Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Republicans give important positions to unqualified women and minorities or How Bobby Jindal became the GOP's "Great Brown Hope"

I always thought Republicans were being disingenuous in their arguments against affirmative action. I was sure that conservatives knew encouraging diversity and making a place for under-represented people does not equal handing goodies to the unqualified. They don't really think that; they are merely pandering to a base that needs a minority boogie man to blame for their personal failures and those of their party. But after watching Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's strange and tepid response to the President's speech last night, it hit me--that's exactly what they think. That's why when Republicans do diversity it just doesn't work.
  
"Tonight all Americans were proud eyewitnesses to history as an African-American president addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time." 
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the GOP's Senate leader,
 
In Republicans' constant effusiveness about Barack Obama as a historical figure--the first black president--I sense that they think it is his blackness that is most important to us all. That America has reached a place where a self-identified black man can be elected to lead the country is beautiful and meaningful and long overdue, but this is not why most people voted for Barack Obama. The reasons many of us support the President were on display last night: his thoughtfulness; his intelligence; his sense of fairness; his way of appealing to our best instincts, not our baser ones; his compassion for common people; his soaring oratory; his sense of hopefulness; his keen political instincts; his wonkishness; his willingness to balance the free market against the good of the people; his support for healthcare reform; his support for women's rights; his support for veterans and his commitment to bringing troops home from Iraq. Blackness doesn't even make the top 10, and I say that as an African American descendant of slaves.
 
But the GOP always gets this twisted.
 
With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, noted as a respected jurist, a former lawyer with a high rate of success arguing in front of the Supeme Court, former lead counsel of the NAACP...oh, and the first African American to sit on the nation's highest court, Papa Bush just happened to nominate another black man, Clarence Thomas, to take his place. Except this black man was a sexual harasser and as mediocre before taking the Supreme Court appointment as he would be after. See, the Republicans didn't understand that blackness isn't what distinguished Thurgood Marshall.
 
Fast forward 15 years to when Sen. Hillary Clinton, a graduate of Yale and Wellesley, galvanized people, particularly women, with her fierceness, passion for female equality and political acumen. She lost the Democratic presidential nomination in a hard-fought race. Still, she was the first woman to make it a hair's breadth from snagging the Dem's top spot. Meanwhile, the GOP just happened to add a woman, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to the Republican presidential ticket. Except this woman was routinely stymied by "gotcha" questions like "What newspapers do you read?" Unlike Clinton who ruled nearly all of her debates, batting away tough questions like pests, Palin--in interviews, on the stump and in debate-- was all winks, folksy charm and faux grrl power, with little grasp of national and international issues. See, the Republicans don't understand that femaleness isn't what distinguishes Hillary Clinton.
 
As we all know, running against Hillary Clinton was Barack Obama. Since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he intoned that "we are not a nation of red states and blue states," people had been drawn to the Illinois public servant. During the long presidential campaign, the public's affinity with Obama grew, reaching cult of personality levels, but thankfully, with something to back up the adulation. In its endorsement of Barack Obama, The Chicago Sun-Times said:

We agree with Sen. Obama on many of the most pressing issues of the day.

He is right when he says America must be open to talking to its adversaries. He is right when he says America must lose the swagger abroad and repair its standing in the world. He is right when he says America must stand with Israel.

Sen. Obama is right in his prescriptions for the economy, though they need expansion and vetting. He is right in his compassionate but fiscally prudent plan -- unlike Sen. McCain's plan -- to help millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure.

And Sen. Obama is right on energy policy. We support his proposals to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by a host of means -- domestic drilling and nuclear energy, to be sure, but also an unprecedented national commitment to developing wind power, solar power and other forms of "clean" energy. Read more...

These were some of the concrete reasons that people chose Obama over McCain. It certainly doesn't hurt that he gives a mean speech, or that he is young and brown (biracial--the son of a Kenyan father and white mother). Yes, he looks like change. But it takes more than that to run a country. Self-identified blackness isn't what distinguishes Barack Obama.
 
You know where I'm going with this, don't you?
 
In the wake of Obamamania, non-white men just happened to begin getting some love from the Republican Party. Suddenly African-American Michael Steele was hot, hot, hot, and Asian-American Bobby Jindal was being heralded (out of nowhere) as the future of the party.
 
Of course, Steele has now become the first African American to chair the Republican National Committee. Curious, since he seems to be better at winning elections to helm his party than to serve the broader electorate. In 2002, Steele was selected as running mate for Maryland nominee for governor Robert Erhlich, and subsequently became  Lt. Governor of the state. He lost a 2006 bid for a Senate seat.
 
Since his election as RNC chair, Steele has made a fool of himself running around dropping urban slang like Lil Wayne. In an interview with the Washington Times he promised an "off the hook" and "hip hop" PR makeover for the GOP.
 
 
Sweet Jesus. I don't even need to say anything, do I?
 
And then there is Jindal. Watching him deliver that ill-written and utterly unstrategic speech in a Barney Fife-meets-Mr. Rogers drawling cadence, it occurred to me that I have no idea what Jindal has done to win a spot as the GOP's next big thing. To be sure, he is a smart man--a Rhodes Scholar even. But a lot of smart people aren't being considered for a 2012 presidential run. It takes more than being smart to get elected president--ask Al Gore and John Kerry. Jindal is surely lacking in presence, so there must be something else. I haven't found it yet, but there must be, unless...once again, the Republican Party is confused and they think the best way to combat a popular President "of color" is with another guy "of color". It wouldn't be the first time that Obama flummoxed conservatives this way. Remember when the GOP powers that be sent Alan "I'm mad as a hatter" Keyes to Illinois to run against Obama for the Senate. Alan frickin KEYES! Never mind how Keyes' regressive social beliefs would play in a state dominated by a major urban city. Obama was popular and black; Keyes is black, ergo...
 
Sigh...why does Republican diversity look so much like tokenism to me? The GOP constantly reduces leading lights on the left to their race and gender, and then seeks to duplicate their popularity by replicating what is least important about them. This just may be the Achilles heel that keeps conservatives out of power as modern society moves toward greater equality for all. A party that prefers token appointments to identifying, grooming and meaningfully supporting accomplished people, including women and people of color--a party that can only evaluate potential candidates based on how not-white or not-male they are--that's a party that surely deserves to spend some time in the wilderness.
 

Our Mother, which art in heaven

On her blog, Something Within, Rev. Dr. Renita Weems has promised an upcoming post about gendered understandings of God, and I, for one, am waiting with bated breath to read it.

Even those of us who are enlightened women, we who don't have a problem speaking of ourselves as feminists and womanists to identify our fierce gender justice commitments, we say that god is neither male nor female, but then we proceed to speak of God as male. What we mean when we say that God is neither male nor female is that God is definitely not female.  I've talked before on the blog about the way in which God is gendered, but I wanted to explore some new angles on the topic. I'll need another day to let things marinate in my mind.

In recent years, I have become more aware of how societal hierarchies of gender, race, sexuality, etc., inform the interpretation of Christian (and other religious) texts and our understanding of the divine.  The best "history" class I ever took was led by Rev. Jeremiah Wright at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It discussed how religion has intersected with radicalism and activism for peoples of the African diaspora. It was in this class that I came to understand how styles of worship born on the African continent are demonized in Western culture. But I am also interested in the ways that the feminine has been erased in mainstream religion. And I love the way Weems has talked about her discovery of the Goddess in previous posts:

I never gave much thought to goddesses until a few years ago. Correction: I gave lots of thought to goddesses when I was working on a doctorate and had to study and write about them in order to understand the history of ancient Near Eastern religions in general, and the history of biblical religion in particular. I studied the literature on goddesses, but I didn't think about them, if that makes sense. Did the ancient Hebrews once include one or more goddesses in official or unofficial worship? Probably. Did the move toward a monotheistic religion by the Hebrews around the 8th century b.c.e, with its belief in one, supreme, male deity lead to a rejection of the feminine divine? Most likely.

And then one summer I picked up Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon and read it. The scales fell off. I understood what the fuss was all about. Mists is a retelling of the King Arthur legend(s) from the point of view of the women characters, most notably Morgaine who has to defend her indigenous matriarchal religious heritage against impossible odds. Bradley's novel managed to do what volumes of scholarly tomes could not. I understood what was missing in my faith and what had been lost in centuries of attempts by Judeo-Christian tradition to stamp out all vestiges of any belief in the feminine divine. I understood why in lots of societies, then and now, goddesses are often connected with agricultural societies – where the earth, Mother Earth, is a very strong focus. Read more...

So, heads up on this upcoming discussion on Something Within. I know it is going to be good.

For more on this topic, check out my review of the site, Jesus is Love, which featured non-traditional portrayals of Joseph, Mary, Jesus and other Biblical characters.

 

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