Bobby Jindal: How a one-time GOP star became another scheming religious charlatan

By Robert Mann

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who declared his candidacy for president last Wednesday, is passionate about what he calls “religious freedom.” In speech after speech over recent years, the Indian-American governor – a convert from Hinduism to Catholicism in his teens – warns Christian evangelical audiences that liberals are hell-bent on squelching religious speech.

On Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling affirming same-sex marriage rights, Jindal reacted with predictable outrage. He cast the ruling as an assault on Christian values.

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” Jindal said in his statement. “This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.

“The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies,” Jindal added, previewing a struggle over whether businesses may deny services to same-sex couples. “That would be a clear violation of America’s long held commitment to religious liberty as protected in the First Amendment.”

Long before he declared his candidacy, some political observers pegged Jindal as the presidential hopeful most likely to rely on his policy chops to win support for a White House bid (he ran the University of Louisiana System, served as the state’s secretary of Health and Hospitals and was an assistant secretary of George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services).

Instead, the former Rhodes scholar has emerged as the candidate most eager to cash in on his religious faith.

Jindal routinely speaks at churches and religious gatherings in early primary and caucus states. He delivered the spring 2014 commencement speech at Virginia’s Liberty University, asking the graduates, “What happens when our government decides it no longer needs a ‘moral and religious people?’”

This is how Jindal answered his question: “It is a war – a silent war — against religious liberty. This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.”

Jindal clearly wants to be seen as religion’s field general in this imaginary war. Last January, Jindal presided over a controversial prayer rally, ”The Response,” on the campus of Louisiana State University. The American Family Association, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group,” helped sponsor the event. Moments before he announced for president at a convention center in Kenner, Louisiana (just outside New Orleans), Jindal invited photographers to snap pictures of him in a prayer circle of evangelical pastors.

In December 2013, when Phil Robertson, of A&E’s once-popular reality show “Duck Dynasty,” was caught making homophobic remarks in a GQ article, Jindal rushed to Robertson’s defense. He claimed that the network’s brief suspension of the show and the criticism of Robertson’s odious remarks were a violation of the reality star’s free speech rights. ”I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” Jindal said in defense of Robertson, now an icon of the religious right. “It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

In March, after the governors of Indiana and Arkansas withdrew their support of legislation that permitted businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, Jindal stepped boldly into the fray of religious intolerance. In his speech opening the 2015 Louisiana Legislature in April, Jindal pushed a bill similar to those proposed in Arkansas and Indiana, counting it among his top priorities.

“There used to be bipartisan support for the principle of religious liberty,” Jindal told lawmakers. “However, these days, some think diversity of belief is too risky and scary to be tolerated. But that’s wrong … In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination.”

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Bobby Jindal’s shipwrecked campaign

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal made official on Wednesday (June 24) what we’ve known for years: He believes – all evidence to the contrary – that he is supremely qualified to be president.

Like a dog that hears a faint sound his owners cannot, Jindal’s ears must detect the quiet voice of God urging him to run. After all, he told us he was earnestly praying about the decision. Thus, one must conclude that after assessing his infinitesimal chances (he’s at 1 percent in the national polls and is likely the nation’s least popular governor), Jindal has faith that his flagging campaign is poised for a miracle.

Those looking for anything new in Jindal’s announcement did not find it. In fact, the whole run-up to the event in Kenner had all the suspense of an episode of the 1960s TV sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.” Like Gilligan, Jindal is shipwrecked on a tiny isle of public opinion. To reach the home for which he longs – the White House – he must escape the atoll of GOP ambivalence where he’s been stranded for years. Unfortunately, the voters – just like Gilligan’s audience – know that he’s not going anywhere.

Not unlike the desperate castaways on the TV show, each week finds our governor concocting some madcap escape scheme: He utters something bizarre on a national news program. He launches a furious attack on Hillary Clinton. He delivers a fiery speech to evangelical voters in Iowa or South Carolina. He pens a perplexing op-ed in a national newspaper. Nothing works. He remains marooned.

Not quite over the horizon, a frustrated Jindal spies the mainland of public approval where stand more-popular candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. Jindal’s every scheme to escape his lonely spit of land inevitably flops, often in a pitiful manner (just Google “Jindal no-go zones“). Alas, he and his skipper/campaign manager, Timmy Teepell, are mired in a comical cycle of promise and hope followed by failure and disappointment.

It’s no wonder Jindal is stuck. He lacks the skills to build a sturdy vessel. Like Gilligan’s ill-fated SS Minnow, Jindal’s nascent campaign is not seaworthy.

I doubt Jindal’s minders allow him to read mine and other columns critical of his misrule. But if the governor should somehow escape his bubble long enough to read this, he might gain some insight into why he will not be the GOP nominee.

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Bobby Jindal’s disgraceful fiscal legacy

Gov. Bobby Jindal in the House chamber on the legislative session's final day. (Screenshot of WWL-TV coverage)
Gov. Bobby Jindal in the House chamber on the legislative session’s final day. (Screenshot of WWL-TV coverage)

By Robert Mann

Now that his final legislative session is history, and he will soon decamp to Des Moines to seek the presidency, it’s time to begin the painful process of assessing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legacy. Say what you will about how he damaged higher education and public health care and the needless turmoil he created in elementary and secondary education. Rail against how turned his religious beliefs into law, i.e., teaching creationism in our schools. Shake your head in disgust at how he ignored or exacerbated our worst problems – poverty, income inequality, a regressive tax system and a hideous incarceration rate.

History will be ruthless to Jindal on many fronts. Five years hence, however, I predict that if we remember Jindal’s for anything, it will be his disastrous stewardship of the state’s finances. His ineptitude with budgets alone should disqualify him from supervising a small-town Dairy Queen, much less managing the U.S. government’s executive branch.

Had he resigned prior to this year’s legislative session, his record would have been dismal enough. But the just-completed session firmly secured Jindal’s distinction as the worst fiscal manager ever to serve as Louisiana governor. I’ll save the worst for last, but let’s review the record:

In 2008, Jindal inherited an $865 million surplus. He and legislators promptly spent it. That should have been the first hint that he knew little about sound fiscal management.

Next, Jindal mistook the post-Katrina revenue boom (due to a massive infusion of federal money) for a permanent economic recovery. So, he slashed income taxes in his first regular session. Combined with ill-advised income tax cuts signed earlier by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, it was a mistake that blew an $800 million hole in the budget and launched us down the road to our present sad condition.

Because he surrendered so much revenue in the beginning, Jindal’s budgets have always included obscene amounts of one-time money. Despite bragging that he’s balanced every budget, Jindal ended most fiscal years with a “structural” deficit. In other words, he only “balanced” the books by draining various savings accounts and trust funds. Those funds were intended for specific purposes, which did not include serving as piggy banks for times when the state’s treasury ran short of cash.

For example, he and legislators “balanced” the current fiscal year’s budget by robbing dedicated fund accounts and selling state assets to the tune of almost $1 billion. In 2008, Jindal correctly observed, “That is like using your credit card to pay your mortgage.” Whatever happened to that guy?

Jindal also drove the state into virtual bankruptcy by showering businesses with hundreds of millions in reckless tax incentives and direct state appropriations. His prolificacy in subsidizing business – Jindal now calls it “corporate welfare” – is why legislators finally found it necessary to increase business taxes.

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13 reasons why Bobby Jindal won’t be the GOP nominee

Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC's "This Week" on May 31, 2015.
Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC’s “This Week” on May 31, 2015.
By Robert Mann

Month after month, week after week, Gov. Bobby Jindal labors to make himself relevant to the 2016 presidential election. Every week, Jindal make some (increasingly) desperate attempt for attention and relevance. Each week, he gives an interview to a national media organization. He’s forever issuing statements attacking Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul — and even former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. At least once a month, it seems, he pops up on one of the Sunday morning news shows. He stalks the GOP candidate circuit from Iowa to New Hampshire to Washington to Disney World. He’s written an op-ed in almost every newspaper in the United States.

On the rare occasion he makes an appearance in Louisiana, he’s done everything possible to establish himself as a champion of “religious freedom.” He signed an executive order to give license to businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. He’s even championed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.

Despite having made a wreck of the state’s budget (including structural deficits for years), he’s also sold his soul to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although he has approved more than $700 million in tax increases (using a phony offset scheme he and Norquist devised), Jindal desperately wants GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire to see him as the candidate most violently against tax increases.

In other words, Jindal has done everything possible to position himself for a serious run at the White House.

And yet.

After all that effort, Jindal is mired at 1 percent in most national polls of GOP voters. In one recent survey, he was dead last, in 16th place, at 0 percent. In some cases, he’s not even included the polls.

By the standards set at Fox News and CNN, it does not appear that Jindal will make the cut for the early televised debates. The networks may relegate him to the TV equivalent of the children’s table, where he would spar with other also-rans like Donald Trump, Cary Fiorina and George Pataki.

Jindal must be asking himself every night: “What’s wrong? Why aren’t my efforts paying off? Why is my campaign stuck like Gorilla Glue at 1 percent?”

Well, here are at least 13 reasons that come to my mind. I would invite you to add your own reasons in the comments sections below.

1. He’s like a pudding with no theme. Despite having tried to stake out the “religious freedom” issue, it doesn’t appear that most GOP voters know much about Jindal and his fierce fight for their freedoms. They don’t appear to associate him with any major issue, policy achievement or ideology. Sen. Rand Paul is the Libertarian. Sen. Ted Cruz is the tea party favorite. Gov. Scott Walker is the guy who battled the unions. Sen. Marcio Rubio is Cuban and might attract more Latinos to the GOP. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee was a Baptist preacher and is known for his ability to relate to the Christian right. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has the last name “Bush.” What, exactly, is Jindal known for, unless it’s a bad habit of latching onto the issue of the week with the most extreme and ridiculous position possible?

2. He’s governor of Louisiana. Jindal has said that the voters should be looking to elect a governor because governors have executive experience. The problem is that he’s governor of Louisiana, a state not exactly known for its success or innovation in many policy areas, unless you admire us for having some of the nation’s worst crime and poverty, as well as the country’s highest incarceration rate. Under Jindal’s rule, the state’s budget has also been in a constant state of turmoil.  As for its economy, the Louisiana has the nation’s sixth-highest unemployment rate. 

3. He’s not a natural politician/campaigner. Jindal too often comes off as robotic, cold and humorless. In person, I’m sure he’s a decent guy who’s fun to be around (I’m not really sure of that, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this.) The guy is certainly not a natural politician. He’s not the worst, but to climb to the top of the heap in a presidential primary race, he must ramp up his game considerably. The bad news is this not a quality that most politicians can change about themselves in a month or two. You are generally a natural campaigner who connects with audiences, or you are not.

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With bizarre attack on Lincoln Chafee, Bobby Jindal has become Joaquin Phoenix.

Screenshot of Joaquin Phoenix on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in September 2010.
Screenshot of Joaquin Phoenix on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in September 2010.

By Robert Mann

Remember in 2009 when the actor Joaquin Phoenix began exhibiting bizarre behavior? He grew a wild beard, announced that he had left acting and said he was adopting a new career – as a rap artist. As one entertainment magazine speculated at the time:

The grumbly actor announced back in November that he was done with the acting game. He wanted to pursue a music career. Everyone assumed (or at least I did) that it would be some sort of Dogstar or Bacon Brothers-esque bar rock. But no . . . it was rap. Slurry, awful, heavily-bearded rap. And to add to the bizarroness of the whole thing, Phoenix’s brother-in-law, actor Casey Affleck, was following him around with a video camera, getting footage for some sort of “documentary.”

But now two people are telling E Dubs that it’s all an Andy Kaufman-ish bugaboo. One anonymous source tells them: “[Phoenix] said, ‘It’s a put-on. I’m going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it.” 

At the time, most entertainment journalists were perplexed by Phoenix’s behavior. Was it real? Was he really pursuing a music career? Or were we all being punked? Was it all a massive joke at our expense?

Phoenix’s weirdness finally peaked during a bizarre appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in September 2010.

Turns out, he was just joking. But for a while, many of us thought the act was for real.

Which brings me to the subject of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy for president on June 24.

On Thursday, it finally occurred to me: Jindal is the political equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix!

How else to explain his bizarre behavior over recent months? There was Jindal’s strange trip to Europe, including his odd appearance in London where he declared the existence of Muslim-dominated “no-go zones” that no one in Europe knew about and the locations of which Jindal refused to specify.

Before that, there was his strange embrace of West Monroe’s duck people, especially Phil Robertson, who almost cost the A&E show “Duck Dynasty” its future after his homophobic remarks were published in the winter of 2013.

Jindal rushed to Robertson’s defense with a strange misunderstanding of the First Amendment, seeming to suggest that private corporations did not have the right to reprimand or fire their employees for their offensive public comments.

Then, just last month, Jindal went even further into the deep end with an executive order giving businesses and government officials – even local officials – license to discriminate against gay couples. Bizarrely, Jindal said he did so in defense of “religious liberty.”

Then there’s Jindal’s strange man crush of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. At Norquist’s behest, Jindal has threatened to veto the entire state budget if the Legislature doesn’t pass a fraudulent college tax credit just so he can claim that the tax increases he signs are not actually tax increases.

Which, of course, they are.

Jindal and his aides urge passage of the farcical SAVE tax credit bill with a straight face

Until Thursday, however, I generally took Jindal’s candidacy at face value. I assumed he was really running for president – or at least for vice president or a cabinet position.  Continue reading

Bobby Jindal, nullifier? Would he block SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage?

By Robert Mann

Almost every semester in one of my courses at LSU, I discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There’s a passage, however, that we always overlook: “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

I’ve never stopped to explain what King meant by “interposition” and “nullification.” Perhaps I should, because my students and the rest of us may soon hear those words – or ones much like them – from Gov. Bobby Jindal if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that anti-same-sex marriage laws violate the U.S. Constitution.

Interposition and nullification are legal terms predating the American Civil War, most forcefully advanced in 1832 by Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina during his feud with President Andrew Jackson over the imposition of protective tariffs on British imports. Southerners hated the tariffs, labeled them unconstitutional and feared that a powerful federal government might one day use its authority to abolish slavery. In November 1832, a South Carolina convention declared the federal tariff acts “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State.”

Calhoun resigned the vice presidency and argued that when states determined that Congress exceeded its constitutional powers, they could “arrest the execution of the act within their respective limits.” The 1833 federal Force Bill proved Calhoun wrong.

More than a century later when King spoke of “nullification,” he evoked the political descendants of Calhoun who thundered about undermining federal authority – this time, enforcement of court rulings on desegregation. That sentiment was most brazenly expressed in the notorious 1956 Southern Manifesto, signed by 101 Southern members of Congress, which branded the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling a “clear abuse of judicial power.”

You’d think that given the stigma of being labeled a “nullifier,” politicians – especially the Southern variety – would be wary of flouting federal laws or the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

Well, you would be wrong. Look no further than Alabama, where that state’s chief justice openly defies a federal court ruling on same-sex marriage. It’s happened in Louisiana, too. In 2010, Jindal signed legislation declaring the Affordable Care Act unenforceable in Louisiana.

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage, but Jindal already hints how he might respond if he doesn’t approve: He will support interposition and nullification.

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Bobby Jindal’s ‘economic miracle’ is a mirage

By Robert Mann

Did you know that Louisiana is an economic paradise? Are you aware that business executives stampede here with a fervor not unlike that of the 1849 California gold rush?

I know what you’re thinking. Like me, you’re skeptical. You’ve noticed that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, some of the deepest poverty, the worst health outcomes and an incarceration rate that is the envy of Uzbekistan. Despite overflowing prisons, violent crime plagues us. Our roads crumble, our coast vanishes and chaos reigns in public education.

The state’s economy is so decrepit it does not produce enough tax revenue to support higher education, health care and other vital services. As you read this, Louisiana lawmakers are trying to avert disaster and eliminate a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

Well, you and I have been reading all the wrong publications! Earlier this month, “Chief Executive Magazine” declared Louisiana the seventh-best state for business. “During 2015, Louisiana showed strong improvement in attracting and retaining technology businesses, while also benefitting from a downstream position in oil and gas,” the publication declared. “CEOs are pleased with the Southeastern state’s industrial incentives, cheap energy and non-union workforce.”

That’s not all. Last year, “Site Selection” magazine dubbed Louisiana as the nation’s second-best business climate. Earlier, “Business Facilities” magazine ranked our business climate as the nation’s best.

Among other things, these rankings gauge Louisiana’s corporate tax rates, its proximity to transportation hubs, its non-union workforce, and, most of all, as “Chief Executive Magazine” noted, our “industrial incentives.” Some of those “incentives” are what Gov. Bobby Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”

Such profanity won’t please the people who run these publications. Jindal needn’t worry. He will have vanished from Baton Rouge long gone before their editors take notice and issue downgrades for our newfound aversion to “corporate welfare.”

Still, the question remains, how does a state that so many observers claim has a robust business climate fail to generate enough revenue to balance its budget? The answer, of course, is that our governor and his legislative enablers have handed big business the keys to the state treasury for seven years. They eagerly bestowed enormous tax exemptions and direct state appropriations on dozens of out-of-state corporations, all after recklessly slashing income taxes for the wealthy in 2008.

And what did these income tax cuts and governmental largesse for business get us, other than nice reviews in magazines that no one reads? According to a report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, not much. “In March, private-sector employment in Louisiana fell by 2,000 jobs,” the committee staff reported. “Over the past year, Louisiana businesses have added 19,400 jobs. This compares with an increase of 35,200 jobs over the 12 months through March 2014.” The unemployment rate in Louisiana was 6.6 percent in March 2015, down 0.1 percentage point from February. The rate was 1.1 percentage points above the national rate of 5.5 percent.”

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