On Tuesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal conducted a Twitter forum, where he answered user-submitted questions about his presidential bid. A quick scan of the hash-tag #AskBobby yields a bevy of tweets that mention his birth name, Piyush, in an unambiguously derogatory way. One user even posted an image of Jindal’s certificate of live birth, which he released four years ago, and asked, “Why does it say Piyush on your birth certificate?”
As a Louisianan, I’m not unfamiliar with this particular obsession of Jindal’s critics. For years, Democrats in the Pelican State have sneeringly referred to him by his birth name, practically nullifying any legitimate criticisms they might have about his politics or his policies.
They’ve long claimed that Jindal’s name change was meant to “whitewash” his Indian heritage to achieve political success in a conservative state like Louisiana (never mind, of course, that the Pelican State has an extensive history of ethnic and religious diversity among its people and, consequently, its elected officials). As badly as the Left wishes this were true, it simply isn’t. Jindal’s name change occurred long before he embarked upon his inarguably meteoric political career (as did his conversion to Catholicism, another facet of his life that the Left erroneously contends was politically-motivated).
Inspired by the popular 1970s television show “The Brady Bunch,” Piyush Jindal changed his name to “Bobby,” after the youngest Brady boy, when he was just 4 years old. This is not unusual for an immigrant or even the child of immigrants. For centuries, many of those who have come to this country have taken more typical Western names – by default, like at Ellis Island, or by choice, in efforts to assume the culture of a new home.
Today, it’s more of the latter than the former (thanks to better record keeping), and it should be up to the individual to determine the name he is called. Good manners necessitates that we honor whatever he chooses.
Jindal is not afforded such dignity by his detractors or the media. They analyze just how Indian he really is, whine that he’s using his race to become powerful (or is it that he hides from it?) and call him Piyush when they complain about his views that they find contemptible.
The incredible irony is that the Left spends a great amount of time and energy dictating to others how they should treat people who wish to experience their own self-determination. We are to call former Olympic athlete and current reality television star Bruce Jenner, who at the age of 65 began undergoing a sex change, by his preferred name of “Caitlyn.” The progressive intelligentsia tell us that we should allow NAACP activist Rachel Dolezal, who was outted by her own parents for actually being white, to identify herself as African American. And unless we’ve lived a particular person’s life, we are never to judge his or her actions based on social consensus of ethics, lest we appear intolerant and bigoted. After all, they argue, people should be able to live their lives as they please.
But somehow, Jindal’s childhood name change remains “fair game” forty years later. While the mainstream media celebrates self-congratulating parents facilitating gender transitions for their toddler children, a much more modest modification – a child who was born four months after his parents immigrated to America deciding for himself that he’d like to be called something else – makes Jindal a sellout.
As children, we are taught to debate ideas, not call names. And calling Jindal something outside of his preferred name – even if it is his birth name – is an example of the very bigotry that the Left so quickly assigns as the motivations of others. Unlike most of the interactions they deem discriminatory, their refusal to demonstrate decency to a man with whom they disagree is real, loathsome hatred.
These malicious ideas are not confined to maniacs on the Internet. The Washington Post published a story on Jindal’s family history, claiming that his “status as a conservative of color” was responsible for his successes in public service (pay no mind to the fact that he became the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals when he was just 25 years old). The piece asserts in no uncertain terms that Jindal has abandoned his Indian heritage and wants to disguise it from voters:
As a child, he announced he wanted to go by the name Bobby, after a character in “The Brady Bunch.” He converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a teen and was later baptized a Catholic as a student at Brown University — making his devotion to Christianity a centerpiece of his public life. He and his wife were quick to say in a “60 Minutes” interview in 2009 that they do not observe many Indian traditions — although they had two wedding ceremonies, one Hindu and one Catholic. He said recently that he wants to be known simply as an American, not an Indian American.
“There’s not much Indian left in Bobby Jindal,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who is writing a book on the governor.
Jindal is very upfront about his family’s unceasing desire to become American in every sense of the word. But, apparently, there’s only a certain degree to which immigrants should assimilate, and it’s not up to them to choose for themselves. The Left gets to decide.
They’ve collectively agreed that they have an obligation to control the thoughts, the speech and the lives of their fellow Americans. That is, unless they’re Leftists. Then, it’s apparently perfectly permissible for them to treat political adversaries without basic human dignity. When a conservative sees another conservative behaving badly, we are quick to set him straight, knowing it embarrasses all of us. I have yet to see a similar response from the Left on this matter (or any like it), probably because most of them have such disdain for Jindal that they think he deserves it.
Conservatives know that making clear the double standards of the Left does nothing to change their behavior. So, perhaps it’s time to treat them as they treat us. We should be relentless in our framing of the treatment of Jindal as the racism that it is. We should admonish those who perpetuate it. And we should insist that those on the Left who refuse to condemn it are condoning it.
Jindal seems to have a good humor about his heritage, but that does not give the Left carte blanche to treat him disrespectfully. If Democrats demand tolerance of Republicans, it’s time to reciprocate.
Ellen Carmichael, who you can follow on Twitter @ellencarmichael, is president of The Lafayette Company, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm. She has served as a senior communications adviser for a Republican presidential campaign, Members of Congress and statewide elected officials. This piece originally appeared at OpportunityLives.com.