Rant

06.21.13

Has Bobby Jindal Gone Mad?

Normally, Louisiana’s Republican governor is known for his level head. But in a recent op-ed, he went off the rails. Michelle Cottle on what’s behind the freak-out.

WTF has happened to Bobby Jindal?

Has he suffered a stroke? A blow to the head? Become addicted to prescription drugs? Has he been kidnapped by some fierce branch of the Louisiana Tea Party that is holding him hostage somewhere deep in bayou country?

If not, how else to explain the governor’s bizarre, contradictory, paranoid, and vaguely incoherent rant this week in Politico?

We’re not talking about some off-the-cuff quote or on-air brain freeze. For whatever reason, Jindal deliberately put his name on a several-hundred word column that starts out by spanking his party for its “self-analysis,” “bedwetting,” and “navel-gaving” (a term he likes so much he uses it twice) before reassuring fellow conservatives that the political tide will soon turn their way because liberals “want”—and this part really must be reproduced in full in order to be properly appreciated:

the government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems with it.

Whew! How’s that for some over-the-top demagoguery? We’re talking Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt levels of button pushing, tailor-made not only to court but also to fuel the rage and paranoia of his party’s already feverish base.

Let us ignore for the moment the more head-scratching beliefs that Jindal attributes to his political opponents (“the earth is flat,” “red meat should be rationed”). After all, huddle up with a handful of die-hard conservatives, and in no time at all you’ll be treated to much wilder, much weirder stereotypes and conspiracy theories about libs and Dems. But from Bobby Jindal? The guy who has publicly lectured fellow Republicans to stop being the “stupid party,” drop the “offensive and bizarre comments,” talk “like adults,” and “stop insulting the intelligence of the voters”? That Bobby Jindal? Sure, there are plenty of Republican pols who have been equally adamant about the GOP’s need to regroup and rebrand. But precious few of them have taken such juicy digs at their own team in public, delighting Democrats and the conflict-hungry political media alike.

Maybe Jindal’s troubles back home have taken their toll.

So Jindal is now attacking the same sort of aggressive self-reflection of which he was so recently a prime practitioner. Fair enough. A man’s entitled to change his tune. But what’s with the who’s-your-daddy schtick? Tough love is a useful parenting strategy, to be sure. But slamming one’s own political brethren for “bed wetting” and barking for them to don their “big boy pants” requires a special kind of tough-guy swagger to pull off. Chris Christie has it. Ted Cruz has it. Sarah Palin has it. Bobby Jindal? Not so much.

Maybe Jindal’s troubles back home have taken their toll. Up until a couple of months ago, the governor seemed overflowing with promise and potential, thanks to his reform crusade in areas ranging from education to spending cuts (not terribly popular but largely successful), coupled with his 2011 reelection cakewalk. But then came the January rollout of his tax-reform plan, which, in a nutshell, aimed to replace the state income tax with a higher, broader sales tax. While this sort of bold vision makes conservative think-tankers swoon, Louisianans were less charmed: sixty-three percent opposed it, including a majority of Republicans. By April the governor’s favorability rating had plunged from the high 50s to the low 30s, and state legislators had put a bullet in the plan.

Though disappointing, that kind of failure doesn’t preclude a presidential run. I mean, at least he gave it a shot, right? Certainly there’s no need to chuck one’s entire persona as sensible, straight-talking wonk and chase after the most wild-eyed segments of the one’s party.

One veteran Republican operative fretted to me that Jindal sounds like he has fallen under the sway of bad consultants who have spun him around and loaded him up with tired lines that evoke a C-SPAN call-in conspiracy montage. That certainly sounds plausible. Better still, it offers the hope that he will wake up one day soon, fire whoever’s behind this disastrous tough-guy reinvention, and spare all of us any future self-indulgent ravings. The GOP already has plenty of ravers. (In that department, the governor can never hope to seriously compete.) What it could use more of are thoughtful, level-headed types of the sort that the old Bobby Jindal would have liked.