02.24.09

Memo to Bobby Jindal: Dump Rush

Ambitious young Gov. Jindal stuck it to Obama on TV tonight. But Paul Begala says to really make it in politics, he has to break with the kook right.

Ambitious young Gov. Jindal tried to stick it to Obama on TV tonight. But Paul Begala says to really make it in politics, he has to break with the kook right.

It wasn’t a fair fight. Watching Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s painful, sing-song response to President Barack Obama’s powerful and plain-spoken speech felt like watching an over-eager child trying to box Muhammad Ali. The kid was flailing wildly, while Ali just held the kid’s head at arm’s length, all the while smiling benignly. The kid’s arms whirled like windmills, but he never got close to connecting with the champ.

President Obama was confident and compelling; Gov. Jindal had all the saccharine sincerity of a Disney tour guide. Jindal reached his reductio ad absurdum when he suggested progressive and proactive Obama-led government could not be trusted to fix our economic problems because corrupt and incompetent Bush-led government had screwed up Katrina.

But if it is Pres. Bush who haunts Gov. Jindal’s past, it is Rush Limbaugh who haunts his future. One of the lesser-known laws of politics is that you can survive your enemies; it’s your friends who do you in.

So it is with Bobby Jindal. The governor of Louisiana has come a long way in a little time. A formidable politician, he wrested the governor’s mansion away from Bayou State Democrats. But can he survive the love of the right-wing Republicans—especially their leader, Rush Limbaugh?

If he wants to truly lead the GOP, he needs to take on and tame Rush Limbaugh. Bill Clinton publicly criticized his friend, Jesse Jackson, for giving a platform to Sister Souljah. Barack Obama denounced the bitter rant of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As he eyes 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Rhodes Scholar has embraced the rockheads—pushing “intelligent design.”

Will Bobby Jindal have the cojones to take on Rush? Don’t bet on it.

Limbaugh extols Jindal the way a dog trainer praises a prized puppy, telling his Dittoheads this week, “When I interviewed Bobby Jindal for the Limbaugh Letter a year and a half ago or so I immediately thought I was talking to the elected version of the next Ronald Reagan, the closest thing we've got to an elected version of the next Ronald Reagan in the United States today.”

Rush is in love. Watch out, Bobby.

One sure sign Gov. Jindal is hungry for higher office is his willingness to sup at the table of the kook right. As a congressman, before he started taking marching orders from Rush Limbaugh, Jindal cosponsored a bill to extend unemployment compensation for Louisianans who’d lost their jobs after Hurricane Katrina; now as a governor and presidential wannabe, he opposes extending unemployment benefits for his citizens.

As a Catholic, Jindal is a member of a church that is comfortable with evolution. As the holder of an Ivy League degree in biology, Jindal must know that "intelligent design" is a religious tenet of creationists, not a valid scientific theory. (Indeed, a federal court has so ruled.) And yet as he eyes 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Rhodes Scholar has embraced the rockheads—signing legislation that paves the way for Louisiana school boards to teach “intelligent design.”

If Bobby Jindal wants to be seen as a serious person, it will not be enough for him to break with Barack Obama. He needs to break with Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Flat Earth Society. Until he does, spare me the fawning.

Related: Bobby Jindal's Secret Past (By Max Blumenthal)

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.