Political Animal


April 09, 2013 4:45 PM Why It’s Fun To Make Fun of Bobby Jindal

By Ed Kilgore

Having written a lot about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the last few months (roughly since his speech about the “stupid party” that got him reams of positive press as a potential ‘16er, as representative of those fine “pragmatic” GOP governors, and as the multi-racial Future of the GOP), I’ll give it a rest now that’s his job approval ratings are in the tank and he looks about as much like the Future of His Party as Newt Gingrich.

But since Jonathan Chait went on a tear this morning, mocking Jindal as “Stupid, Party of One,” I thought I might be clear about why this particular guy bugs progressives in a special way.

It’s mostly because he gives off the constant air of being the smartest guy in the room who is happy to put one over on the rubes.

I gather his resume isn’t necessarily as remarkable as it looks in terms of what he actually accomplished in some of his early, brief gigs, but even discounting it quite a bit, it’s pretty impressive: Ivy League degree at 20 (with double-majors in biology and public policy); a Rhodes scholarship, then straight to the McKinsey & co. with high hosannas; a congressional internship which led to an introduction to the Governor of Louisiana, who was so impressed he soon appointed young Bobby Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (and thus overseer of the Medicaid program) at the age of 24.

Soon he was snapped up by John Breaux to run the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, and then returned home to become, at the age of 28, President of the University of Louisiana System (basically all the state universities other than LSU). At 29 George W. Bush appointed him the principal Assistant Secretary of HHS for policy matters, and at the ripe old age of 31 he began his first gubernatorial run. After narrowly losing to Kathleen Blanco, he almost immediately began running for Congress, and arrived there in 2005, having already performed a major political comeback at 33. By 2007 he was ready for his second, and successful, run for governor.

It’s almost a pulp fiction parody of the Young Man in a Hurry, ain’t it? And at every step, Jindal was being constantly praised as a genius, a prodigy, The Future of this or that.

Now at this point a conservative reader might assume I’m engaging in the liberal vice of Despising Success, envious of Bobby because, after all, he was running a huge state agency at an age when I was renting trucks, and was running a university system at an age when I was still a student at one. But no, here’s the thing: the problem with Jindal is that he seems constantly to be telegraphing his superiority via cynical, dumbed-down political games that you know he knows are a giant shuck. There was the purple-finger gimmick at the 2005 State of the Union Address, celebrating the brilliant success of the Iraq War. There was the famous Captain Simple SOTU response in 2009, wherein the genius appeared to be trying to communicate with what he considered to be very slow-witted people, like a English missionary first encountering The Savage. There were the blatant pandering policy initiatives in Louisiana, like a voucher plan that invited conservative evangelical schools mainly interested in proselytizing to belly up to the tax dollar bar and check a future box for Bobby. And most recently, there was his “stupid party” speech, in which Jindal correctly if cynically assumed that Republicans looking for an excuse not to change and Beltway pundits wanting an easy story of Republican revival would cheer without looking very closely at the hammer-headed policy agenda he was actually promoting (more rube-bait in itself). Hell, he actually got himself described as a “populist,” every elitist pol’s fantasy.

Now his star has fallen again, and yeah, the schadenfreude is difficult to avoid, particularly for those of us who aren’t terribly fond of the man’s basic partisan and ideological loyalties.

Having said all this, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Jindal. He’s trying to govern a famously ungovernable state. Anti-Asian racism was clearly a factor in his one electoral setback in 2003. His party does have a tendency to be “stupid,” albeit in pursuit of causes it considers noble.

But wouldn’t it be nice if on this trip back to the drawing board, Bobby Jindal put his formidable talents to work on devising policies that actually solved problems instead of sending ideological signals, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies? Now that would be impressive. And Lord knows he’s still young enough for a fresh start.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 09, 2013 5:07 PM:

    To paraphrase that great comic-strip, "Pogo," "We have met the enemy, the 'Stupid Party,' and he is ME!"

    Grift on, Booby J, grift on!

    At least, unlike most of your Liberal opponents, you'll have Wingnut Welfare, for at least a while, to cushion your fall.

    What I find humorous, is that he ever thought he could be a national Republican figure.
    Proving, once again, that there is no more successful deception, than self-deception!

  • penalcolony on April 09, 2013 5:18 PM:

    There's "the smartest guy in the room," and then there's the guy who's really good at math.

    Two different animals, usually.

  • Sauceboy on April 09, 2013 5:39 PM:

    I think what you mean to say is that simply put, he's a tool.

    Put another way, for all of his estimable intellectual gifts, it's pretty clear that he sold them out very quickly in exchange for power. His story reminds me of Larry Kudlow, who famously got a job as an "economist" with Reagan, despite having only recently graduated Princeton undergrad, simply by parroting Laffer nonsense. It's either being a sellout, or simply having no real moral core; in Jindal's case I'm not sure which it is.

    Jindal's tax plan was just the latest attempt to put markers down in the sand for his political future, the quality of policies be damned. It doesn't take a very deep economic analysis to see what he was he trying to do; it only provokes the basic questions of whether he has any belief in fairness at all or his life is only dedicated now to wreaking misery on the weak so as to avoid inconveniencing the comfortable. And for all this, he presents himself as the moral voice.

    He's a joke, a pretender. And what's more tragic, he'll have sold out all that he's been given, given up his soul, and gotten little in return.

  • SYSPROG on April 09, 2013 5:53 PM:

    It's one thing to be the 'smartest guy in the room'. It's quite another to show that you can work with other smart guys to actually propose a solution. Arrogance in both the 'smart' and the 'not so smart' doesn't work.

  • gelfling545 on April 09, 2013 6:16 PM:

    As one who has spent a lifetime in education, I am reminded of something that those who study human growth and development know: sooner does not necessarily mean better. Perhaps if Gov. Jindal had held his impressive jobs after a bit more life experience he might have profited from them in developing into less of an ideologue and more of a statesman. His tax plan is one example of how, for all his experience, he has little knowledge. He really thought people were going to be pleased with that plan?

  • dp on April 09, 2013 7:29 PM:

    He's had an awful lot of positions, but he really doesn't have any impressive accomplishments. And though a Brown biology graduate, he happily signed an "intelligent design" bill to authorize confusing Louisiana schoolkids about evolution.

    He is exceptionally bright, and exceptionally cynical, and exceptionally ambitious.

  • bdop4 on April 09, 2013 7:30 PM:

    My favorite Jindal moment was when he mocked federal funding of volcanic monitoring programs and a week later, Mt. St. Helens erupted. A higher repudiation you cannot find. A small dose of intelligence and empathy should have steered him clear of that blunder.

  • max on April 09, 2013 7:34 PM:

    There was the famous Captain Simple SOTU response in 2009, wherein the genius appeared to be trying to communicate with what he considered to be very slow-witted people, like a English missionary first encountering The Savage.

    Smarter than your average Republican.

    ['This is still not particularly smart.']

    p.s. Frequently not much difference between 'young man in a hurry' and 'bootlicking climber with no clue'. The exceptions tend to prove the rule, and Jindal is no exception.

  • publius bolonius on April 09, 2013 8:12 PM:

    The term grasping chancer comes to mind.

  • Ronald on April 09, 2013 8:21 PM:

    There was the famous Captain Simple SOTU response in 2009, wherein the genius appeared to be trying to communicate with what he considered to be very slow-witted people, like a English missionary first encountering The Savage.

    I thought this was a particularly well written line in the midst of a well written piece. You've defined well how many on the left have seen through Mr. Jindal these last few years.

  • Robert Waldmann on April 09, 2013 9:19 PM:

    Cynical or fanatical ??? I assumed that the vouchers for preachers schools was sincere. Jindahl is very very devout. I admit I have a little bit of trouble believing that two people who majored in biology can stand creationism (the other would be Jonathan Wells the guy who has an actual PhD from Berkeley).

    I know many very smart people who sincerely support hammer headed policies like the Jindahl soak the poor and un-spread it in thick tax plan (I'm an economist). I guess it is a conciously elitist policy by someone who thinks that rich people are smart and smart people should control as much money as possible. The plan is the opposite of populism and is as unpopular as it should be.

  • Slappy Magoo on April 09, 2013 10:10 PM:

    Anyone who has watched Idiocracy knows that you can be the smartest person in the room and still not be very bright.

    I think it also important to point out the current GOP strategy of lionizing up-and-come-ers before they're ready. Essentially, Republicans worship those that a: attack Democrats in a way that makes Republicans feel like they're on the better, smarter, more righteous side; and b: haven't tarnished their reputations with inanities, delusions of grandeur, alienating other parts of the base or any combination of the three...yet.

    The problem with the current crop of Republicans, "b" ALWAYS follows "a." It's just a matter of when. At some point, I imagine enterprising fun-loving Progressives will create something like a political "death pool" for Republican rising stars, pinpointing the moment their aspirations jump the shark and they're left as laughingstocks no Republican wants to admit planning on voting for in 2016.

  • DJ on April 09, 2013 10:34 PM:

    There was the famous Captain Simple SOTU response in 2009, wherein the genius appeared to be trying to communicate with what he considered to be very slow-witted people, like a English missionary first encountering The Savage.

    That wasn't what made him the object of national scorn and ridicule. It was his mincing out on stage to deliver his speech, such that he was tagged with the nickname "Kenneth the Page." Nothing he could have said afterwards would have saved him.

  • Rick B on April 10, 2013 1:06 AM:

    Bobby has always had the advantage of being the smartest guy in a room full of idiots. He has then parlayed that into his next political move to another job without ever achieving a damned thing in the job he was holding.

    His single talent appears to be the ability to appear smart to Republicans in office who need to promote someone to a new office.

    That's not really smart. That's combining the ability to fake smart to Republican office holder with the the chutzpa ("arrogance?") to pass off his resume as a job quitter and job hopper as a sequence of "successes." It wouldn't work if he had any competent competition in the Republican Party.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 10, 2013 9:15 AM:

    Seconding dp @ 7:29PM

    That Jindal just cruised through an IVY League biology/public policy program yet endorsed and supported intelligent design/creationism as Gov shows all the political crassness this pompous ass embodies.

    I guess he thinks that intelligent design means being smart enough to con the ignoramuses that support him...

  • james on April 10, 2013 10:13 AM:

    Being the smartest guy in the room in Louisiana is not that difficult. Both my parents were born and raised there, went to college there, and left there eventually. When I was looking for a job after getting my masters, and remarked to my aunt (still in Louisiana) I would be looking there, she pleaded with me not to come there. "We'd love to have you close by, but you are so much smarter than this state deserves."

    So, every time Jindal gets national publicity, he finds out he's not the smartest guy in a much bigger room.