Why It’s Fun To Make Fun of Bobby Jindal

Having written a lot about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the last few months (roughly since his speech about the “stupid party” that got him reams of positive press as a potential ’16er, as representative of those fine “pragmatic” GOP governors, and as the multi-racial Future of the GOP), I’ll give it a rest now that’s his job approval ratings are in the tank and he looks about as much like the Future of His Party as Newt Gingrich.

But since Jonathan Chait went on a tear this morning, mocking Jindal as “Stupid, Party of One,” I thought I might be clear about why this particular guy bugs progressives in a special way.

It’s mostly because he gives off the constant air of being the smartest guy in the room who is happy to put one over on the rubes.

I gather his resume isn’t necessarily as remarkable as it looks in terms of what he actually accomplished in some of his early, brief gigs, but even discounting it quite a bit, it’s pretty impressive: Ivy League degree at 20 (with double-majors in biology and public policy); a Rhodes scholarship, then straight to the McKinsey & co. with high hosannas; a congressional internship which led to an introduction to the Governor of Louisiana, who was so impressed he soon appointed young Bobby Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (and thus overseer of the Medicaid program) at the age of 24.

Soon he was snapped up by John Breaux to run the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, and then returned home to become, at the age of 28, President of the University of Louisiana System (basically all the state universities other than LSU). At 29 George W. Bush appointed him the principal Assistant Secretary of HHS for policy matters, and at the ripe old age of 31 he began his first gubernatorial run. After narrowly losing to Kathleen Blanco, he almost immediately began running for Congress, and arrived there in 2005, having already performed a major political comeback at 33. By 2007 he was ready for his second, and successful, run for governor.

It’s almost a pulp fiction parody of the Young Man in a Hurry, ain’t it? And at every step, Jindal was being constantly praised as a genius, a prodigy, The Future of this or that.

Now at this point a conservative reader might assume I’m engaging in the liberal vice of Despising Success, envious of Bobby because, after all, he was running a huge state agency at an age when I was renting trucks, and was running a university system at an age when I was still a student at one. But no, here’s the thing: the problem with Jindal is that he seems constantly to be telegraphing his superiority via cynical, dumbed-down political games that you know he knows are a giant shuck. There was the purple-finger gimmick at the 2005 State of the Union Address, celebrating the brilliant success of the Iraq War. There was the famous Captain Simple SOTU response in 2009, wherein the genius appeared to be trying to communicate with what he considered to be very slow-witted people, like a English missionary first encountering The Savage. There were the blatant pandering policy initiatives in Louisiana, like a voucher plan that invited conservative evangelical schools mainly interested in proselytizing to belly up to the tax dollar bar and check a future box for Bobby. And most recently, there was his “stupid party” speech, in which Jindal correctly if cynically assumed that Republicans looking for an excuse not to change and Beltway pundits wanting an easy story of Republican revival would cheer without looking very closely at the hammer-headed policy agenda he was actually promoting (more rube-bait in itself). Hell, he actually got himself described as a “populist,” every elitist pol’s fantasy.

Now his star has fallen again, and yeah, the schadenfreude is difficult to avoid, particularly for those of us who aren’t terribly fond of the man’s basic partisan and ideological loyalties.

Having said all this, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Jindal. He’s trying to govern a famously ungovernable state. Anti-Asian racism was clearly a factor in his one electoral setback in 2003. His party does have a tendency to be “stupid,” albeit in pursuit of causes it considers noble.

But wouldn’t it be nice if on this trip back to the drawing board, Bobby Jindal put his formidable talents to work on devising policies that actually solved problems instead of sending ideological signals, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies? Now that would be impressive. And Lord knows he’s still young enough for a fresh start.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.