Jindal paves his road to White House with fear, bigotry

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By Robert Mann

He’s tried every stunt short of walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls, so let’s give Gov. Bobby Jindal a smattering of applause. In his quixotic quest for the White House, he did not go straight to bigotry and fear mongering.

Before he bet on the xenophobia and narrow-mindedness of Republican primary voters, Jindal experimented with attacks on Obamacare and cheap shots against President Obama from the White House driveway. He even criticized Republicans for appearing biased against minorities and women.

The advice Jindal dispensed to Republicans in 2013 – “stop being the stupid party”- was apparently so well received that Jindal believes he has cleared the field of bigots. Could it be he shrewdly shamed GOP leaders into suppressing the crazy talk just long enough to seize an opening as the most brazen purveyor of intolerance among the field of 2016 presidential hopefuls?

Jindal is not likely so clever. The better explanation is one I’ve long supported: like a young child eclipsed by older, more likable siblings, Jindal misbehaves to draw attention to himself. In this case, it’s not his parents who ignore him; it’s voters in early GOP primary and caucus states.

Jindal seems to have concluded that his best chance for the 2016 presidential nomination – or, more likely, the vice presidential nod – lies in appealing to the extreme Christian right in Iowa and South Carolina. Even if he can manage to catch fire with that group, it would probably not be enough to guarantee him the nomination or even a spot on the ticket. Just ask former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – two darlings of the Christian right, also Iowa caucus winners – who lost the nomination to candidates that Christian conservatives mistrusted.

Sucking up to Christian extremists might not be the best route to victory, but what else does Jindal have? He cannot claim much in the way of policy successes in Louisiana. His one major national policy proposal, a half-baked alternative to Obamacare, has been largely ignored in Washington. He’s running out of options and time.

So, Jindal may not have gone straight to fear mongering among the Christian right, but adverse circumstances and desperation have finally bought these voters into his focus. That is why Jindal is clearly delighting in his new role – “stupid party” talk, be damned – as the GOP’s chief Islam foe.

Notice I did not say “radical Islam.” Although Jindal pretends to care about the reputation of the Islamic faith, his recent broadside against Muslims in a London speech – “Islam has a problem” – was obviously crafted to cast Jindal as a fearless critic of Islam.

Jindal says “Muslim leaders” must speak out forcefully against the violent extremists who murder in the name of their faith. He surely knows that hundreds of prominent Muslim organizations and their leaders around the world have consistently and publicly opposed radical Islamic violence and extremism.

Islam has an image problem, but that is least among Jindal’s concerns. He is concerned, instead, with his own image – and that is one of a presidential candidate mired in last place. Jindal must climb out of the cellar and, to do so, he will exploit fears of “the other.” In particular, he will stoke the anxieties that some American evangelicals have about Islam.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

As Muslim leaders condemn violence, Jindal trafficks in Islamophobia

Gov. Bobby Jindal
Gov. Bobby Jindal

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s uninformed, now-debunked statements in London about Muslim no-go zones has drawn widespread news media attention. Turns out, when pressed for examples of such zones, Jindal could not offer specifics other than one article in the Daily Mail.

Now, even the Daily Mail is reporting that the no-go zones allegations that Jindal read in its paper were false.

Just as curious, however, was Jindal’s statement about the deadly Charlie Hebdo attacks and other violence by radical Muslims. In his London speech, he asserted “we need Muslim leaders to denounce the individuals, not just the acts of violence.”

The problem is that Muslim leaders around the world have strongly denounced such violence for years. I’m not sure how Jindal could have possibly missed this unless, of course, if he did not care to look.

As he proved when challenged about his false assertion, Jindal isn’t interested in the facts. He is interested, however, in trafficking in fear and bigotry. The idea that Muslim leaders refuse to condemn violence is just as false and nonsensical as Jindal’s allegations about no-go zones.

It’s a well-known fact that Muslim leaders around the world have forcefully denounced violent acts by radical Muslims since before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Jindal’s suggestion that they have not is not only false; it is clearly an effort to slander the Muslim faith.

Jindal implies that because Muslim leaders refuse to speak out against violence, all Muslims are complicit with terrorism and violence. In doing so, Jindal cynically foments Islamophobia. To quote Jindal: “Islam has a problem.”

Perhaps the Muslim faith would have a problem if 99.99 percent of its adherents weren’t peaceful people of faith. Perhaps the Muslim faith would have a problem if most of the prominent Muslim leaders in the West hadn’t been denouncing terrorism and violence in the name of Islam for decades.

Islam doesn’t have a problem with violence any more than Indian-American politicians have a problem with ignorance and bigotry. In this case, only one Indian-American politician is acting like a bigot.

Jindal doesn’t care about Islam. He cares about leveraging the fear of Islam to advance his presidential aspirations.

But back to Jindal’s slur of Muslim leaders. A simple Google search would reveal to Jindal or his staff that his suggestions about the silence of Muslim leaders are manifestly false. Jindal, however, appears to be about as adapt as using Google as U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.

Were he to search the web, here’s some of what Jindal would find:

Israel National News, Jan. 7, 2015

France’s Muslim leadership sharply condemned the shooting at a Paris satirical weekly that left at least 12 people dead as a “barbaric” attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy, AFP reports Wednesday.

“This extremely grave barbaric action is also an attack against democracy and the freedom of the press,” the French Muslim Council (CFCM) said in a statement.

The body represents France’s Muslim community, which is Europe’s biggest and estimated to number between 3.5 million and five million people.

Huffington Post, Jan. 7, 2015

Muslims in France and around the world banded together on Wednesday to strongly condemn the deadliest terror attack the country has seen in the past two decades.

Three masked gunmen stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that has become notorious for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. One of the men reportedly shouted “Allahu akbar” as they unleashed a barrage of bullets that left at least twelve dead.

Muslim leaders and activists immediately denounced the terrorists actions, reiterating the verse in the Quran that tells Muslims when one kills just one innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity.

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Bobby Jindal and David Duke may be different fish, but they swim in the same fetid pond

By Robert Mann

What do former KKK leader David Duke and Gov. Bobby Jindal have in common? They have both used the same language to describe and demean Louisiana’s working poor.

In April 2013, Jindal wrote an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Business Report, explaining why he refuses to expand Medicaid for the state’s working poor under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

By expanding President Obama’s healthcare law, 41 percent of Louisiana’s population would be dumped into Medicaid. Soon there will be more people riding in the cart than people pulling the cart. The President is gradually turning the world’s greatest health care system into the world’s largest welfare system. The left has been very clear—their end goal here is to make all healthcare in America government health care. [emphasis added]

A few months later, in another op-ed on NOLA.com, Jindal wrote, “we should design our policies so that more people are pulling the cart than riding in the cart.”

At the time, I wrote that while I did not believe Jindal is a racist, I do “believe that Jindal and some opponents of Medicaid expansion are employing nasty racial stereotypes and ugly coded language to defeat it.”

What has always bothered me most about Jindal’s opposition to Medicaid expansion is the demeaning way that he has spoken about these hardworking individuals who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under current state law, but earn too little to qualify for Obamacare. They are families caught in the middle, without health insurance and, as far as Jindal is concerned, without dignity.

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The day Bobby Jindal told the truth about his health care proposal

By Robert Mann

Let’s be honest. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s best quality is not honesty. For years, he’s peddled fictional accounts of his fiscal conservatism, his devotion to education reform, his commitment to religious liberty, his concern about the state’s environment and his belief in government transparency.

When Jindal is talking, he’s usually spinning, which is why I was shocked to read that Jindal had spoken the truth about his ideas for the nation’s health care system. Of course, when I realized that Jindal’s remarks were made in private, it all made sense.

As described in a new book by conservative author Philip Klein, Jindal met last April in Washington, D.C., with a group of conservative journalists and policy experts. He was there to tout an Obamacare alternative created by his pre-presidential campaign organization, America Next. (Jindal’s proposal is an “alternative” to Obamacare in the same way that the Cliff’s Notes version of “War and Peace” is an alternative to Tolstoy’s original work.)

As the group peppered Jindal with questions about his health care proposal, Jindal reportedly paid President Obama an unexpected compliment. Jindal said Obama had been willing, as Klein wrote, “to pay a political price to advance his agenda and [Jindal] said Republicans needed to be willing to do the same.” Obama was willing to risk losing the Congress and derailing his other important legislative priorities. “He said Republicans should be thinking the same way and [be] willing to risk political blowback to repeal Obamacare and push a market-based alternative,” Klein reported, ignoring the fact that Obamacare is, in fact, market based.

And what bold, politically risky proposal did Jindal proffer? Why, Jindal suggested Republicans abandon the notion that every American deserves decent and affordable health insurance coverage.

“If we start with the premise that we’ve gotta give every single person a card,” Jindal reportedly said, “and that’s the only way we can be successful, we’re done. We’ve adopted their metric of success … if the metric of success is gonna be which plan can say ‘we’ve given people more cards,’ they always win.”

Oh, the shame of helping people to get health insurance! How do those dastardly Democrats sleep at night?

Jindal does seem quite eager to revoke those insurance cards. “I do think it’s a mistake if we argue we can’t take back what Obama has already given,” Jindal told the conservative group.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Politicos should think twice before attending Jindal’s prayer rally

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By Robert Mann

I don’t know if any public officials will join Gov. Bobby Jindal at LSU for his Jan. 24 prayer rally, sponsored by the Mississippi-based American Family Association. For anyone thinking of attending, here’s some advice: Take a lesson from Rep. Steve Scalise’s 2002 speech to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) and stay away.

By now, everyone knows Scalise has acknowledged his appearance at that infamous EURO conference in Metairie. The House Republican whip — then a state representative — says he had no clue that the group he addressed was a white supremacist organization headed by neo-Nazi and former KKK leader David Duke. If only Google existed at the time (it did), Scalise suggested he would have known better. 

Regardless, the news has caused Scalise and his party considerable embarrassment. Yet, barring any new, damning revelations, Scalise will probably keep his leadership position. But he is damaged goods, and he knows it. Scalise also knows that speaking to a Duke-affiliated group was politically stupid (not to mention morally repugnant).

However, it’s not clear that he knew this in 2002. Suburban Jefferson Parish, which Duke represented in the Legislature, is not widely known as a bastion of racial enlightenment. In other words, to an ultra-conservative Republican state representative from Metairie, attending a Duke-affiliated conference was not exactly a huge political risk. Scalise is, after all, a politician who once reportedly bragged to a journalist that he was “David Duke without the baggage.”

Talk about changing times. Duke, who earned 60 percent of the state’s white vote when he ran for governor in 1991, is now almost as detested as the U.S. Congress. No reputable politician would wish to have even the hint of an affiliation with him.

Which brings us back to “The Response,” the name Jindal has given to his scheduled prayerpalooza. To all but the most sympathetic observer, Jindal’s rally is obviously a kickoff, of sorts, to his nascent presidential campaign. Jindal rejects that. “It’s not a political event,” Jindal insists, “it’s a religious event.”

Whatever the case, before any Louisiana politico with eyes on higher office wanders into LSU’s basketball arena that day, he or she should consider the Scalise/EURO affair and examine the radical beliefs of the American Family Association (AFA). Next, ponder the wisdom of spending time with an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a “hate group.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Congress: Sure it’s broken, but how can we fix it?

working congress cover

By Robert Mann

Was there ever a new Congress – at least in the last hundred-plus years – which convened amidst such low expectations and so much public disgust?

“Americans’ job approval rating for Congress averaged 15% in 2014, close to the record-low yearly average of 14% found last year,” Gallup reported in December. “The highest yearly average was measured in 2001, at 56%. Yearly averages haven’t exceeded 20% in the past five years, as well as in six of the past seven years.”

An institution deplored by 85 percent of the U.S. public might be able to pass laws (although even that is often impossible); it cannot claim to effectively represent the American public. While individual members continue to be reelected in overwhelming numbers, most Americans have dismissed Congress as irrelevant or even harmful to their well-being.

Following the government shutdown in the fall of 2013, the public’s disgust with Congress only deepened. While its paralyzing partisanship and rancor may not be the only factors in Congress’s staggering decline in public opinion, it is difficult to imagine exactly what could be a more significant factor. If Congress – especially the House – will ever function as the representative institution the founders intended, its members must regain the public’s trust. Congress’s low approval rating is not much higher than the four- or five-point margin of error of a poll that might find zero public approval.

Back when I ran the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School, I had the pleasure of working with my former boss, Sen. John Breaux, to convene our school’s annual “Breaux Symposium” in Washington, D.C. In May 2013 – working with the United States Association of Former Members of Congress and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management – we convened a group of former members of Congress and respected congressional scholars who discussed the current state of our politics and debated what, if anything, could be done to change it for the better.

The product of that symposium is Working Congress, a book I edited and which is published by LSU Press.

I don’t pretend that Working Congress offers solutions that, if adopted, would instantly transform Congress into a bipartisan utopia. In fact, several of the scholars who contributed to the book doubt that there is anything Congress could do in the way of rules changes and other reforms that would significantly modify the institution. They say it will require significant changes to our political system, and to the electorate as a whole, to substantially influence the way Congress conducts its business.

In other words, some argue, it’s not Congress that has grown dysfunctional; it’s our political system itself that no longer works.

Because the new Congress convenes this week, it seems an appropriate time to offer the collective wisdom of our scholars and former members. I hope we’ll be soon sending a copy of the book to every member of Congress.

Who knows, maybe a few of them might read it. Maybe, just as important, some citizens might read it, too, and demand some of the reforms we suggest.

Here, for your consideration, are some of the book’s major points:

Former U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-OK; vice president of the Aspen Institute

Fix Congressional Redistricting

In nearly four fifths of the states, congressional district boundaries that shape the nature of the electorate are drawn not by disinterested citizens but by whichever party leaders have gained control of a state legislature. In states in which both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office are held by the same party, the common result is for districts to be drawn in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of a serious challenge to the controlling party’s candidates. This practice has been condemned by reformers who wish to see more competition for legislative seats, and it is a reasonable concern, but that’s not the only, or the most important, grounds for objecting to the procedure.

One of the least remembered, and most important, provisions in the Constitution requires that every member of Congress be an actual inhabitant of the state from which he or she is elected. The purpose is clear: voters should have a reasonable amount of familiarity with those who seek to represent them, and members of Congress should be familiar with the interests and preferences of those they represent. My own experience with party-driven redistricting illustrates how that goal of representativeness can be undermined by a system that puts party interests first.

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Selma: MLK vs LBJ

By Robert Mann

Who was really responsible for the 1965 voting rights act? And who inspired the bloody 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, which is portrayed in the new film “Selma“?

I haven’t yet seen the film, but some reviewers and former aides to President Lyndon Johnson are criticizing the filmmaker for portraying LBJ as a reluctant supporter of voting rights and the Selma march.

As CBS reported,

“A December 1964 meeting in the Oval Office is reenacted on the big screen: Martin Luther King, Jr. entreats the help of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to ensure voting rights for black Americans. ‘Mr. President,’ King says in the film, ‘in the South, there have been thousands of racially motivated murders. . . we need your help.'”

Johnson, according to the movie’s account, responds with a condescending pat on the shoulder and a line that some historians and first-hand witnesses reject: “Dr. King, this thing’s just going to have to wait.”

Historians and some who worked for Johnson have attacked the film’s depiction of Johnson as fiction. As the New York Times reported,

The charge began on Dec. 22, three days before the movie’s release, when Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, wrote an article in Politico saying that the film was trying to “bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the civil rights movement.” A few days later, Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former top domestic aide to Johnson, issued another salvo, in The Washington Post, accusing the filmmakers of deliberately ignoring the historical record.

The criticism of the film’s depiction of the president has come not just from Johnson loyalists, but from some historians who said they admired other aspects of the film.

“Everybody has to take license in movies like this, and it can be hard for nit-pickers like me to suspend nit-picking,” Diane McWhorter, the author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution,” said in an interview.

“But with the portrayal of L.B.J.,” she continued, “I kept thinking, ‘Not only is this not true, it’s the opposite of the truth.’ ”

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 3.12.44 PMAs the author of a 1996 political history of the civil rights movement (The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and the Struggle for Civil Rights), I devoted much ink to Johnson’s important role in the civil rights movement. It’s certainly not an either-or story. The civil rights laws weren’t all Johnson’s doing, although they would not have become law when they did without Johnson’s skillful leadership. They weren’t all King’s doing, or the marchers, although Johnson would have found it impossible to pass those laws without the pressure and public outrage that the movement and the marches generated.

Both had a role and each played those roles perfectly. At the time, both sides publicly acknowledged the important roles each played in the civil rights movement.

Here, for your edification, are the two chapters from my book which detail how  King and the movement worked with Johnson to apply pressure on Congress to pass the 1965 voting rights law:

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

We Are Demanding the Ballot

FOR YEARS SOUTHERN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS fought to defeat civil rights measures by arguing that such pernicious legislation would inevitably lead to violence and dangerous social upheaval in the former Confederate states. The balance between whites and blacks, they argued, was simply too delicate to alter suddenly with sweeping federal legislation.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 proved what many liberals had suspected: Such arguments were not based on legitimate concerns about maintaining peace and harmony; they were merely in­ sincere excuses for preserving the South’s brutal status quo in race relations. Those who had accepted the threadbare southern arguments against the bill must have been greatly surprised by southern reaction to the legislation’s passage. While Democrats suffered significant electoral losses in the South, the five southern states that Goldwater carried hardly qualified as the electoral disaster predicted by Russell and others. Furthermore, response to the dreaded public accommodations provisions was surprisingly benign: An extensive fifty-three-city survey conducted by the Community Relations Service found “widespread compliance” with the bill’s provisions. “What is most important,” Johnson said in reaction to the report, was that “it shows the law is being obeyed in those areas where some had predicted there would be massive disobedience.” In New Orleans two hundred business leaders – including the manager of the well-known Roosevelt Hotel – put their names on a newspaper advertisement urging compliance with the law. Elsewhere in New Orleans, blacks quietly and peacefully desegregated downtown movie theaters and dined at French Quarter restaurants for the first time. The Jackson, Mississippi, Chamber of Commerce called on its members to obey the law “pending tests of its constitutionality in court.” In Birmingham, where Mayor Albert Boutwell refused to use the city’s resources to enforce the act, blacks and whites ate together in several downtown restaurants; the city’s hotel and motel associations said they would obey the law. Holiday Inns of America told its 488 motels to observe the law. The South’s largest cafeteria chain, Morrison’s, announced it would do the same. Continue reading