By Robert Mann
As the nation’s governors left the White House last Monday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was furious. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, he muttered, was a “cheap-shot artist.”
Give Malloy credit for perception. He has sized up Jindal nicely. What’s perplexing, however, is why would any politician be shocked when another politician does what politicians do?
Jindal had hijacked an ostensibly bipartisan press briefing of his fellow governors as they emerged from a meeting with President Obama. As they spilled onto the White House driveway, Jindal seized a prime spot before the waiting microphones. He questioned the president’s commitment to strengthening the economy, charging that if Obama were serious about creating jobs, he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
Regarding the economy, Jindal added that Obama “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” with his demand for an increase, to $10.10 from $7.25, of the federal minimum wage. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” Jindal said.
That partisan dig clearly angered Malloy, a Democrat, who almost shoved Jindal aside to respond. “That’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard,” Malloy scoffed.
Jindal had the last word, leaping back with this riposte: “If that’s the most partisan thing he’s heard all weekend, I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement. I think we can grow the economy more if we would delay more of these Obamacare mandates.”
The spat sent some Washington and Louisiana political observers to their fainting couches. “A reputation for not playing well with others is not a good thing in national politics, just as it is not in Baton Rouge,” the Baton Rouge Advocate worried in an editorial.
As regular readers of this column know, I am no Jindal admirer. That said, why should we criticize him for behaving as any citizen of the United States might if given the chance? Is there something sacred about the White House driveway? All citizens, including governors, are entitled to visit the White House and pillory the president.
If Obama and others can defend the right of the punk band Pussy Riot to protest Russian government policies, including staging a provocative performance in a Russian Orthodox Church, then why should anyone expect White House guests to check their First Amendment rights at the door in the name of decorum?
That Jindal can deride the president at the White House and live to tell about it is among the qualities that make our nation great. How long would a legislator in North Korea live if he attacked President Kim Jong Un on the driveway of his palace?
As Jindal said later, “in America we don’t have a king.” Quite right.
As he insists on his right to speak truth to power, however, Jindal might pause to reflect on his own troubling intolerance of dissent in Louisiana. Baton Rouge is littered with the political bodies of individuals who lost their jobs for defying a governor who sometimes governs like a king.