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May 13, 2014 9:16 AM Jindal Checks the Falwell Box

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t know how I missed the fact that Bobby Jindal was doing the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. Perhaps the Lord wanted me to have a peaceful weekend and not think about the Louisiana governor up there in Lynchburg pandering his heart out and checking the Falwell box in his desperate search for a “base” from which to run for president in 2016. Most of his remarks sound about as generic as you can get, in the Times-Pic’s account of it:

“Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war. … It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty,” said Jindal, who spent much of the speech attacking President Barack Obama and the federal government.

This is the same rap he delivered at the Ronald Reagan Library back in February, and the only real enhancement is that he’s lucked into having an actual constituent, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, he can tout as the latest “victim” of politically-correct hordes of Jesus-hating sodomites. And so he has made his Christian Right persona the last of many reinventions he has pursued in his career, one that has the advantage of not relying on his record in Louisiana, where at the end of next year he’s leaving office after two full terms as governor not terribly popular with people in either party.

Indeed, he leaped effortlessly from talking about Phil Robertson to talking about Liberty’s pop-culture martyrs:

“You may think that I was defending the Robertsons simply because I am the Governor of their home state, the great state of Louisiana. You would be wrong about that. I defended them because they have every right to speak their minds,” Jindal said.
The governor then went on to say he supports David and Jason Benham, Liberty University graduates who recently lost an opportunity to have their own television show on HGTV after making controversial remarks about homosexuality and abortion.

So what distinguishes Bobby from all the other conservative pols making the holy pilgrimage to Lynchburg to offer themselves as field marshals in the spiritual warfare against godless secularists? Well, he’s got his conversion experience from Hinduism to Christianity, which he talked a lot about at Liberty, and will talk about in the future, so shameless and ruthless is his exploitation of anything in his own life that will help his candidacy. Trouble is, Bobby converted to Catholicism, not to the conservative evangelical Christianity of Jerry Falwell. I supposed he could have told the audience at Liberty this was a youthful indiscretion based on the likelihood that he would someday seek his fortune in Catholic-heavy Louisiana. But instead he’s describing himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” which is code for “don’t mind the transubstantiation and don’t listen to the current Pope, I’m as politicized as you are!”

Jindal by all accounts got a warm welcome from a national conservative evangelical audience at Liberty, and from a separate and more select group of Christian Right leaders at a private dinner over the weekend. But you have to wonder if he’s more of a novelty and a mascot for them, someone to warm up crowds with stories of hiding in the closet to read the Bible so his idol-worshiping parents couldn’t punish him, before the real presidential candidates speak. At this point, though, if that’s the role Bobby Jindal has to play to keep getting invited to do “major speeches,” that’s fine with him. Anywhere he goes will be more congenial territory than Baton Rouge.

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.

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