Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meet Bobby Jindal



Name: Bobby Jindal

Position: Governor of Louisiana

Party: Republican

Age: 41

Career Arc:

a. Majored in both biology and public policy at Brown University, graduating with honors, at 20 YEARS OLD!

b. Rhodes Scholar.

c. Picked up an M.Litt. in political science with health policy emphasis at Oxford.

d. Joins consulting firm.

e. Interned for Rep. Jim McCrery in Louisiana.

f. Named Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 24 YEARS OLD!

g. President of the University of Louisiana System at 28 YEARS OLD!

h. Nominated by President Bush for Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation.

i. Ran for governor in 2003, lost.

j. Ran for Congress in 2004, won.

k. Ran for Governor in 2007, won.

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The guy is just incredibly accomplished.

Do you realize what Bobby Jindal's mother's annual Christmas Letter must look like? (And then can you imagine an underachieving sibling? "Our other son, Jack, works for Wells Fargo and has been going to the gym. Merry Christmas.").

GUBERNATORIAL RECORD:

He became governor at thirty-six, and immediately got to work.

Within one year, Standard and Poor had upgraded the state's credit outlook and bond rating (it upgraded it, again, in 2011), the legislature had passed major ethics legislation that took the state from 44th in legislative disclosure requirements to first, and more businesses started moving to the state.

And as of November 2012, unemployment in the state was 5.8% -- quite a bit better than the national average. 

As Jim Geraghty notes, he's reduced the size of the state's budget by 26% during his tenure -- in many cases, thanks to privatization.

At one point, it seemed that education might have been Jindal's biggest legacy.

He recently pushed Louisiana in the direction of the biggest school voucher program in the country and, arguably, the toughest teacher accountability standards in the land.

As the Wall Street Journal noted last year, the voucher plan was particularly ambitious.

Louisiana is already one of 12 states (including Washington, D.C.) that offer school vouchers, but its program benefits fewer than 2,000 students in New Orleans. Governor Jindal would extend eligibility to any low-income student whose school gets a C, D or F grade from state administrators. That's almost 400,000 students—a bit more than half the statewide population—who could escape failing schools for private or virtual schools, career-based programs or institutions of higher education.

Funding for these vouchers ("scholarships" is the poll-tested term) would come not from a new fund, as in New Orleans, but from what the state already spends on public education per capita. So every student leaving a failing school would take about $8,500 (on average) with him, hitting the bureaucracy where it hurts. This is called competition, that crucial quality missing where monopolies reign.

So what happened?

In a major legacy moment last year, Jindal's voucher legislation AND his teacher tenure proposals passed, but last month, a Louisiana judge ruled the voucher program unconstitutional -- a ruling Jindal vowed to appeal. 

We'll see what happens from here, but clearly, Jindal is a big thinker on education. The positive is that he's fluent, knows his way around the issue, and can talk about it compellingly; the negative is that he's vulnerable to attacks from the teacher's unions.

More recently, Jindal checked off a conservative box when he announced that he won't set up Obama Care's state-run health insurance exchange.

On social issues, Jindal passes conservative tests. He's strongly pro-life, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports the death penalty.

Of course, John McCain is for all those things, too, and he's not exactly beloved by the base, but Jindal can talk the talk.

In fact, over the course of his gubernatorial career, Jindal has often visited churches to tell the story of his conversion to Catholicism.

“During my campaign I was asked the easiest question I had ever been asked during an interview ‘What has been the single most significant moment in my life?’ “The moment I found Jesus Christ or should I say, he found me because I was the one who was lost....

“I got down I got on my knees, asked Jesus into my heart, and began to grow through prayer and Bible study,”

That's exactly the kind of answer George W. Bush delivered in 2000 to let evangelicals know they could trust him.

Jindal recently made a bit of a splash by arguing that birth control should be available over-the-counter. It was a smart move, pushing back against the erroneous idea that Republicans don't believe in birth control (as an aside, if that were the case, GOP fecundity rates would actually be so high that the country truly would be Republican, instead of the left-of-center nation it currently is).

Jindal's second, recent splash came when he beat up Republicans a bit for being stuck in the '80's and somewhat intellectually vapid, or as he called it, "the stupid party". Not necessarily as a matter of IQ, but as a matter of fresh ideas.

It was nearly as searing as anything Jon Huntsman's said about the party, but Jindal was able to emerge with his conservative credentials relatively unscathed (even though Rush Limbaugh dinged him for it). 

Most recently, Bobby's proposed slashing the state's income and corporate tax rate to 0% -- something cons are loving and progressives are hating.

But it doesn't look like it's going to pass the Louisiana legislature -- read this piece, and you can see that even GOP members of the statehouse are a bit skeptical the state can afford the cut.

SPOUSE: Supriya Jindal



Supriya set up and runs a non-profit foundation, "The Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana's Children", which is pretty self-descriptive, and she's also involved in other charitable causes like the American Heart Association and Special Olympics.

She's really smart, too, holding an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Tulane, an MBA from Tulane, and is one dissertation short of a PhD in Marketing.

She and Bobby have three kids, who probably don't ever need help with their homework.

"Be Mine" heart from ABCTeach.com

BOBBY AND SUPRIYA's "AWWWWWWWW" story:

In 1996, Bobby's Mardis Gras ball date canceled on him, so he went to his black book and found Supriya's name.

Only problem?

He hadn't seen her since high school.

But he was able to track her down (that's not scary at all) and left the following voice-mail message on her phone: "If you're not married, call me back."

She did, they talked, they married, they procreated, and the rest is history waiting to be written.


WHY BOBBY CAN WIN: 

If he runs, he'll be the smartest person in both the Republican and Democratic fields. No one would dispute that, right or left.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with him. It just means that he'd put together a better Bad Piggie cart and do it faster than you.

Mitt Romney was accused of bandying about cheap slogans, no specifics, and no new ideas. You can't accuse Jindal of that, and in that way, he seems the perfect follow-up to the GOP's 2012 effort.

Further, he's young and innovative, and could potentially cut into Democrats' massive advantage with young voters, although I think for a variety of reasons (largely, demographics and cultural issues), the GOP will struggle perpetually with the youngest set.

He's Indian-American, which doesn't draw on a big constituency, but as an ethnic minority, he could eat into Dems' big advantages there (that's admittedly a crude simplification of something that's much more complex).

Jindal's also been playing at the national level for awhile now -- both as a surrogate for Rick Perry and then Mitt Romney in 2012 and a country-crossing, collector of political chits.

He'll make even more connections this year when he becomes the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association. That means he'll do some heavy fundraising and campaigning for candidates across the country in the 2014 cycle, which will be helpful moving into the 2016 cycle.

And 2016 really does seem like the right time for Jindal.

In 2008, his name was thrown around for Veep; then from 2008-2010, his name was thrown around for president; then in 2012, his name was thrown around for Veep (again).

The political winds can only hold him back so long.


WHY BOBBY CAN'T WIN:

He's gotten better, but Jindal still isn't a great orator and comes across 95% as a wonk and only 4% leader of the free world and 1% most powerful man on the planet. That's not the 1% you want to be in.

That doesn't mean he shouldn't be president; it just means that it's less likely he will. Think about our recent presidents -- Obama, W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, Reagan. All of them, save for George W. Bush, were over 6' and looked strikingly presidential.

But Bobby Jindal maxes out at 5'9", according to a slew of websites. The last president who was that short was Harry Truman.

(Btw, brace yourself, Marco Rubio fans. I'm going to write the exact same bit on the Rubio profile, because he's about 5'9", too).

Mayors and governors can look quirky and wonky; presidents can't. There's just a huge aesthetic jump and even if you give him grace on height, he still talks wonky and strides wonky.

He needs to be Princess Diary-ed or something like that.

Of course, his record in Louisiana will be scrutinized and it could be that it's just too conservative for a general election. The counter is that Jindal is pretty good at selling his ideas, but is he good enough at playing the part of president?
    


ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:

The exorcism.

In 1994, Jindal wrote an article about an exorcism he witnessed in college and that he believed was real.

Now -- does this matter?

It does, and it doesn't.

First, most Americans believe in the forces involved -- in angels, demons, and supernatural things. Granted, you don't think about exorcisms while you brush your teeth or pick up the mail, but most voters believe in angels and demons. So on that score, Jindal's fine.

Second, there's no evidence whatsoever that this decades-old exorcism affected his future performance as governor or would affect his performance as president. It's just not relevant, and if you're worried it is, remember -- Abraham Lincoln-Day Lewis attended seances in the White House and saved the union.

Now, having said all that, here's why I say it might be a problem for Jindal: In this viral age, in an age where politicians are defined more by trivial intangibles than real substance and defined by -- this is the important part -- the people who are LEAST likely to believe in angels and demons, well then, it's a problem.

How will Meme-Ville treat an exorcism? I don't think we have any precedent there, but I don't think the prospects are great.

And Meme-Ville is so terribly important and, really, so terribly difficult to control.

Jindal himself seems to know that the exorcism might be a problem.

The Times-Picayune, circa August:

When asked if the governor still believes he witnessed an exorcism or has any concerns about the article's impact on his chances of becoming the vice presidential nominee, a Jindal spokeswoman didn't answer the questions directly.

Instead, she released a statement from Jindal saying, "I wrote a lot of stuff in high school and college. While other kids were out partying, I was reading and writing. I'm sure some of that stuff is goofy. I just hope they don't review my grade school work."

Pretty evasive.

There's really no good way for Jindal to handle the story. Comment on it, and you puff it up. Refuse to comment, and you puff it up.

Either way, you're puffing it up, and believe me, it will be puffed up if he becomes the GOP nominee.

So, yes, the elephant in the room is that the exorcism could haunt Jindal -- fairly or unfairly -- in a big way if he makes it to a general election.

Okay, because it's not awkward or anything to end a post on exorcisms, here's a sense of Jindal the orator at CPAC 2012.