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It was to have been the glorious culmination of an utterly cynical strategy. Louisiana would become the fourth state domino in less than six weeks to fall to the GOP juggernaut – only this victory would be the sweetest of all, propelling a young brown Republican into a Deep South governor’s mansion and ending forever the GOP’s stigma as the White Man’s Party. A Black Trojan Horse Democratic Mayor offered son-of-immigrants Bobby Jindal the keys to New Orleans, lending deeper color to the deceit. Wine-sipping white suburbanites anxiously anticipated the ascension of their Great Brown Hope, who would cleanse their privilege, purge all vestiges of guilt, and validate once and for all their assertions of color blindness. A harmonious, business-friendly era would commence, and maybe, just maybe, the more recalcitrant and bitter Blacks would finally see the futility of their racial fixations.
Black folks and Bubba burst that bubble. When the election returns rolled in on Saturday night, November 15, Republicans discovered that their phony minority outreach strategy had failed its southern test, defeated by an abused but still remarkably unified Black electorate and a revolt among the party’s mass base in the rural and small town white “heartland.” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s cross-party endorsement turned out to be only worth an extra four percent of the city’s Black vote, and the pro-Jindal editorializing of two hustling Black newspapers, less than that. Come January, conservative Democrat Kathleen Blanco (nee Babineaux), from Cajun-land (politely referred to as Acadia) will plant her undeserving behind in the Governor’s chair, imagining that charm and vacuous “moderation” put her there. Leroy (or more accurately, Leona) and Bubba know different.
“There was a quick, gut reaction to equate Bobby Jindal as an Arab Muslim,” says Dr. Marshall Stevenson, Dean of Social Sciences at historically Black Dillard University, in New Orleans. The fact that Jindal is of East Indian extraction “apparently didn’t mean anything to the white rural voter.”
The ballot numbers testify that an American-born, converted Catholic scion of an upper caste Hindu family is still just a “sand nigger” to Bubba, who takes the creed of the White Man’s Party seriously.
Phony GOP minority outreach
The national Republican Party made sure the corporate media framed Bobby Jindal’s candidacy as historic, a watershed event in American politics. Having captured white majorities all across Dixie during 35 years of a relentlessly racist Southern Strategy – the trick that finally brought Republicans to national parity with Democrats – the GOP now aims to trade in its bigoted image for a more cosmopolitan one.
Focus groups consistently tell the Party’s corporate marketers (and their counterparts in the rightist, southern-born Democratic Leadership Council) that the coveted suburban white “swing voter,” whose self-image is that of a social moderate but law and order and fiscal conservative, is the key to permanent majority-party status. She is marginally more uncomfortable than her husband with the nagging suspicion that she might be voting her race, and needs reassurance from the Party to which she otherwise leans, the GOP. In the Nineties the Bradley Foundation, the Party’s most sophisticated propaganda factory and think-tank funder (half a billion dollars in rightwing grant-making since 1989) began pressing GOP leaders to aggressively groom selected members of racial minorities for the dual purposes of (a) creating the illusion of a conservative, “alternative” non-white (especially Black) leadership, and (b) assuaging the anxieties of white “swing” voters unwilling to associate with an overtly racist party. Minority recruits were placed on a dizzyingly fast track to Republican prominence.
The Republican Party gave birth to the most cynical affirmative action program ever devised, a flagrantly color-conscious scheme to elevate to celebrity status non-white opponents of affirmative action and mass-based minority political power!
Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is the purest product of the GOP’s phony minority outreach strategy. Meteoric is too tame a word to describe this grotesque Republican Political Affirmative Action Baby's astonishing trajectory over the past eight years.
Fresh from two years in England on a Rhodes Scholarship, Jindal was “adopted” by Republican Congressman Jim McCrery and former U.S. Rep. Rob Livingston. Governor Mike Foster appointed the 24 year-old to his Cabinet, as secretary of Health and Hospitals. Two years later, Jindal was off to Washington to fatten his resume as executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. In 1999 Jindal returned to Louisiana as president of the State University system. One year later, newly-elected George Bush was persuaded to give Jindal a federal sub-cabinet position, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. The star-in-training was not yet 30 years old, and had already been bestowed four high-profile executive jobs, two each in Washington and Baton Rouge – hyper-grooming, to put it conservatively.
Jindal had become a walking political advertisement of the GOP’s “color-blindness” – his post-school life a carefully crafted ascent into the airy marketing heights in which one’s very existence is politically coded. In February of this year state and national party leaders were ready to trot him out as their gubernatorial candidate, despite the fact that the wunderkind had never run for office.
Nobody had told Bubba that his White Man’s Party was about to be so dramatically integrated at the very top.
The chattering, clinking classes from the suburbs of New Orleans loved the show, however – just as the Bradley Foundation folks had predicted they would. Their media neighbors followed Jindal through the bayous and hill country, marveling at the warm reception the thin brown man seemed to elicit from the pickup truck and Confederate flag crowd. Convinced that virulent, reflexive white racism was largely a Black- and leftist-inspired invention, or a relic of the long-ago past, or a channel that could be switched at will, the delusional, self-absorbed, monied Republicans of Louisiana bankrolled and televised Jindal into the top vote-getter in an 18-candidate nonpartisan primary, October 4.
Although former Nazi and Klansman David Duke had garnered 70 percent of the white male vote in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid only 12 years ago, the upscale suburbanites were satisfied that that page had turned.
All business, no soul
Ray Nagin never sold out the Black majority in New Orleans, since he was never a Black leader, nor had he held elective office prior to winning the Mayor’s job. Nagin is precisely what he appears to be: a businessman on the make, adept at using politics to effect bigger deals, a prime advantage in the thoroughly politicized world of cable television. The former $400,000-a-year Cox Communications vice president’s main asset in the 2002 campaign was that he wasn’t part of the local Black political machinery. It also didn’t hurt to have the support of virtually the entire local corporate community.
Nagin’s anti-corruption platform won him majorities in Black precincts, even as he opposed a Living Wage referendum that was supported by two of every three voters in the city. As reported on May 8, 2002, Nagin “donated money to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, prompting a group of Democrats to run radio ads dubbing him ‘Ray Reagan.’ His courting of conservatives included a call for repeal of the residency law for cops, provoking outrage from the head of the city’s Black Organization of Police.”
Black New Orleansians seem to accept as a matter of course that Nagin is a Republican with non-matching voter registration. The Mayor bears an uncanny political resemblance to another African American cable businessman: BET’s Bob Johnson, a nominal Democrat who placed himself at the service of George Bush’s anti-Estate Tax campaign, in 2001. (See to “BET’s Black Billionaire Trojan Horse,” Oct 3, 2002.) Johnson gathered a Who’s Who of Black media owners and executives to back Bush’s regressive legislation, which would mainly benefit the very rich while draining the federal treasury of funds for social services to the many. Most of the signatories are also nominal Democrats.
What sets this class apart from traditional Black business is their recently acquired ability to directly negotiate substantial deals with large corporations and their representatives in government, thus allowing this relatively tiny Black circle to operate at a political distance from the community at-large. Mayor Nagin, who remains a co-owner of the New Orleans hockey franchise, made a career choice to move among the Republican elite. But could he move significant numbers of African Americans into Republican voting ranks?
Democratic death wish
Kathleen Blanco was so intent on ignoring Black Democrats, she at times appeared to be losing the governorship on purpose. So cluelessly grateful is the national Party for having been spared yet another gubernatorial defeat, they now speak of the schoolteacher who rose to Lieutenant Governor in 1996 as a bright political star. If that is true, then the southern Democratic skies will surely soon be falling.
Blanco got little African American support in the October primary, as Blacks lined up behind two other candidates. After securing the runoff position, Blanco stressed the similarities between herself and Republican Jindal, declaring that their differences were matters of “style.” Anywhere outside the Deep South, Blanco would be a Republican; she is anti-abortion and anti-affirmative action. By the last week in the campaign, her defeat appeared certain. Resisting the frantic appeals of her professional handlers, Blanco had said virtually nothing that Black Democrats or labor wanted to hear. A Market Research Poll showed Blanco ten points behind with five days left in the campaign.
Finally, in the middle of the last week of the contest Blanco allowed the release of TV ads critical of Jindal’s performance as Health and Hospitals chief. Although Republicans and TV newsreaders instantly dubbed the spots “attack ads,” the commercials, which noted cuts in staff and services during Jindal’s tenure, were mild by current political ad standards. Nevertheless, an incredible “surge” materialized in the polls, attributed to sudden interest among “low income voters.” It put Blanco over the top on Saturday by 50,000 votes.
Black bloc near-solid
There was no question that African American voters had bitten the bullet once again, despite the outright disdain for Blacks shown by the top of the ticket. State Sen. Cleo Fields and U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, both spurned by Blanco’s right wing of the party when they sought statewide office in 1995 and 1999, respectively, hunkered down to defend Black interests, and in the process, helped save white Democrats from themselves.
"In New Orleans, there were a lot of heated races," Fields told the Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate, on post-election Sunday. "The [Democratic] party came together in the last week or so, and the fact that they had races in New Orleans certainly helped Kathleen with turnout."
“When it came down to Election Day, the traditional Democratic vote came out,” said Dillard University’s Dr. Stevenson. In the school’s 75 percent Black Gentilly neighborhood, Democrats won 81 percent of the votes. “The basic ward machinery has getting out the vote down to a science.”
Jindal picked up nine percent of Black New Orleans, just four points higher than the GOP norm – a demonstration of Mayor Nagin’s near-irrelevance in a clash between the parties.
However, the most compelling numbers were clustered on the redneck side of the equation.
Unwilling to accept the brown Republican, the social base of the White Man’s Party cracked. Fox McKeithen, the sole surviving GOP statewide officeholder, knows the math. "What I look at for a Republican to win, you have to beat the Democrat at least 2-to-1 among white voters and [Jindal] hasn't been able to do it for whatever reason," said the Secretary of State. In previously GOP strongholds outside the suburbs of New Orleans, Jindal’s white vote shriveled in comparison to past elections. Bubba and the Party leaders weren’t sharing the same dream.
Statewide, Jindal garnered 62 percent of the white vote, compared to nearly 70 percent in the suburbs. That wasn’t enough to overwhelm a near-solid Black vote, despite a nine percent white advantage in turnout (54 to 45 percent).
No second chance
There are two lessons that emerge from the Louisiana Governor’s race. First, the GOP’s historic “transformation” from the White Man’s Party to something more cosmetically cosmopolitan is a doomed farce. Bubba ain’t havin’ it. The scheme was designed for “swing” voters, and only they believe the fiction that race is not the engine that drives the large majority of white southern voters. Republicans in Louisiana will likely revert to type next time around, and the rest of crackerdom will eschew the Bradley Foundation’s experiment.
That means southern Democrats will not get another break, which brings us to the second lesson: domination of the party in the South by minorities of whites is no longer tenable. In Louisiana, Blacks make up a majority of the Democratic vote, while comprising 30 percent of the electorate. Yet white Democratic leadership retards the vitality of the Black bloc, preferring to act in its perceived racial interests until impending disaster dictates otherwise. Southern Black Democratic leaders cannot continue to defend Black interests on two fronts and shoulder general responsibility for the party, too – the strains are clearly becoming unbearable.
Yet we know that America is the nation in which energized minorities of voters carry the day. The best – no, the only – chance for social democracy in the South in the foreseeable future lies with an expanded and fired-up Black electorate; white “swing” voters are unreliable, and not worth the ritual sacrifice of Black dreams and the resultant decay of African American political structures.
In hindsight, the Jindal foray may have been a southern sideshow. As a U.S.-savvy writer to the Indian newspaper The Statesman commented, “Jindal wanted to be the Clarence Thomas from the Indian American community and he lost.” GOP leaders dearly love their colored pets, who serve psychological as well as political purposes. But they will not sacrifice power in vain service to a Bradley Foundation project. The GOP has no alternative but to remain the White Man’s Party in the South, the tried and true mechanism for diverting whites’ attention from the realities of their lives.
Republican victories in the Deep South are driven by wild-eyed, confederate flag-waving hordes that flock to the GOP because it is the White Man’s Party. “Republicans and conservatives are zealous…their people are fired up,” said New Orleans Black Councilman at-large Oliver Thomas during the last week of the campaign.
Blacks must become just as zealous in pursuit of social and economic justice, and run over the weak white Democrats that get in the way. Who knows? Strong Black leadership may even produce significant numbers of sane white southern voters that we can actually count on. What is certain is that the status quo in the Democratic Party cannot hold.