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Vivek Ramaswamy is the Perfect Messenger On the Subject of Merit vs. Identity Politics and Affirmative Action

Vivek Ramaswamy is the Perfect Messenger On the Subject of Merit vs. Identity Politics and Affirmative Action

  • As it is obvious that he is not running to win the presidential sweepstakes, but only to raise his national profile, he is well positioned to use his campaign to raise important issues.

Entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy has a truly remarkable record of success. This gives him the attractive immigrant-made-good story that makes him a viable political candidate. He is the Republican Party’s answer to Barack Hussein Obama, who proved that Americans will vote for a candidate of any background or color. And, proportional to their presence in the population, Indians, unlike African-Americans, are wildly overrepresented in positions of authority in the U.S. 

Ramaswamy’s only possible bar is the fact that he is a Hindu, a religion that is uncommon and, unlike Judaism, which is also uncommon, relatively unfamiliar. Jews have been in this country since its founding, not so Hindus. Clearly, Ramaswamy is prepared to meet the religion question head-on. He has made an element of his campaign that “we should be unapologetic about reviving yes, those Judeo-Christian values, values that I happen to share through my Hindu faith as well, but revive those as the cornerstone of American identity to family, faith, patriotism.” He even illustrated the theme of America being misled by the Democrats by reference to the closest thing in the Bible to a direct criticism of Hinduism, the anti-idolatry story of Moses and the Golden Calf. 

Clearly, on the question of religion, Ramaswamy believes or professes to believe everything that any “Christian” politician believes, except for the bit about Jesus, about whom little is said in politics anyway. Ramaswamy professes the same “religious values” as every other American politician, and that is probably sufficient in a country where minority religious groups have a long and strong history of political representation. 

Ramaswamy is running on a strongly Constitutionalist message, which will only strengthen his claims to a strong separation between church and state. And, certainly, the Republican Party gives Ramaswamy an open door. It is no longer the party of WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) but is increasingly multiracial, having garnered a growing share of African American votes in last two presidential elections, and commands sizable support among Asian Americans and Hispanics. Finally, it seems clear that Ramaswamy is not running to win the nomination, but seeks to make a bigger name for himself and, potentially, to secure for himself a position in a future Trump or DeSantis administration. 

In all likelihood, Trump will be the nominee for the Republican Party in 2024. Most Republicans feel that the last election was “stolen” from them, and the recent TwitterFiles releases combined with the recently released Durham Report go a long way towards vindicating that claim or at least providing it with undeniable substance. The social media companies suppressed the circulation of a high profile story adverse to the Biden campaign (the Hunter Biden laptop story) and, indeed, it is clear that the Russiagate story, which dragged on through most of Trump’s term in office, was just what Trump said it was, a hoax. 

The first impeachment obviously flowed from the poisoned atmosphere of Russiagate, and now the country is in an unpopular war in support of the very country that Trump was attempting to steer towards the negotiation table. Finally, Trump, though he was responsible for the initial phase of America’s Covid response, nevertheless championed individual rights, whereas the Democrats accomplished nothing more in the fight against Covid than did their predecessor. 

He went on to prove the value of merit by launching himself into a successful business career that earned him hundreds of millions of dollars. Meritocracy is Ramaswamy’s core political message. 

And now they bear the odium of the lockdowns that so many families found so burdensome. So, beyond all questions of policy, Trump is the candidate of revenge for the hijinks engaged in (or thought to be engaged in) by the Democratic Party and their allies since 2015. This is the main reason why, despite being forcibly kept out of the public eye, Trump has over 50% support from Republican voters.

Nobody can successfully challenge Donald Trump for leadership of the Republican Party with the possible exception of Ron DeSantis, the governor of a major American state whose policy profile is largely comparable to Ramaswamy’s. Both Ramasawamy and the Florida governor are traditional deregulate-and-cut-taxes neoliberal Republicans. Both try to pander to the new populism by arguing against identity politics, while still espousing a typically (pre-Trump) conservative economic policy agenda. In this sense, Ramaswamy is attempting, like DeSantis, to run to the right of Donald Trump, who remains vocal about, for instance, his support for Medicare and Social Security. DeSantis will likely crowd out Ramaswamy in this political lane.

But, as already noted, Ramaswamy is not running to win, but to raise his national profile, and, to be fair to him, to use his campaign to raise important issues. First among those is “wokeness” in general and, more specifically, affirmative action. In this sense, he expresses an issue dear to the heart of millions, especially Asian Americans, who, more than any other group, can credibly claim to face discrimination in, for instance, college admissions. Though Ramaswamy himself attended Harvard and Yale, he doubtless had to have higher board exam scores than most applicants to secure admission to those elite institutions. He then went on to prove the value of merit by launching himself into a successful business career that earned him hundreds of millions of dollars. Meritocracy is Ramaswamy’s core political message. 

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Ramaswamy’s viral moment came last month when the candidate argued American history (he would not call it “African-American history”) with the African-American CNN host Don Lemon. He explained that at the heart of America’s long experience of Jim Crow stood the disarming of black people after the American Civil War. It was a factual and relevant point to make in the interview, and, by common assent, he got the better of Lemon, who argued “as a black man” but was clearly unfamiliar with the facts respecting the forcible disarming of Southern blacks that Ramaswamy presented. 

He had never considered that the denial of Second Amendment rights to African-Americans in the Jim Crow period had been integral to the perpetuation of that terrible injustice in American history. He also blurted out that, “whatever ethnicity you are,” strongly implying that Ramaswamy had no right to speak on the subject. Lemon was fired soon thereafter. This episode perfectly exemplified Ramaswamy’s campaign message.

Opposing “wokeness,” affirmative action, and identity politics, Ramaswamy refused to address the case of Black oppression as a question strictly of concern to African Americans, addressing it instead as an instance of a failure to uphold the universality of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, specifically the right to bear arms, a right that most liberals like Lemon would gladly revoke if they could. Probably no other Republican candidate will prove as vocal on the subject of equality under the law and the promotion of merit vs. identity politics and affirmative action than Ramaswamy. 

Spencer A. Leonard is a scholar of South Asia. He teaches Sociology at James Madison University in Virginia.

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