In January, Gov. Bobby Jindal gave an instantly famous post-election speech to members of the Republican National Committee in which the governor — among many other things — told his fellow Republicans that the GOP must "stop being the stupid party." He also called for "a new Republican Party that acts like adults." The speech was praised by some staunch conservatives, but it left many in Louisiana scratching their heads. This, after all, was the same Bobby Jindal who supports teaching creationism in the public schools, and the same Bobby Jindal who opposed the federal stimulus package — but then mugged for photos handing out oversized stimulus checks (mostly to local governments) with his signature on them.
Last week Jindal picked up his scolding pen again and wrote another lecture to the GOP. In POLITICO, Jindal urged Republicans to "go kick the other guys [Democrats] around." He claimed "the left" believes that "red meat should be rationed," "32-oz. sodas are evil," "the IRS should violate our Constitutional rights" and, most bizarrely, "the earth is flat." Yes, the same Rhodes Scholar and Brown University biology grad who thinks creationism should be taught in public schools now accuses his opponents of thinking the earth is flat.
If this is Jindal's idea of acting like an adult — or a leader — we'd hate to see him when he's being childish.
The reviews across the board were on par with those for his televised belly flop in 2011, when he delivered the GOP response to President Barack Obama's address to Congress. That speech was widely panned and earned him comparisons to the gawky character of Kenneth the Page on the sitcom 30 Rock. "In an op-ed in POLITICO today, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has taken a firm stand against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal," noted the Huffington Post's Jason Linkins.
Reaction from Jindal sympathizers in the media wasn't much better. "Bobby Jindal Has Completely Lost Touch With Reality" was the title of an article by Josh Barro on Business Insider. "The liberal economic agenda is flawed, but it's not as flawed as the Republican agenda of tax cuts, spending cuts, and hope," Barro wrote. "Republicans won't grasp that until they get past the idea that Barack Obama is a red-meat rationer who's trying to destroy the economy."
U.S. News & World Report quoted an unnamed political advisor who said, "It may help gin up the base, but 2012 showed that appealing solely to the base isn't working the way it used to for Republicans, so I think it does ultimately help Democrats." And The Washington Post's Ezra Klein called Jindal an "elite" (a dirty word among politicians, particularly GOP pols): "That's how the GOP becomes the stupid party: Republican Party elites like Jindal convince Republican Party activists of things that aren't true."
The irony is that Jindal got it right the first time. The GOP had just taken a shellacking in the fall 2012 elections. The party had tried to unite behind Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate, without much enthusiasm from the party's most conservative quarters. Then, almost as if on cue, smaller brushfires erupted around the country and significantly damaged the Republican brand. ("Legitimate rape," anyone?) After the election, Jindal told POLITICO, "Simply being the anti-Obama party didn't work. You can't beat something with nothing. The reality is we have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions." That's a fair analysis of — and a good prescription for — what ails the GOP these days.
But that was then. Now the governor sounds like any small-town talk-radio blowhard, jawboning about red meat and large sodas rather than offering specific, rational, forward-looking policies. His latest screed may play well in the cheap seats, but if Jindal aspires to higher office — and there's no question of that, given his low level of interest in Louisiana these days — he should realize there's no way to get from here to there without projecting himself as a leader to all the people.
"Eventually Americans will rise up against this new era of big government and this new reign of politically correct terror," Jindal wrote in his final paragraph. "In the meantime," he concluded, "Republicans, hold fast, get smarter, get disciplined, get on offense and put on your big boy pants."
Fine, Governor. You go first.