Political Hay

Cajun Seasoning

Bobby Jindal showed this week why he needs more time before he runs on the GOP ticket.

By 7.3.08

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Perhaps the "Jindal for V.P." bumper stickers in Baton Rouge were premature.

Only a short time after John McCain invited Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to his Arizona ranch on May 24 to be screened for the veep spot along with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and rival Mitt Romney, Jindal's youth and inexperience have begun to show.

Only 37, Jindal has been hailed as the Right's version of Barack Obama: young, a minority, articulate, and appealing. Only, Obama doesn't have Jindal's long list of accomplishments.

In just his sixth month in office, he has implemented sweeping ethics reforms, cut taxes, and instituted a school choice program, among other achievements. These boasts don't even include his turnaround of the Medicaid system as vice president of the Department of Health and Hospitals, or his 88 percent of the vote in his first congressional race.

But those who claimed Jindal is too green to help McCain in the general election were vindicated when Jindal fumbled the management of a legislative pay raise passed by the state Senate two weeks ago. This needlessly outragied his own reform constituents in Louisiana.

The pay raise would have effectively doubled state legislators' base salaries, with future increases scheduled automatically. Although the public was, predictably, averse to such a large raise, Jindal had promised not to veto the legislation in order to facilitate other reform measures he wanted to pass through the state legislature.

When the bill passed through the house and senate by slim margins, Jindal stood back as the public outcry grew louder and louder.

On Monday Jindal reneged and vetoed the bill, the day before it would have gone into effect.

"I clearly made a mistake," he admitted in a press release. "...as with all mistakes, you can either correct them or compound them. I chose to correct my mistake by vetoing this bill."

JINDAL WOULD HAVE spared himself a world of trouble if he had vetoed the bill immediately. Unfortunately, over the course of the last two weeks he tried to find solutions without compromising his promise to the legislature, at the cost of increasingly acrimonious editorials and even two recall petitions.

Ryan and Kourtney Fournier of Jefferson Parish submitted a recall petition following Jindal's announcement that, although he disapproved of the bill, he would withhold his veto.

An e-mail from the Fourniers' website informed TAS that they felt "betrayed." Now that he has vetoed the bill they expressed hope that the governor "can redeem himself from this point, however there are a few other matters at hand to deal with, namely salaries in his cabinet."

Although they haven't decided whether to retract the petition, they said that if Jindal were to accept the VP slot, it would "only show his true political motivations, and his lack of dedication to the state."

Granted, the Fourniers have no shot at obtaining the one-third of Louisiana's registered voters required to force a recall election. But their petition has drawn the national media's eye to Jindal's missteps.

Again, with a simple apology to lawmakers and a stroke of the pen on Day One, Jindal could have avoided all this trouble. It's the kind of mistake that a little more Cajun seasoning might help to solve.

RUSH LIMBAUGH HAS said that Jindal is the next Ronald Reagan, but Jindal really only has three-quarters of the winning Reagan formula.

The Republicans' whiz kid gets 100 percent on policy: as a 20-year-old Hill staffer, he took U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery's Medicare plans and totally revised them, to the Congressman's surprise. And at age 24, he turned massive Medicaid overruns into a $200 million surplus.

But on politics, he's only halfway there. Obviously he's doing something right if he's the governor of Louisiana at 37 and a seemingly nightly guest of CNN and Fox News. But he should know better than to let a small hiccup overshadow his accomplishments.

Furthermore, he needs time to cement his reputation for as a pragmatist and a reformer. He's well on his way toward implementing policies that will undoubtedly produce real and measurable gains for Louisiana's businesses, schools, and hospitals, but he's also already put policies in place that will make him a big fat target for the Left.

For instance, Jindal has signed a law that allows public school teachers to expose students to theories other than Darwinian evolution -- and has already felt the vituperation of the Left. He's been accused of backwardness and rejecting science for Creationism.

He backs the public display of the Ten Commandments, eschews state aid for stem-cell research, and is unrepentant in his opposition to all forms of abortion.

While these are all characteristics that could aid McCain's candidacy by improving his image among traditional conservatives, they also make it relatively easy to portray Jindal as a backwater, Bible-thumping Jerry Falwell type -- but not if he has the revival of Louisiana to his credit.

IN FACT, Democrats didn't even play their ace-in-the-hole in the gubernatorial race. In 1994 Jindal wrote an article for the ultraconservative Catholic magazine the New Oxford Review detailing his involvement with the exorcism of a college classmate.

The article was only dragged back into the news during a recent Supreme Court decision regarding the constitutionality of forced exorcisms.

Why did Democratic leadership decide not to use the article to portray Jindal as a religious nut during the race? There are two possibilities. One, they feared a backlash of the state's religious voters -- both Catholics and Protestants. Two, the byline on the piece may have given them pause. It reads:

Bobby Jindal received his M.Litt. in Politics earlier this year from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is currently an Associate at McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C. He has been accepted at Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School, and has the option of returning to Oxford for a D.Phil. in Politics.


For whatever reason, they flinched. But that won't be the case if Jindal is the GOP's vice-presidential nominee. Right now, it will be all too easy to poke holes in Jindal's public image. But that's just until Louisiana manifests his reforms, making him one of the most sought-after Republican candidates for president in 2012.

That's why the Right should keep Jindal right where he is: waiting in the wings.

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About the Author

Joseph Lawler, former managing editor of The American Spectator, is editor of Real Clear Policy. Follow him on twitter: @josephlawler.