Now that most of the uproar over once-suspended, now-reinstated “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson has subsided, it looks like one more issue Gov. Bobby Jindal can mark in the “win” column, at least until the governor does what everybody expects and jumps into national politics.
The details aren’t necessary. A guy with a colorful personality on a popular reality show filmed in Louisiana makes anti-gay remarks to a national reporter. Then the television guy shares nonsensical memories of the African-American experience under Jim Crow.
While the comments on race didn’t become a big story nationally, the homophobic remarks did. Robertson became a villain on the left and a folk hero on the right. That made it easy for Jindal to step into the spotlight defending someone expressing views that are widely held throughout the state.
Locally, it made Jindal look like a guy willing to stand tall and throw punches in defense of a fellow Louisiana resident. The governor was decisive, and he was deliberate. It was a win.
But was it also shortsighted? Jindal didn’t explicitly defend the remarks; he defended Robertson’s right to say them without being attacked. But distinctions like those often become murkier as time passes.
Pearson Cross, political science department head at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, thinks so. He said it’s especially baffling, considering Jindal’s speech at the Republican National Committee’s meeting last year.
“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” Jindal said last January. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”
The governor should practice what he preaches, Cross said.
“For someone who says Republicans need to stop being the stupid party, aligning yourself with Phil Robertson is stupid nationally,” Cross said. “Americans nationally won’t elect someone who condones Phil Robertson.”
Cross and many others say Jindal is fortunate that the storyline has been focused so far on the Duck Dynasty star’s anti-gay comments and not his racial comments. It means that a perception that Jindal defended a racist would be worse for the governor’s political aspirations than the perception that he stuck up for a homophobe.
“It’s staggering that a governor of Louisiana, who is a minority himself, is so oblivious to the horrendous reality of African-Americans under Jim Crow,” Cross said. Those are comments “any politician in America should be backing away from. Americans won’t support anybody who has a Barry Goldwater stance on civil rights.”
Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, called the governor’s quick defense of Robertson shortsighted. “It reflects a short-term calculation to remain relevant nationally among the presidential hopefuls,” Stockley said. “What he was trying to do was jump into these discussions. He wanted to be one of the first of the major individuals to get out there and blame the liberal, mainstream media for bashing good Christians.”
It remains to be seen, but it’s possible that Jindal had a Charles Lindbergh moment.
On Sept. 11, 1941, the famous aviator gave an anti-Semitic speech to a Des Moines, Iowa, crowd saying the U.S., England and Germany should join together to create a wall of race and arms to hold back inferior blood. Those comments were widely seen as the end to Lindbergh’s perception as an American hero.
A day later, The Des Moines Register wrote, “It may have been courageous for Colonel Lindbergh to say what was in his mind, but it was so lacking in appreciation of consequences, putting the best interpretation on it that it disqualifies him for any pretensions of leadership of this republic in policy-making.”
Koran Addo covers state government for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.