Jindal, Obama and the GOP

I think Chris Orr is completely wrong about this:

... while there are plenty of 2012 GOP presidential aspirants who have reason to be unhappy with the McCain campaign's decisions over the last couple months (and, in particular, the Palin choice), a case could be made that no one's nearish-term prospects have been hurt more than Bobby Jindal's.

Though rarely explicit (and certainly not exclusive) a large portion of the GOP's closing argument this cycle has been to stoke white, working class fear and suspicion of the Other. The dark-skinned man with the foreign-sounding name may be a Muslim, or a socialist, or a friend of terrorists, or a racial huckster, or a fake U.S. citizen, or some other vague kind of "radical." You may never be sure which he is (maybe all of the above), but in your gut you simply don't "know" him the way you know the other candidates. This is not, to put it mildly, a message likely to benefit Bobby Jindal.

Now, yes, four years is a longer time in politics than it used to be. But I still don't see these toxins leaching out that quickly, particularly from a GOP that will, in all likelihood, continue trying to raise subliminal doubts about Obama's Americanness. Add to this the blunt fact that the GOP probably can't afford to lose racist white voters, especially in the South (you think a Jindal - Obama race wouldn't invite a conservative, white, third-party candidacy?), and I think Jindal's chance of being the nominee in 2012 is, despite his obvious talents, pretty close to nil. The GOP isn't going to be looking for its own Obama; it's going to be looking for an anti-Obama.

I think this vastly, vastly overestimates the extent to which the attempt to "Otherize" Obama has been about race qua race (and racism qua racism), and vastly underestimates the extent to which it's been about the way Obama's name, ancestry and skin color have dovetailed with other aspects of his background - from his liberation-theology church to the academic-lefty and urban-machine milieu in which he spent much of his early political career - that the GOP would have tried to play up against any Democratic candidate (and especially in a year when the party didn't have much else going for it). If anything, I think the way the McCain campaign has finished up - and the way the media has covered it - works to Jindal's advantage in 2012: Conservatives are going to be extremely eager to prove that they only hate Obama because he's a radical, not because they're racist, and what better way to demonstrate that than to nominate a dark-skinned conservative with a funny-sounding name? Indeed, much of the current affection for Jindal among movement conservatives - and especially in talk-radio land - can be traced to precisely such a yearning for a conservative Obama: A multicultural prince who channels Ronald Reagan, and whose nomination would at least reduce the taint of racism that clings to the American Right.

Likewise, the idea that Jindal, if nominated, would invite a right-wing third party challenge aimed at peeling off racist Southern whites strikes me as fanciful in the extreme. Maybe the usual sad-sack Libertarian nominee would do slightly better in a Jindal-Obama race than in, say, a Pawlenty-Obama race because of some sort of racist peel-off ... but I'm pretty doubtful on that score as well. If Bobby Jindal can win the Republican nomination and then the governorship in Louisiana, he isn't going to have any race-based trouble as a GOP candidate on the national stage. 

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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