Political Horizons for Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013

Jindal playing to the nation

A quick review of Lexis, the mighty database of English-speaking news articles from around the world, showed nearly 500 hits for Bobby Jindal in the four days following his Jan. 24 speech to Republican pooh-bahs on how to reinvigorate the GOP.

That’s only a fraction of what people like the President Barack Obama or actress Lindsay Lohan would get, but for the governor of a state with fewer people than a good-sized urban area, that number is fairly remarkable.

Rosy accolades fell on Jindal’s intellect in columns printed as far away as Japan and Sweden. Jay Leno used Jindal’s positions to set up a joke on NBC’s Tonight Show.

Not since Huey Long blasted the rich for hogging the trough has a leader of this small state attracted so much political attention nationally. “I can’t think of anybody in the intervening period who has gotten headlines for the strength of his ideas, rather than the extent of his excesses,” said G. Pearson Cross, a political science professor with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“What Jindal is trying to do, his big program, is to re-articulate the vision of the Republican Party in a way that would allow them to cobble together an electoral majority,” Cross said.

There are very few new ideas around. Rather, Jindal is pragmatically recasting the GOP bucket list into language that mobilizes voters, rather than repels them.

“If he is the person who, in fact, can craft that kind of vision, then it bodes very well for him nationally,” Cross said. “Think how much mileage (Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul) Ryan got out of his budget proposals, and his ‘makers not takers.’ ”

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor and columnist, last week pointed out what he called the disconnect between Jindal’s populist rhetoric and the GOP’s espoused exclusionary policies. In a television interview and column last week Krugman focused on Jindal’s plan to eliminate income taxes and replace them, presumably, with sales taxes. Krugman opposes that plan, saying that it unfairly benefits the rich and shifts the tax burden onto the poor and middle class.

Krugman also points out that this idea is being pursued in states where the Republican domination on all governmental levels eliminates the need to compromise on the policy.

Jindal needs a list of “accomplishments” that matches the national Republican wishlist to set him apart from other GOP governors: vouchers for public schools and privatized pensions for state workers, for instance. Even if the courts eventually dismantle those programs as unconstitutional — a couple verdicts already have indicated Louisiana courts are well on their way of doing just that — those setbacks can be demonized as the forces of the status quo.

His “gold standard” of ethics law from 2008 that required reporting of assets and liabilities by a multitude of elected officials also saddled the enforcers with less funding to oversee the work, meaning there is much more difficulty to prove infractions and a confusing bureaucratic array of enforcement responsibilities. His “unheralded success” in personally reducing the state budget by $9 billion — as Fred Barnes wrote in The Weekly Standard back in 2011 — neglected to mention how the natural end of federal hurricane dollars contributed to a smaller annual budget.

“Neither Bobby Jindal nor Michael Dukakis are going to let facts stand in the way of their run,” Cross said, referring to the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle” that propelled that state’s governor into the 1988 presidential race. Dukakis, whose technocratic language had opponents calling him “Zorba the Clerk,” ran on gubernatorial accomplishments that his critics in both parties say he wildly inflated.

“I don’t think the details matter that much, if voters are buying your vision,” Cross said.

That means Jindal likely will continue to ram through legislation that looks good to the factions who vote in GOP presidential primaries.

“It means we’re likely to be a ‘Guinea Pig’ state instead of the Pelican State,” Cross said.

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.