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Home > India > News > Columnists > Matthew Schneeberger

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Will Bobby Jindal be Republicans' saviour?

November 06, 2008

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Forgive my elation and inflated sense of accomplishment, but I hail from Ohio and my mother from Virginia.

Two states that Senator John McCain [Images] positively needed to secure victory in the 2008 US Presidential Election; two states that instead voted for Democratic candidate Barack Obama [Images], assuring America her first African-American chief executive in the process; two states that many pundits posited would never vote for a black man with a funny name, no matter how dire the economy or how disastrous the sitting Republican-led national government.

Interestingly, the last time Virginia voted a Democrat for President, the year was 1964, the candidate Lyndon B Johnson. The same President Johnson who -- after signing into law the Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed equal rights for all Americans (including African-Americans) -- is famously said to have mused, "We've just lost the South for a generation," meaning the Democrats had committed harakiri for a noble cause.

Considering the party's 44 year drought in Virginia and the present day dominance of the Republicans south of Mason-Dixon, one would have to admit he was right. Virginia, after all, served as the capital of the secessionist Confederate States of America, and was an integral part of America's slave trade. For many in the state, the Democrats, by carrying the mantle of the Civil Rights movement, committed the ultimate act of betrayal.

But, as the cliche goes, time heals all wounds. My mother -- whose youth in rural Virginia was peppered with racial intolerance, in a place where the horrible, hateful word n*****r was tossed about with tragic ease -- cast her ballot for a man with African lineage. She just called me in Mumbai, to share her elation and her emotion at the thought that our nation's original sin has, in part, been cleansed.

As for me, I'm forever and inexorably linked to Ohio, having spent my first 22 years living in the state famous the world over for gifting George W Bush [Images] a second term in 2004. No Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio's support; this year, thankfully, we withheld the keys to the kingdom.

So please suffer me for a moment.

America has always prided herself on an intrinsic commitment to equality and opportunity. In reality, however, many of her sons and daughters were born on the outside looking in, never to enjoy the fruits of these values.

When bright-eyed black youth would utter that most American of declarations -- "I can be anything I want when I grow up. All I have to do is put my mind to it!" -- the adults, jaded from real-world actualities and working twice as much to get half as far, must have grimaced and swallowed hard.

"Sure, son," they said. "You could be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer."

But president of the United States of America? Really?

Really.

Of course, it's likely that none of this would have come about in a 'normal' election year, with a 'normal' candidate. Sure, we in the media always seem to say that, but today it rings true.

America is facing its worst financial crisis in 75 years. And that's merely the tip of the iceberg. The rest, by now, you know.

Barack Obama, putting aside his as-of-yet-unknown ability inside the Oval Office, was perhaps the best imaginable candidate to get there: young, handsome, intelligent and incredibly well-spoken, of a calm disposition but an impassioned and fiery orator, possessing lofty ideals but tempered by a healthy dose of pragmatism. Above all, his story -- father from Kenya, mother from Kansas, having lived all over the country -- resonated with millions of Americans from all walks of life.

And if Obama's just another Ivy League egoist, he certainly did a great job of hiding it on the campaign trail. He skilfully delegated authority, put the campaign before himself, and never once deviated from message. When life gave him lemons, in the case of the disastrous surfacing of Reverend Wright videos on YouTube and cable news, he made lemonade, delivering an epic speech that confronted the United States' troubled race relations head on. 

Poor Republicans, poor John McCain. It was the Perfect Storm.

But now that the levees of intolerance and bigotry have been breached, it's difficult to imagine them being effective ever again. The demographics of the United States have changed, and national politics no longer looks to be the playground of old white men. 

So now what?

America awoke yesterday, with an after-party hangover, to the Dow Jones plunging 500 points in response to more disastrous news about the economy and job loss. In the world at large, an increasingly defiant Russia [Images] vowed not to give up its influence in the Caucuses, Israel and Hamas traded blows in Gaza, and several Asian markets continued their free-fall.

Suffice to say, the road ahead for Barack Obama is rocky and laden with booby traps and pitfalls. Caustic conservative commentators Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have already sharpened their knives, ready for a return to the 1990s' culture war, where they sought and almost won Democratic President Bill Clinton's [Images] impeachment, despite robust economic growth at home and success abroad.

Should Obama fail to deliver on just one of his litany of promises, his detractors will call for his head and laugh in his face. Ann Coulter's already doing so, in a column penned just hours after Obama's victory.

It seems Obama himself recognises the gargantuan task he's undertaken; in his victory speech he made clear that it will take much time and sacrifice to achieve his vision.  

As for the Republicans, it's a time to lick wounds and a time for soul-searching. If ever a party was resoundingly repudiated and rebuked, it was Tuesday.

The only group that voted more-heavily-than-expected for McCain were the Evangelical Christians, the same group who rallied around the selection of Governor Sarah Palin [Images] as vice presidential candidate, the same group who helped put George W Bush in the White House. At this point, however, the Grand Old Party must ask itself: Are we putting our best face forward?

When it was revealed last night by Fox News, of all networks, that sources within the McCain camp were appalled by Palin's lack of knowledge -- she apparently thought Africa was a country, not a continent, and couldn't name the three countries of North American Free Trade Agreement  -- Abraham Lincoln (the first Republican President), was most certainly turning over in his grave.

The party of Industrialists, Bankers and Business Owners has come to be associated with snake-handling Pentecostal churches and fringe guns rights activists. It's true that politics produces some strange bedfellows, but it's time for the Republicans to find a new partner. Rural counties in Arkansas and Tennessee, once Democrat country, may keep voting for the GOP at record clips, but that's not going to win national elections anymore.

The Democrats found their own 'messiah' in the most unlikely of places: a bi-racial community activist from Hawaii.

Maybe the Republicans too will find their saviour in a fresh-faced minority with a funny name and unlikely story: Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal, the Indian-American son of a Hindu named Raj, who became America's first Indian American governor (in Louisiana, of all places), converting to Christianity and pledging to restore Reaganism along the way.

2012, Obama vs Jindal. Wouldn't that be something?

Matthew Schneeberger is an American citizen working with rediff.com in its Mumbai office


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