We can turn to political sage and former Louisiana state senator Sixty Rayburn, who was well known for his folksy sayings during legislative sessions. He often urged his colleagues to never forget the folks back home when deciding issues at the state capitol. Sixty put it this way. “Always dance with the one that brought you.” It’s a lesson Bobby Jindal forgot during his final years as governor and during his quixotic campaign for president.
Jindal’s early appeal was that he was a young, articulate republican governor with an Indian American background. He wasn’t just another old white guy that has been the foundation of the national Republican Party in recent years. Most Louisianans don’t remember what a dynamo of youth and energy he radiated in his early political career. He was insatiable in traveling the state and seeking out problems to solve.
I remember back in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, when I was having lunch with a local south Louisiana mayor. Jindal was a congressman at that time, but did not represent that part of the state. The mayor commented that Jindal regularly called to offer federal help, and shared his cell phone number. “He was doing the same for other officials all over the state,” he remembered. “The young fellow seemed to be everywhere.”
Jindal took the same approach in his early tenure as governor. His governing style was “hands on,” and he was readily available to the press and to the public. In fact, he was criticized by some for traveling each Sunday to a different church in the state, particularly in north Louisiana. His popularity was sky high.
But then his hubris got the best of him. National republicans, desperate to show that the GOP could grow a bigger tent, began embellishing the young governor as a future national leader. Ego took over, and Jindal began his quest to build a national image while ignoring Louisiana concerns. Governing Louisiana became an afterthought
Jindal counted on his policy experience as being a plus in attracting voters. Governor, congressman, and heading up health and education departments all were part of his resume’ of being a policy wonk. But most voters are not wonks. Numerous think tankers have been telling voters how to solve the nation’s problems for years, but with feeble success. Jindal got little traction with his institutional knowledge.
As his national campaign floundered, in desperation Jindal started lobbing grenades. He became incendiary in his rhetoric, staking out extreme positions on numerous issues that turned many voters off. Jindal’s rabble-rousing press releases were looked on by the national press as desperate efforts of a dying campaign.
But when all was said and done, it was the voters of Louisiana that pulled the plug on Jindal’s national ambitions. While Jindal traveled the country and abandoned his responsibilities as governor, financial problems continued to mount and voter frustrations boiled over. When he left office, Jindal’s unfavourability rating was at 70 percent, the worst rating by any governor in the past 100 years.
Louisianans became fed up with a chief executive who discarded his state responsibilities to further his own personal agenda. And this frustration was recognized by the national press. The line on Jindal across the country was that if he could not handle problems at home, how could he lead on a national level? Jindal’s demise did not happen on the campaign trail. He shot himself in the foot by ignoring Louisiana problems.
Jindal will no doubt continue to be blamed for all the state’s woes for years to come. Republicans did it for years putting the blame on Edwin Edwards. Beating up on past political leadership may be good politics, but it does not address solving the state’s fiscal mess. After campaign season, it will be time to move on.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.