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|Hob-nobbing with the future of the GOP|
BATON ROUGE - Here comes Governor Bobby Jindal, dapper and thin as usual, jacket and tie, yes, but certainly no clothes horse like some of his predecessors. Just wanted to drop in and hobnob with the publishers during a Friday afternoon session of the annual Louisiana Press Association convention at the downtown Hilton.
No press conference, no speech. Work the crowd around the dessert table after lunch, stopping to chat, putting on the personal one-on-one touch that is Jindal's political trump card.
He finally got around to me. I complimented him on the job he's doing and told him that I'm proud of him, which I am. Bobby Jindal has done a lot to improve Louisiana's image around the nation. He seemed appropriately taken aback by a compliment from a very unexpected source, but quickly recovered and dished out one of his own, correctly observing that I have lost weight (20 pounds this year).
The love fest continued as I dished out compliment number two, a thanks to Jindal for raising issues over the unemployment compensation funds provided by Uncle Sam as part of his stimulus spending spree.
I related an incident in March when I took a cab from Washington National airport to downtown D.C. for a newspaper conference. The stimulus package had just passed and was hot news at the time. On the way into town, the driver asked where I was from. When I replied Louisiana, he cocked his head back and said in a clearly accusatory tone, "your governor turned down the stimulus money,"
My better half, along for the ride, looked expectantly at me as if I needed to straighten this guy out, so I leaned forward and said, "No, he didn't turn it all down, he just raised questions about some of it. It's complicated."
Neither my companion nor the cabbie seemed satisfied with my answer, so I came up with something to the effect that Jindal was a Rhodes scholar, so he tended to like complicated problems.
"Oh," says the cabbie, "he is a Rhodes Scholar?" And that made all the difference in the world.
As we settled in to chat like old buddies, I did find out that he was a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan. Pakistan and India have been at odds for centuries, so I secretly theorized that there might have been some ethnic underpinnings to the gentlemen's initial attitude toward Jindal, an Indian-American. But the Rhodes Scholar card did play well on an initially hostile voter.
Interesting that when I related my little anecdote to the Governor, his eyes lit up and he responded instantly to my description of the stimulus issues as "complicated."
Jindal's political handlers can sometimes be pushed into a fitful state when the Governor begins addressing a complex problem to a large audience. I was exposed to a liberal dose of the vintage Jindal when he launched into an explanation not only of his objection to some of the unemployment compensation funds, but to some of the health care funds in the stimulus package as well.
Bill Clinton, another Rhodes Scholar drawn to complicated problems, used to suffer with the same malady. These guys are so bright they are able to analyze problems much more quickly and much more deeply than us mere mortals.
I was able to stumble along and keep pace with Jindal's explanation of the unemployment compensation issue, but he quickly left me behind when he launched into an analysis of the entire health care package contained in the federal legislation. I am certain the Governor knew what he was talking about. But I didn't. Which is OK, since I'm not the Governor.
The moral to the story is that Jindal generated some national media attention with his objections to the stimulus legislation, however misunderstood those objections may have been. The attention did upset some stalwart Democrats like our friend the D.C. cabbie, but it had a positive impact on the audience Jindal is trying to attract, what is left of the Republican Party.
Just a few days after Jindal's hobnob among the state's editors and publishers, Republican United States Senator Arlen Specter announced he is changing parties to become a Democrat. That switch, coupled with the final court decision in Minnesota awarding the Senate seat there to comedian Democrat Al Franken, gives the Democrats the coveted 60 votes in the U.S. Senate needed to close debate on a bill and prevent a filibuster.
The switch by Specter is a purely political move by the veteran politician and former prosecutor. He is up for reelection in 2010, and his polls show he cannot win as a Republican in the state of Pennsylvania.
Underlying Specter's switch is the reality that the American political paradigm has changed. The Republican Party has been hammered out of the Midwest and the Northeast and the West Coast. It has lost some of the mountain states, and, worse Virginia and North Carolina to boot. The Party has been reduced to the Deep South and Plains states. It is from that reduced base that Bobby Jindal and other Republican aspiring presidents must rebuild.
A few minutes hobnobbing with Louisiana's up and coming Governor tells us he has as good a chance as anybody of taking the Republican Party back into the White House. But he may have to concede Obama eight years first.
Jeff David owns and publishes The Livingston Parish News, an award-winning newspaper located in Denham Springs. David is a past president of Louisiana Press Association and National Newspaper Association.