An Indian American president?

The world is still marveling at the political revolution represented by Barack Obama becoming the first black US President. But while that celebration continues, some readers must be wondering about the next possibility—when will a person of Indian descent become President of the US?

This issue is not fantasy. It is in fact quite topical, for Obama’s victory is much more than a victory just for US Afro Americans. It is a victory of American thought and action over all divisions of race, religion and colour. Hence it opens the door for future Presidents regardless of origin.

Many people still find it unbelievable that Americans have elected an Afro-American, consigning to the dust bin their historical record of slavery and racial discrimination. But by crossing that threshold, Americans have made it possible, indeed uncontroversial, for citizens of any origin to become President.

Historian David Kennedy recalls earlier times when it was thought impossible for a Catholic to become US President, since the country was created largely by Protestant immigrants escaping religious persecution by Catholics in Europe. This issue was finally buried when John F. Kennedy became President. He was not just the first Catholic President but also the last, says the historian, if by “Catholic President” we (and voters) define a politician by his faith.

After Kennedy, nobody raised an eyebrow when Catholics contested the highest offices. People still remember that Kennedy was a Catholic. But nobody remembers, or cares, that when George McGovern contested as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 1972, his first choice for running mate, Thomas Eagleton, as well as his final choice, Sargent Shriver, were both Catholics. Nobody bothers that John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in 2004, was a Catholic. Once Kennedy crossed the Catholic threshold, it became irrelevant.

It is in this sense, agues the historian, that Obama is both the first and last black President. Other Afro Americans will in due course become Presidents in years ahead, but their colour will not be an issue, any more than Kerry’s Catholicism was. The black issue lies buried, along with Catholicism. This threshold will not have to be crossed again.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute points out that Obama has opened the political door not just to blacks but to ethnic minorities of all sorts, including white minorities. Although the US is a land created by immigration from a hundred lands, all Presidents to date have been of British/Irish or Dutch/Germanic origin. By far the largest number, 37, of US Presidents have been of British or Irish stock. Three have been of Dutch descent—Van Buren, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. Two have been of German-Swiss origin—Hoover and Eisenhower.

Not a single US President has originated from Latin America, Southern Europe or Eastern Europe, although these regions have contributed enormous numbers of migrants to the US. Despite the millions who came from France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, Scandinavia and Russia—all white regions—none made it to the Presidency.

So, says Boaz, “Obama has achieved something that no American politician even of Southern or Eastern European heritage has managed. But I think we can assume that, from now on, there won’t be any perceived disadvantage for candidates of Italian, French, Asian or any other genealogies. For that, congratulations.”

This does not mean, of course, that racial or religious discrimination has disappeared from the USA. But it does mean that those issues have faded into the background, ranking well behind issues like legalized abortion and gay marriage. Opinion polls show that some Americans think that Obama is Muslim, because of his first two names—Barack and Hussein. Indeed, there was a minor attempt by some Republicans to try and capitalize on this disinformation. This was squashed by Colin Powell, Bush’s former Secretary of State, who pointed out that Obama was in fact a Christian, but that should not matter. Why shouldn’t a Muslim become President, asked Powell? And no Christian fundamentalist took up the challenge.

To return to the issue posed at the start of this column, when could an Indian American become US President? It could be as soon as four years from now. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, is a hot tip for becoming the Republican candidate in 2012. He has the youth and charisma that McCain lacks. The Republican Party needs a fresh new face to challenge Obama. Jindal is not white, yet that seems not to matter at all, not even in a party long associated with notions of white superiority. Obama’s victory has truly sent the US over the racial threshold.

Please note: a President of Indian origin does not mean a Hindu President. Bobby Jindal is a Christian. So, his religion will be politically uncontroversial. But let me make bold to predict that in decades to come, the US will have a Muslim President, a Jewish President and a Hindu President. And allow me to dream that all three may be of Indian origin. I may be an atheist, but I take pride in the fact that India is home to people of all religions.

4 thoughts on “An Indian American president?”

  1. Thank you, i as an indian has dreamed this admire since the age of 8, nd 2day i m 16, and truly have all d guts to fulfill my dream to be the president of america 1 day.. coz m born 4 dat,,
    Thank you 4 inspiring,,,, nd i’ll truly try 4 my life dream to go true…

  2. 2020-my aspirations to be the 1st Indo-American President.
    VP — Gov. Nikki Haley or Jindal
    Secy Treas – Neel Kashkari
    AG – Preet Barara
    Fed Chairwoman — renu khator
    Surgeon Gen.-Sanjay Gupta or Deepak Chopra.
    NSA – Nadella
    and the list goes on..feel free to add your pick and make this come true.

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