Bobby Jindal’s popularity sinkhole (and what it has to do with the real Louisiana sinkhole)

By Robert Mann

Two polls in recent months provide compelling evidence that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s once-stratospheric popularly has lost considerable altitude.

Perhaps it’s too much to say that Jindal’s governorship is in a nosedive, but if he were an airplane, and you a passenger, you wouldn’t need oxygen.

One statewide poll put Jindal’s job approval at 47 percent; not long thereafter, another poll put his approval at a dismal 37 percent.photo (1) copy

Why the sudden drop in Jindal’s fortunes? The pollsters didn’t say, but we can speculate:

Travel. Jindal is rarely in the state; he’s proving to citizens that he’s no longer interested in courting them (unless they happen to reside in Iowa or New Hampshire). Voters are like perceptive girlfriends – we know when our governor is just not that into us.

Budget and economy. Since Jindal has been governor, the state’s been in perpetual budget crisis. This year’s budget, like all those before, are held together with baling wire, chewing gum, one-time money and various other budget tricks. He can’t blame that on Kathleen Blanco, Barack Obama or Hurricane Katrina. He owns this budget and this statewide economy.

Legislation. The major reform of his tenure as governor is in shambles. As noted in an earlier blog post, Jindal rammed through his education “reforms” last year, hoping to catch the eye of Mitt Romney. It didn’t pay off. Romney picked Paul Ryan, and now it turns out that Jindal’s haste produced a very sloppy and unconstitutional product. He can tell national GOP audiences that he reformed education, but to be honest he also should tell them that his mess of a plan was struck down by two Republican state judges.

Poor communication. Jindal rarely explains his policies or defends his position to reporters or in other public forums where he might get tough questions. He has some able aides, but their voices are no substitute for the governor’s stronger, more authoritative voice. For whatever reason, Jindal appears to be afraid of confrontation with reporters (something that will not serve him well when he runs for president). Good press relations, which Jindal’s people long ago gave up on, could help him — but it’s probably too late for that.

He grew tentative, and reckless. Give him credit for his bold proposal to change Louisiana’s tax system by abolishing income and corporate taxes (even if his proposed sales tax increases are very bad, destructive policies). But why not make that proposal two or three years ago when he had the popularity and the muscle to get it through the legislature? Why wait until the nadir of your popularity with citizens and legislators to propose a difficult tax overhaul plan that will require a two-thirds vote in both houses? Maybe he’ll get it through somehow, but you don’t usually propose something this difficult when your poll numbers are south of 40 percent.

Jindal, in short, finds himself in a political sinkhole.

And that brings us to the real sinkhole and the troubling question: Why won’t Bobby Jindal take a 10-minute helicopter ride to Bayou Corne to meet with hundreds of residents made homeless by the ever-growing sinkhole?

This is a politician who never misses the opportunity that a disaster provides to showcase his leadership skills and compassion.

So, why won’t he go to Bayou Corne?

Asked that question on Wednesday in a rare media engagement, Jindal dodged the questions, clearly uncomfortable with the subject.

Here’s my theory: Jindal is really powerless to help these people. His aides may well be telling him that the residents of Bayou Corne will never be allowed to return to live in their homes.

Let’s be clear: Bobby Jindal will not be the one to deliver that message.

If Jindal visits with Bayou Corne residents, expectations will be impossibly high. He will be asked to make promises he cannot honor. As his chopper departs Bayou Corne, the residents would be no happier or satisfied than when he landed.

In other words, Bobby Jindal doesn’t do bad news.

The residents of Bayou Corne are not useful to him. He cannot use them as backdrops or human props because many of them are furious because he has ignored them for so long.

The decent people of Bayou Corne can be forgiven if they thought we had a governor in Bobby Jindal who never walks away from showing strong leadership during crisis situations. After all, that’s the subject of his self-congratulatory 2010 book, Leadership and Crisis.

What they didn’t realize is that Jindal’s soothing words about leadership in crisis only apply when there’s an opportunity to use that crisis to advance political objectives.

Too bad Bayou Corne isn’t in New Hampshire.

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15 thoughts on “Bobby Jindal’s popularity sinkhole (and what it has to do with the real Louisiana sinkhole)

  1. If one is in a state other than Louisiana, Bobby Jindal is the laughing stock of our Nation and an embarrasment to the state of Louisiana. He is the epitomy of what the Nation doesn’t need for a president. He lost any chance he had to become a national leader during his Republican rebuttal speech to President Obama’s State of the Union Message. But, he is to egotistical to admit it. Thank God, we have term limits, because when he is gone we won’t have to worry about him any longer. Unfortunately, he may destroy what little good there is left in Louisiana by then.

  2. Someone asked the same thing on nola.com and I cynically replied he wouldn’t go there because there would only be local and not national press covering it.

    Oh and congrats on making the WaPo list Bob!

  3. As per your suggestion I started reading Tom Aswell’s “Louisiana Voice” Blog. He did a nice blog about you and making the WaPo list. I’m always impressed when I read your postings and am happy that so many others are as well.

  4. Great piece, Bob, and credible theories about Governor Jindal’s approach, or lack thereof, to the Bayou Corne situation. The only thing I take issue with is giving him credit for a bold tax reform proposal. I’m reserving judgment until he actually releases more than trial balloons on that. Some would give him credit, at least, for a renewed examination of our tax system. However, if the product of the legislative revenue study commission on exemptions and exclusions – NOTHING – is to be taken as a result of his call for tax reform, tax reform is DOA.

    • Thanks, Steve. I agree on your tax reform comment. Bold might indeed be the wrong word, although I don’t think bold is necessarily a positive adjective. “Big,” “audacious”?

  5. The reason Jindal won’t visit the sinkhole is a simple one and explains why he chooses where he goes and what he talks about once he lands there. He is a coward. You won’t find him in a situation where the audience isn’t screened and the format carefully staged. Of course, sometimes he has to travel quite a ways past the state line to find such an opportunity.

    • Very good insight. Jindal’s reticence to regularly meet his detractors, in the media and otherwise, is one reason he will prove to be a very weak presidential candidate. He wants to play in the big leagues, but he doesn’t even bother taking batting practice.

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