The Republican Party’s newest presidential candidate, former South Carolina Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, introduced herself by showcasing her roots as a child of immigrants.
Haley’s family, originally from India, immigrated to the United States in 1969 and settled in a small, segregated town, Bamberg, South Carolina, where she was born three years later.
One can glean two reasons why Haley is spotlighting her background and presenting her candidacy as a successful minority woman.
First, one doesn’t need to be “woke” to recognize the value of an Asian American woman running for president with an agenda of less government and more freedom.
Second, showcasing her story and success qualifies her to say, as she does in her introduction video, “Take it from me, America is not a racist country.”
The strategy has opened her to attacks and criticism from the right and from the left.
Ann Coulter, who still seethes at Haley for taking down the Confederate flag which flew on South Carolina’s state Capitol grounds in Columbia, called her a “preposterous creature” and suggested she “go back to your own country and reconsider that history.”
But, of course, this is Haley’s “own country.” If it weren’t, she wouldn’t be able to run for president. But Coulter’s business is not facts but provoking an audience that buys her books.
More temperate advice came from The Wall Street Journal, which suggested Haley must do a better job distinguishing herself from other Republicans. No Republican, says the Journal, would disagree that “America is not a racist country.”
This is, of course, true. But I believe Haley is correct that it achieves particular resonance coming from an Indian American woman with a stellar resume of public service and achievement.
The left’s answer to Ann Coulter, Whoopi Goldberg, told her audience, regarding Haley, that “there are things about our country that are not perfect and to pretend that it is and to pretend that nothing happened is ridiculous.”
But, of course, Haley did not say that our country is “perfect” or that “nothing happened.”
Perfection is not what defines our country or any place or anything in this world. What defines and makes our country unique is freedom. This is Haley’s point when she says, “Even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.”
It is here in our free country that Coulter and Goldberg get to speak their minds and not worry that they will disappear in the night, as they might in China or Iran.
More serious criticism comes from the left from Asian American author Wajahat Ali, who accuses Haley of brandishing the “model minority myth,” which he calls a tool of white supremacists. That is, per Ali, they use the success stories “of some Asian Americans” as “a cudgel against Black people” who are “told by GOP politicians to stop blaming racism for their problems.”
Haley has only showcased her own story. But the picture of the phenomenal business success stories of American immigrants is not a “cudgel” but powerful testimony to the opportunities for success and achievement in America.
According to a 2022 study by the National Foundation for American Policy, “more than half (319 of 582) of America’s start-up companies valued at $1 billion or more” were founded by immigrants. Nearly “two-thirds of (billion-dollar) companies were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.” And “almost 80%” of billion-dollar companies “have an immigrant founder or an immigrant in a key leadership role.”
These include immigrants from India, Israel, U.K., Canada, China, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, Nigeria and many others.
My organization, CURE, covered Haley’s rollout event in Charleston. The palpable energy and excitement at the rally could be a sign that this campaign will pick up steam as more candidates enter the field, each pitching their own persona. Welcome to election 2024.