May 22, 2010


How Oil Saved Bobby Jindal (Reihan Salam, 5/21/10, Daily Beast)

In a series of impassioned public statements, Jindal has all but declared the fight against the oil spill as the moral equivalent of war. "We're going to do what it takes to protect our way of life," he's said, the clear implication being that legal niceties and ideology won't stop him from doing what he deems necessary.

Elected as the first Organization Kid governor, Jindal is a talented young wonk who first ran for governor in 2003 after a meteoric rise in state and national politics, After losing that election and winning election to Congress almost immediately afterwards, Jindal was careful not to become a creature of Washington. During Katrina, he traveled throughout the Gulf region in an effort to help guide the federal response to the disaster, bonding with local law enforcement officials and serving as a kind of governor-in-waiting as his erstwhile opponent, the hapless then-governor Kathleen Blanco, failed to project the competence that voters expected of her. Jindal's extraordinary energy in those days helped cement an impression of him as something more than a whiz-kid wonk. Rather, he come across as a hard-charging, decisive leader capable of getting results.

But since his election in 2007, Jindal has inevitably run into rocky shoals, thanks in no small part to a national economy badly battered by the downturn and the jobless recovery and the particular problems facing a notoriously corrupt, poverty-stricken state. Touted as a future presidential candidate, Jindal's response to President Obama's first State of the Union in February of last year was subject to withering critiques from the left and the right, with the blow softened only by an enthusiastic defense from talk-radio icon Rush Limbaugh. The speech was a simple paean to American exceptionalism and the virtues of economic laissez-faire, a fairly unexceptional and arguably overfamiliar litany of conservative cliches. The irony is that Jindal's expertise on the nitty-gritty details of Medicare reform and a range of other complex domestic issues meant that he was one of very few Republican leaders capable of making an incisive yet accessible critique of President Obama's domestic agenda. Yet instead of playing to his strengths, he channeled a good ol' boy tone that came across as cloying and unpersuasive. For whatever reason, it is crisis that brings out the best in Jindal, as we've seen in recent weeks.

With his data-rich calls for the creation of sand booms and other coastal defense measures, and his very visible efforts to pressure the federal government to take more aggressive action, Jindal has come to embody the response to the oil spill. There's something decidedly unconservative about Jindal's hands-on approach. Like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who made a point of taking a leading role in responding to hurricanes and other natural disasters during his tenure, Jindal is playing the role of governor-as-action-hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2010 8:39 AM
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