This town can get pretty wound up when a politician misbehaves.
Given some of the reactions to Bobby Jindal’s off-script remarks Monday, you’d think he’d been caught with a mirror on his shoe in the ladies’ restroom.
No, it was much worse than that.
Hide the children. He defied protocol.
In town for the National Governors Association winter meeting, Jindal joined other state chief executives in front of the White House after a meeting with the president. Taking the microphone, Jindal said among other things that “the Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” and the president is “waving the white flag of surrender.”
It’s a wonder no one fainted.
According to those who follow closely every little thing, governors are in town to share blankies and not hurt feelings. They’re supposed to be bipartisan-ish and leave the spleen venting to Congress. Bobby didn’t get the memo.
His comments prompted a faux-angry rejoinder from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, who called Jindal’s remarks “the most partisan statement that we’ve had all weekend,” – and Jindal’s white flag comment “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.” (Really? Even wackier than you-can-keep-your-insurance-if-you-like-it?)
A smiling Jindal took the microphone again, adding that if his earlier comments were the most partisan thing Malloy had heard, “I want to make sure that he hears a more partisan statement.”
And so it went.
It should be mentioned that there were plenty of smiles all around and no one seemed to be reaching for their Valium. But Jindal seemed to be having a really good time – comfortable in his bravura, not to mention being in such close proximity to the White House, his hoped-for future home.
Of course, he’s running for president in 2016. He hasn’t said so, but he clearly is. His actions speak far louder than his words. Given this obvious fact, Jindal can’t start too soon demonstrating his older, wiser more experienced persona. He has to be aggressive to convince the Republican base that he’s a stand-up guy willing to jump in the ring with Apollo Creed. OK, so maybe with Dannel Malloy.
This isn’t such an easy sell for the slightly built Rhodes scholar who became the nation’s youngest governor. And though Jindal is a Catholic convert – and he speaks with the natural lilt of his birth state of Louisiana – he is not visually “one of us” in the way some Republicans have demonstrated they’re most comfortable. To the birther sensibility, if President Obama was born in Kenya, then Jindal could be from Punjab. In fact, he was conceived there but born in Baton Rouge.
Birtherism is not unique to the fever swamps of Republican fringe dwellers, it is useful to remember. When Jindal ran for governor in 2007, opponents frequently noted that his first name is Piyush. Democrats mentioned “Piyush Bobby Jindal” as often as Republicans brought up “Barack Hussein Obama” the following year. Of course, Vice President George H.W. Bush couldn’t resist referring to his Republican presidential rival Pete du Pont as “Pierre.” And so it goes.
Whatever you call him, anyone who has met Jindal quickly realizes that he considers himself a good ol’ boy, born and bred. Bubba Bobby. An admitted policy nerd who probably would rather revamp health care reform – overnight with no coffee – than attend a gator-wrestling match, he’s apparently ready to start flexing his muscles.
Though new to the broader public, this is a familiar Jindal to Louisianans during the Katrina era. While then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco was clearly overwhelmed by events, Jindal became the Incredible Hulk. Then a congressman in Washington, you might say he was bustin’ his britches to save the day, or at least as many fellow citizens as possible. He flew to Louisiana, presumably by his own powers, rolled up his sleeves and procured caravans of trucks for relief efforts.
More recently, alas, Jindal is better known as the young man who delivered the GOP’s State of the Union response in 2009. A naturally fast talker, Jindal obviously had been coached to slow down. This did not work well. Rather than coming across as deliberative and thoughtful, Jindal seemed to be having an out-of-body experience enhanced by special brownies.
No one is more aware of this than Jindal. Hence, what we saw Monday and likely will see again and again. Whether he could land the Republican nomination seems iffy at best, but it won’t be for lack of intelligence. Smarts is something else.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post and lives part-time in South Carolina.