[guest post by Dana]
In a revealing opening paragraph, the NYT looks at Republican hopeful, T. W. Shannon, who is running for the seat held by retiring Senator Tom Coburn.
T. W. Shannon will be Oklahoma’s first black senator if he wins the Republican nomination and is elected this November, but the quiet campaign stirring here about Mr. Shannon’s racial loyalties is not aimed at the African-American branch of his family tree. Mr. Shannon, whose first name is Tahrohon, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation…
Further into the article we learn that Mr. Shannon’s father is Chickasaw and his mother is black. His full name is Tahrohon Wayne Shannon and he is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.
Reading through the article, one learns that Mr. Shannon has been snared by identity politics and historical issues about citizenship unique to the state,
While identity politics — about race, religion or gender — has been a defining element of both parties for generations, Mr. Shannon adds a rare dimension. And he says he is uneasy about being the latest emblem of Republican diversity.
[A]n independent group, Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, has already spent over $435,000 on his behalf since March. The group has received contributions from Indians, according to Republicans familiar with the donors who were not authorized to speak for the group.
“Btw, the Indians aren’t Oklahomans,” Robert Dan Robbins, a rancher and prominent supporter of Mr. Shannon’s chief primary opponent, Representative James Lankford, wrote on his own Facebook page. “They are a member of their own nation and are suing the state of Oklahoma over water rights and other things as well.”
A Tea Party group, in an open letter about Mr. Shannon, warned, “He has too many masters to serve,” and listed “Indian tribes” and Representative Tom Cole, a fellow Chickasaw and establishment-oriented Oklahoma Republican, among his suspect influences.
Then there are the differing reactions to him from prominent conservatives supporting him, ranging from the cringe worthy to the sound,
“His name alone!” Sarah Palin exclaimed at a large, nearly all-white rally of supporters for Mr. Shannon in Tulsa last month. “The Democrats accuse us of not embracing diversity? Oh, my goodness, he is — he’s it. He is the whole package”.
But other conservatives are plainly uncomfortable with such tactics. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who was also at the rally, said in an interview, “Rather than engage in identity politics and smear campaigns, which is the specialty, sadly, of the modern Democratic Party, we ought to be discussing how to turn this country around.”
To his credit, Shannon is finding his own way through the maze. J.C. Watts, former member of the House of Representatives, told Shannon regarding his racial background,
If you make it your issue, if you make it the focus of your campaign, then it will be.
Shannon explains that his racial background is just one part of his experience — not the defining moment.
I’m an American first, and that’s the most important thing.
No matter how much one tries to avoid it, it would appear that if a candidate’s skin color is any shade off white, identity politics is a given. One hopes that Shannon continues to remain uneasy about it. And one hopes, too, that if he is indeed the best person for the job, he will become the third American enrolled tribal member to join the United States Senate.
The entire article is worth reading, not only for the look at T.W. Shannon and identity politics, but as well as observing how the New York Times wrote about the issue.