CONGRESS | Within a few days of each other, two ideologically opposed Indian American politicos weighed in on the importance of philosophy versus business acumen in the race for president.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the darling of the right. Not just for his conservative chops but the color of his skin and unique heritage in a sea of old, white faces. Jindal is one of the most powerful Indian Americans in the United States. Fremont's Ro Khanna is nowhere near as known nationally yet as Jindal, but his quick rise to President Obama's Commerce Department to odds-on favorite to become the East Bay's next U.S. representative in 2014 has been impressive and swift.
So, it was a bit telling that Jindal posted an anti-liberal screed on the well-known conservative Web site, RedState last Thursday, taking a spear to Obama's lack of business experience while lauding the eventually Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for all his success in Corporate America. Interestingly, just a few days later, Khanna wrote a far more eloquent opinion piece in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle saying the exact opposite. The two pieces don't appear to be a tit-for-tat, but an odd mind-meld of two budding political figures who share similar biographies, but wildly contrasting political beliefs.
"I don't want to disparage private equity as a career choice or Mitt Romney's success," wrote Khanna. "But, the claim that somehow that is the best preparation for statecraft should give pause even to traditional conservatives. Have they forgotten about the intellectual history of the West? Have they forgotten the lessons of Plato's "Republic" and Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics"?
"Plato and Aristotle both make the argument that statecraft is one of the highest callings and requires an education, above all, in moral philosophy and history. To understand issues of the common good, of war and peace, of justice requires a lifetime of experience in the art of politics."
Not so, says Jindal.
"A few weeks back, I made the comment that prior to being President, Obama had never run anything, that in fact he had never even run a lemonade stand," Jindal wrote last week. "That’s a fun line, and folks were entertained by it. But, here’s the problem: it’s not a joke, it’s the truth.
"We put a guy in the White House who has no experience running anything. In that sense, the joke’s on us. But again, it’s not a joke. America simply cannot afford another four years of on-the-job training. There may have been times in our country’s history where having an untested leader in the White House would have been fine, but this is certainly not one of those times."
Of course, both Jindal and Khanna are acting as fine foot soldiers for their party's presidential nominees, but forget Jindal for second because most people in the East Bay already have difficulty understanding conservative ideology let alone a brand rising menacingly from the Bayous of Louisiana. Despite Alameda County's recent spate with boorish and unethical behavior, we could never hold a candle to the pervasive business-as-usual corruption in the Pelican State.
In a round about way, Khanna's piece not only leads the cheering section for Obama, but gives potential voters in the East Bay a glimpse of what Khanna, the potential congressional candidate, might look like and it is something people in these parts have never really come to expect from their representatives--part philosopher king, part statesman.
"There is no quick fix," Khanna said in his piece regarding the problems facing the country. "Perhaps our best hope is to take inspiration from great leaders of the past. We can't expect to match their genius. But we can expect our public servants to engage in real deliberation and attempt to restore a politics of ideas."
In the East Bay, tending to problems and searching for solutions to problems normally falls under the precept of following safe precedents, thinking inside of the box and, if all else fails, busting through the problem like the Kool-Aid Man laying waste the kitchen wall. The latter being the most common path. Even Rep. Pete Stark, the man most believe Khanna hopes to replace, arose from the seeds of conflict surrounding the Vietnam War, not from well-honed philosophical queries of morality and immorality. It is possible that rationale of many of our local public officials are derived from a similar bedrock of philosophical ideas, but it has not been my experience in the past.
Instead, Khanna's likely rise in the East Bay is something that could metaphorically rise all boats in our current unacceptably low-tide of political discourse and action, and, if not, he still has over $1 million campaign war chest to help convince you so.