converted into xenophobic riots and exclusion acts in the past.

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