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|Jindal aged by more than a birthday|
Gov. Bobby Jindal turned 37 on June 10, right about when his troubles began. Politically speaking, the first three weeks of his 38th year were ripped from the pages of Book of Job. He controlled the damage on the month's last day by vetoing the legislative pay raise that had plagued him. The rest of the year can't help but be better, but can things ever be the same for him again?
At the start of the month, Jindal had just returned from a weekend barbecue with the McCains as a legitimate if unconventional vice-presidential prospect in an election year that has already demonstrated that anything could happen.
With his Republican rock-star appeal beginning to beam nationwide, back home the only real challenge he faced was how to take credit for the Stelly income-tax repeal that he had initially opposed and had almost no hand in passing. Once he managed that, it seemed anything was possible for him. And so it was, which he learned the hard way.
Before month's end, Jindal was being vilified on talk radio and the Internet by once-fervent supporters, who had just as fervently turned against him over his stubborn refusal to veto the pay raise bill. He own words from his flawless gubernatorial campaign--a pledge to prohibit the Legislature from taking the raise the way it did--had returned to haunt and mock him. The national VP short- list buzz was muffled by a New York Times story in which he was cast as weak and unwilling to stand up to Louisiana politicians, whose level he had sunk to. To bottom it all out, a recall petition was filed against him last week.
Politicians who get into this kind of pickle usually did something wrong and at least got something out of it, whether sex or money. Jindal didn't do a thing and got nothing out of it but grief.
He acted just in time, as a Southern Media poll went into the field over the weekend and was bound to show a devastating drop in his popularity. The damage controlled, he might be tempted to put all the unpleasantness behind him, though he should meditate a while on what transpired, if only to see that it doesn't happen again.
He could start by recognizing what hit him. The tech-savvy governor and his younger staff were flummoxed and overwhelmed by the real-time, technology-driven anger of the public via the Internet, from e-mails to blogs, and the relatively recent medium of talk radio. (It was a listener calling into Moon Griffon's show who first revealed Jindal's anti-raise promise buried amidst his many campaign points.)
What never worked was Jindal's reason for not vetoing the pay raise: that he refused to give legislators an excuse to block his reform agenda. Instead, his working relationship with legislators was daily undermined by his non-stop bashing of them as vindictive obstructionists. When Speaker of the House Jim Tucker beat him to the high ground by saying he would respect the governor's veto and continue to cooperate on his agenda, Jindal dismissed the gesture out of hand, in effect doubting the good faith of his most important legislative ally.
Yet, that exchange may have provided the opening for Jindal's way out. Indeed, legislators may be mad at him, but they should be madder at themselves for getting into this mess. Neither he nor most lawmakers foresaw the firestorm of public outrage, which could be considered a force majeure by which agreements legitimately are broken.
When Jindal talks about tightening the reins on the Legislature in the future, first he needs to get a grip on them. He would do well to cooperate with the Legislature's leaders-notice I didn't say his-for Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson II came through this with the respect of members that Jindal has all but lost.
The governor was saved in the end by bending to the will of the people, whom he best not ignore again. Even so, gone are his lost youth's giddy, rarefied and wholly unrealistic heights, which winged Icarus also reached before plummeting to earth. Jindal, at least, wised up in time to break the fall.