By not-so-coincidentally choosing Obama’s first few weeks in office as their opportunity to shove forward the nearest camera-ready candidates of color, Republicans have undermined the claims of their own colorblindness and purported emphasis on “the content of our character.”
Steele missed an opportunity to gain some credibility with a broad African-American audience by not taking the chance to make a clean break with the Limbaugh wing of the GOP. Jindal’s otherwise inspirational family narrative falls flat because of his self-prescribed watering-down of his own heritage. On its own, his childhood name change from Piyush to Bobby as an assimilation measure doesn’t particularly rankle, but taken with his decision to convert from Hinduism to Catholicism, Jindal comes across as someone not 100 percent proud of who he is—Bobby “Brown,” not Bobby Brady.
It’s their prerogative. Steele and Brown can define themselves any way they want as individuals. But once they offer themselves up as leaders, the considerations are different.
And it’s in everyone’s interest, including Obama’s, for Republicans to eventually get people of color under their tent, because if in 2009 the party continues to apply 1999 thinking on issues of race, it will remain a regional, “minority” party for the foreseeable future—and will not succeed as a necessary counterweight to the Democratic majority.
Obama understands what Jindal and Steele don’t: That the way to broaden and recast the American Dream in a multicultural context—and thus attract a more diverse electorate to your political brand—is for blacks, whites, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans all to bend a little closer to a shared set of cultural values. That they should embrace diversity, not by fast-forwarding to a presumptive (and presumptuous) “post-racial” utopia, but by working up to a functional race impartiality—and not by asking people to suppress or pimp out their own cultures in order to get there.
Then maybe one of these days, the first Democratic Desi FLOTUS will welcome the first Republican Chicana POTUS to the White House. We’ll be proud to see it happen and wonder why it was ever such a big deal.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.