I’ve been trying for some time to find an appropriate metaphor to capture the shallowness of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political narrative. I’ve settled on the image of him as an ancient puppet master conducting a shadow play.
Shadow plays were a popular form of entertainment and storytelling in primitive cultures. Things were kept simple — often a single puppet master would manipulate two-dimensional cutout characters to cast shadows on a scrim — so that the masses could easily comprehend the artless tale.
From his flimsy ethics reform “gold standard” in 2008 to his deceitful annual budgets built on one-time revenues, from his emasculation of higher education funding to his (federally rejected) plan to privatize Louisiana’s public hospitals, from his refusal to expand Medicaid to his recent flip-flop on Common Core — Jindal’s major policies consistently lack depth and substance. They are mere shadows on a wall.
But they make for good political theater, particularly among his easily beguiled followers.
Recognizing Jindal’s shadow plays for what they are requires people to stop suspending disbelief, to turn away from the scrim and look coldly at the guy manipulating shadows and light — and at the rest of the political landscape, which grows uglier by the day.
Ah, there’s the rub. The whole point of a shadow play, or any other play, is for people to escape life’s complications and just be entertained. That’s as true in politics as it is in life, and so Jindal keeps giving us shadow plays instead of reality. He knows what his public wants.
Take his recent flip-flop on Common Core, for example. When America’s business leaders and other governors birthed it, he happily joined the chorus and got Louisiana to buy in. But now that his core constituency — the tea party and “Christian” evangelicals — largely opposes it, he has turned tail and tried to reposition himself as Common Core’s most ardent foe.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jindal’s change of heart on Common Core was heartfelt. If that were the case, what would be his most logical (i.e., substantive) course of action?
As governor, he would have put the awesome weight of his office behind conservative lawmakers’ efforts to repeal or water down Common Core. There were plenty of bills to do just that in the recent legislative session, yet Jindal was always somewhere else — often not even in Louisiana — when he could have made a difference.
He continued to talk against Common Core, but every time he needed to act against it — and risk a confrontation with (and loss to) his former allies on that front — he chickened out. (This, too, is a pattern for Jindal. He talks boldly, but he rarely backs up his words with actions that put him at political risk.)
Instead, he waited until lawmakers adjourned, then unilaterally issued an executive order ostensibly taking Louisiana out of Common Core. His order sounded definitive when he announced it, but upon close examination it rings hollow — much like most of his policies.
Much like … shadow plays.
In reality, Jindal isn’t the only actor in the Common Core story. Constitutionally, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and state Education Superintendent John White hold as much if not more actual authority over Common Core — and BESE and White remain steadfast supporters of the initiative. Ultimately, the courts will decide who’s really in charge.
Meanwhile, a consistent majority of Louisiana voters no longer believes he’s doing a good job as governor. Whether on the issue of Common Core or other fronts, they see him as a guy just throwing shadows on a scrim.
But that’s no matter to Jindal. In his world, which increasingly is a world outside Louisiana, the show goes on. For Bobby Jindal, there’s a whole nation out there to enthrall with his amazing tale of a “Louisiana Miracle.”
Never mind that more and more folks here realize that Jindal’s narrative is just a shadow play. And, as everyone knows, shadow plays lost their appeal as an art form centuries ago.
Or did they?