Friday, March 07, 2014

Same fish, new pond

This month's Mother Jones published an overview profile of Bobby Jindal's career. It's aimed at a national audience still getting to know the likely Presidential candidate.  This means that most Louisianians already  familiar with the Jindal experience probably won't find a whole lot there that's new.

But it is fairly thorough, cites and links to several local sources, and makes for a useful review for anyone who has been maybe drinking to forget these events. It also offers a few insights worth highlighting.

For instance, the article is more willing to take Jindal's professed extreme religious views at face value than most locals tend to.
It's tough to distinguish Jindal's faith journey from his political one, mostly because he himself doesn't. His parents came to Baton Rouge from Punjab when his mother was three months pregnant. Born Piyush Jindal, by kindergarten he had asked to be called Bobby, after hearing the name on Brady Bunch reruns. The family raised him in their Hindu faith, worshipping weekly and attending services at neighbors' homes. Then, in middle school, his best friend, Kent, told him he was going to hell, setting off years of spiritual questioning. Jindal read the Bible by flashlight in his closet, an experience he has compared to that of early Christians who practiced under threat of persecution.
We've spent the better part of Jindal's career smirking at stories like that.  We're so used to the idea of Jindal as a thoroughly disingenuous self-invented person that we assume this stuff is all just part of his hokey manufactured back story.  MOJO quotes Clancy DuBos voicing something like this viewpoint. 
Clancy DuBos, a longtime columnist for the Gambit, a New Orleans weekly, recalls an old Louisiana lobbyist's characterization of the governor: "'If you cut that boy open from stem to stern, won't nothing bleed out but ambition'—that's what Bobby's all about."
But what if it's all true?  What if Bobby Jindal isn't so much a phony as he is just a weird little dork?  If people believed that instead of the conventional wisdom that he was really a super smart technocrat playing folksy for the backwoods voters, could he have even been elected?   He probably wouldn't have attracted these early endorsements from the local cognoscenti.

Also the same local observers impressed with Jindal's smarts often credit his quick rise to his ambition. (Or they blame his failures on it depending on what mood they are in.) Rarely, though, do they cite his luck in equal proportion as the MOJO piece does here.
Jindal's recent swoon suggests just how much of his earlier success might have been a matter, as much as anything, of lucky timing: He came of age as a Republican in an era when Republicans were newly ascendant in Louisiana politics (Bill Clinton became the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in 1996) and climbed the ranks of the state bureaucracy in part because he was a big fish in a small pond. Jindal would have been a talent anywhere, but Louisiana wasn't exactly overflowing with Oxford-educated Republicans with immigrant tales. And in Hurricane Katrina, he was handed a powerful electoral tool, not just because it made Blanco unelectable, but also because it ended with tens of thousands of Democratic New Orleanians living in Texas. Eventually, it was inevitable that Republican grandees would be attracted to someone who could help suggest the party was evolving beyond its overwhelmingly white voter base.
Is Jindal's luck running out?  Or is he just not a big enough fish for the new pond he's jumping into? He's spent his life planning to emerge on the national stage as the young, super-Christian, wonky seeming face of.. well.. the same package of austerity policies the GOP has been selling for ages. Only, when he got there he discovered there already was a Paul Ryan.

A new poll has him pulling only 4 percent in New Hampshire. That might not mean a whole lot at this point. But it does suggest he'll need, if not a new act, much better luck to swim as successfully there as he has here.

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