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.
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