Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, famously embodied the concept of the reality distortion field. Said to have its origins in STAR TREK (where else?), Jobs had a knack for convincing himself and others to believe almost anything — and that almost anything was possible — thanks to the force of his ego, charm, persistence and bluster. The key to making RDF work was getting an audience to lose its sense of proportion, in effect to suspend disbelief.
Jobs was hardly the first larger-than-life guy to use reality distortion. Political leaders for eons have used their gifts to rally nations. When it works, they become legends. When it doesn’t, they are exposed as frauds.
As I watch Gov. Bobby Jindal position himself to run for president, I wonder if he and his promoters are not trying to use a reality distortion field to convince people that he’s The Next Big Thing for the GOP. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like — and admire — about Jindal, whether you’re a conservative or not. He’s as disciplined and focused as any politician I’ve ever met. He has a great first generation American story to tell, though he seems disinclined to “connect” with his Indian and/or Hindu heritage.
But getting people to imagine a seemingly impossible task and then demanding that they accomplish it — the essence of the Jobsian RDF — is not quite the same as bullshitting people about your own attributes and expecting them to believe you’re Superman. In Jindal’s case, there are at least three reality distortion fields currently in play, all of which are relentlessly spun by Team Jindal and slavishly repeated by his sycophants in the media and in the political arena. It’s time for some reality checks.
RDF No. 1: Jindal remains hugely popular in Louisiana.
Reality Check: Jindal played it safe during his first term, earning him the well deserved knock that he ranked among Louisiana’s most risk-averse governors (more on this below). When he started making some tough decisions, his popularity plummeted. A recent poll taken for the Louisiana State Medical Society showed only 46 percent of voters approving of his performance, 48 percent disapproving. Another poll, by the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling firm in Raleigh, N.C., showed that only 37 percent approved of Jindal’s job performance, with 57 percent disapproving. Even discounting PPP’s Dem leanings, Jindal’s star is falling in Louisiana.
RDF No. 2: Jindal’s new tax plan is bold.
Reality Check: Let’s first agree on a definition of “boldness.” Dictionary.com defines it as “showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous.” In the political context, I submit that boldness requires putting one’s political capital at risk (i.e., among one’s political base) in pursuit of a greater good. When has Bobby Jindal ever risked alienating his political base? Answer: never. His tax plan plays safely to his archconservative base, or what’s left of it, both in terms of eliminating all income taxes and in terms of shifting the burden to poorer taxpayers via higher sales taxes. For the record, I think eliminating the corporate income tax and franchise tax is an excellent idea, as is the governor’s proposal to simplify and streamline sales tax reporting. But they hardly require “boldness” in the sense of taking big risks.
RDF No. 3: Jindal is a top tier contender for the GOP nomination in 2016.
Reality Check: He’s not even in the middle tier. On Feb. 8, Clarus Research Group, a non-partisan polling outfit based in Washington, D.C., published survey results reflecting Republican voters’ preferences for a 2016 nominee. Only one potential candidate sits in the top tier right now — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with 22 percent. Five others comprised the middle tier — Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan at 15 percent; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 13 percent; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 13 percent; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 11 percent, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 10 percent. The only field Jindal “led” was the small pack of also-rans. He got 4 percent to Rick Perry’s 3 percent and Susana Martinez’ 1 percent. Considering Jindal’s recent admonitions to the GOP, perhaps the party isn’t so “stupid” after all.