Bobby Jindal has been getting a ton of press recently. He’s been mentioned as a possible McCain VP nominee and even got himself invited to the McCain’s VP weekend at the Arizona ranch. At the same time, a number of liberal sites have been going after Jinal pretty hard, branding him as a right wing nut, writing things like, “But in cultivating this image, movement conservatives overlook the fact that Jindal uses his admittedly impressive resume to mask far-right positions on social issues, economic policy, and the role of government,” and, via an Ezra Klein correspondent, “As for his popularity with conservatives, I can guess the excitement is due, in large part, to the fact that he is a young minority — two features the Republican Party lacks in most candidates — those two assets certainly played well in Louisiana”
This seems incredibly risky to me. As Rick Perstein just wrote about his new book Nixonland, “The liberals and leftists I write about were condescending asses.” Liberals who write off Jindal seem to me to be risking the same thing. One of Perstein’s key examples of liberal condescension is the way that California Governor Pat Brown’s staff rejoiced when Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination in 1966. Quoth Perstein, “In 1966, when Ronald Reagan began surging toward the GOP gubernatorial nomination in California, Esquire, the leading edge of a certain smug center of liberal opinion, graciously allowed that the ‘Republican Party isn’t bankrupt, or isn’t that bankrupt that it has to turn to Liberace for leadership.'”
Bobby Jindal really does strike me as a somewhat unique political figure. What he’s done in Louisiana seems nothing less than astounding to me. A year ago Jinal was primarily known as the political hack who ran for governor at age 32 who came up with the cheap political stunt of having Republican legislators paint their fingers purple for Bush’s State of the Union. Now, he’s combined the raw appeal of Barack Obama’s personal story, a true reformer’s zeal, social conservatism and economic policies to make libertarians swoon into an incredibly charismatic package. Plus, he’s been incredibly successful thus far at governing Louisiana, a task that many thought was impossible.
In six months in charge of Louisiana he’s passed one of the toughest ethics laws, getting a clueless legislator to inveigh against the proposal because a $50 limit on lobbyist paid for meals “would force her and her colleagues to dine at Taco Bell.” Furthermore, “Jindal headhunted a Fortune 500 executive to run his state department of Labor and commanded him to prune it down. In response, the secretary came up with a plan for abolishing the department. This is what you fantasize about Republicans doing before they go and do things like hire Tom Ridge to lobby for the duct tape industry.”
In short, Jindal has serious political skills. Thats not to say he’s perfect, given that all evidence is that he’s not terribly attractive when he starts talking social or foreign policy. But he’s going to be a force in American politics for years. Liberals who don’t like his social policies are idiots for writing him off based on his race and resume or social conservatism. If they do, they’ll misunderestimate yet another personable Southern politician, and we all know what happens then.