When Vivek Ramaswamy ripped off Obama’s opening line, “who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?” it wasn’t just cringe for copying Obama on a Republican debate stage.
Not that many years later, politicians from parts of the world that weren’t normally likely to be represented in American politics have become commonplace. The GOP debate had two Indian politicians (and for that matter, Kamala was raised by an Indian mother) which means that highlighting it the way that Obama did, with his implicit suggestion that America was prejudiced, but he knew his audience was smarter, is even more cringe than ever.
And yet this, “look how far we’ve come, baby,” stuff doesn’t really stop.
Arunan Arulampalam, the head of a local nonprofit with no previous elected experience, declared victory in Tuesday’s three-way Democratic primary in Hartford.
Arulampalam spoke Tuesday night at Dunkin’ Park where he was flanked by family, including his wife, Liza, and his parents, who fled Sri Lanka to Zimbabwe, where he was born.
Arulampalam recalled telling them when he was a kid that he wanted to be a politician.
“You guys said, ‘Look, no one is going to vote for someone with the last name Arulampalam. It doesn’t fit on a lawn sign,'” he said. “Well, tonight, a few thousand people voted for someone with the last name Arulampalam and I am the Democratic nominee for mayor of Hartford.”
Hartford has a large Indian population. Safe to say that there’s a comfort level with different last names. Arulampalam’s story also sounds like the kind of thing that politicians make up all the time. (Were his parents explaining to a child that he couldn’t run for office because his name wouldn’t fit on a law sign? Seriously?)
But the need to make this stuff up is also revealing.
Back in ’08, when Obama was treating his presence as a validation of America’s progress, that was condescension. And as we soon discovered, the trap door slammed shut, and behind it was endless malice. Every Democrat’s (and some Republican’s) favorite new hip black friend was a firebreathing bigot who hated everyone.
I have no idea what the other politicians who pull this cringe routine are actually feeling inside, but it’s past time to retire it.
The condescending head-pats that tell us we’re no longer bigoted because we’re willing to vote for Napahatalamasimipotaalaum comes with the flip side that if we don’t vote for him, then we’re bigots.
It’s an exciting multicultural era. There are lots of new politicians about whose names require a lot more work. And most Americans are willing to give them a shot anyway.
That’s not because we progressed, but because Americans have always been fairly tolerant people. Otherwise, none of this would be happening. The politicians talking down to us came here or their parents did generations ago. They were able to go to Ivy League schools and have opportunities handed to them.
They worked hard and succeeded, which is great, and it would be best without the seemingly self-deprecating, but actually passive-aggressive lines about how out of place they seem. The fact that they’re here shows that they’re not out of place. America is wildly tolerant. Let’s move on.