Two weeks ago, “60 Minutes” ran a really interesting profile on Governor Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American Republican born and raised in Louisiana. In case you missed it, Jindal gave a very underwhelming speech after B’s Address to Congress just days before the profile aired. This was a disappointment to Jindal supporters because this speech was supposed to be his coming out party, so to speak – his big introduction to a large, national audience.
As I watched the man touted as the new voice (and face) of the Republican Party stink up the stage with one hand in his pocket and the other gesturing towards the camera, I felt embarrassed for him.
“Poor guy,” I thought. “He looks so uncomfortable.”
Initially I chalked it up to nerves. Big speech. Lots of people watching. Anyone would be anxious.
But after viewing and re-viewing Jindal’s “60 Minutes” profile, I’m beginning to think that his lack of comfort has little to do with being nervous and perhaps a lot to do with a curious detachment he has to his own heritage.
The public narrative that Jindal himself has recounted to the public – the Ivy-League son of immigrants married to a strong, brainy woman – is familiar. But instead of bringing his unique background to the political table with him, Jindal has taken pains to abandon it.
He is adamant that even as the lone Indian family on the block, he never never never felt any racial tensions growing up in Baton Rouge. He changed his name from Piyush to Bobby after the youngest son on “The Brady Bunch.” He converted to Catholicism as a teenager despite his parents and the rest of his family being Hindu. And he rejected their political party outright.
When reporters from a local newspaper traveled to India to learn more about his family’s origins, Jindal was uneasy with their poking around. And both Jindal and his wife acknowledge that there are almost no Indian traditions that they observe in their home. (To me, this seems very odd.*)
Jindal has distanced himself from his Indian heritage to a degree that is dubiously careful. This has made it impossible for me to relate to him, which is important for a politician.
Jindal seems to have left behind everything that would make him distinct, and as a result, he comes across as a little blank and yes, uncomfortable. By trying to convince me that he’s just like everybody else, he’s made me doubt him, which in turn makes it harder for me to connect with him at all.
So much for All-American.
*I’m a first generation Bermudian, and there are still very Bermudian things that my family does, despite having moved here thirty-five years ago. (i.e. kite flying on Good Friday; cassava pie at Christmas; potato salad with English peas; a block of camphor safety-pinned to your chest for a cold; the list goes on…)