2.26.2009

Harry Lee and his Posthumous Buddies

The deceased Chinese Cajun cowboy sheriff of Jefferson Parish, born in the back of a Chinese laundry in 1932, gets dredged up by Politico as an emblem of racism.  Bobby Jindal referenced the colorful character in his Obama response speech - which I have yet to watch - and now Hillary Clinton is being tied back to Lee as well.

I'm not trying to defend Lee's stance on race - he was brash and outspoken - but I will say he and his electorate represent a slightly more complex dynamic than Glenn Thrush realizes.  Referring to Lee may not have been a sharp move on Jindal's part in a pure political sense, but I wonder if the criticism for the Lee mention is fully warranted.  Barack Obama approvingly quoted George Washington, a slave owner, in his inaugural address.

Personally, I think Jindal should have reached higher in his allusions.  He should have invoked a national figure, someone from U.S. history.  Lee, for all his prominence within Louisiana, is not necessarily worth mentioning on the national stage simply because a broad swath of Americans can't connect with him for lack of familiarity.  And, for a first impression moment, he has some baggage, as is now apparent.

Harry Lee is a near-mythical figure in the New Orleans metro area.  Yesterday, I stopped at C's Pharmacy in Metaire as I returned from an airport run.  A slightly yellowed newspaper pullout replete with photos of Lee was still posted prominently near the entry to the store.  He still looms large and is much beloved.  But Jefferson Parish isn't a perfect microcosm of the United States.  And if Jindal is going to turn the GOP around, Jefferson Parish can't be a microcosm for the Republican Party.

NOTE:  Here in NOLA, the Governor's last name is pronounced "Jindle," not "Jindoll" - something lost on a number of national news outlets.