Bobby Jindal was the great hope of the Republican Party. He was a fresh voice, the man most able to save the GOP from the dolts destroying it. But then something happened: Jindal decided that intellectual integrity was a political liability. He abandoned any pretense of serious governance, and began appealing to the basest elements of his party. He has since become a caricature of himself, a pandering hack with no moral compass and even less political intuition. So what happened? How did the man who decried his party for being too stupid become the dumbest of them all?
Jindal’s descent began in 2008. A young and promising governor, he attracted national attention, and for good reason. He was smart, competent and full of earnest ambition. Despite his bumbling response to Obama’s State of the Union speech, he became a rising star in the Republican Party. And that’s when things began to change.
From 2009 on, Jindal has steadily debased himself for right-wing votes. He’s run Louisiana into the ground and spent most of his time fellating conservatives across the country with gaseous stump speeches and childish Op-Ed pieces. Since becoming the GOP’s golden boy, he has thought of nothing beyond his national conservative brand. Instead of reforming the stupid party, he’s encouraged it.
As governor of Louisiana, Jindal has attached himself to every regressive, anti-intellectual cause imaginable, and for purely political reasons. The man is an Ivy-educated biology major. He was even accepted into Harvard Medical School at one point. And yet he signed and supported the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows science teachers to teach creationism in public schools. Jindal knows creationism is a farce, and he knows it’s a tremendous stain on Louisiana’s reputation to allow it to be taught in science classes. But he doesn’t give a damn. He wasn’t concerned with Louisiana’s future; he was signaling his conservative credentials to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; appearing smart to stupid people was a strategic decision on his part.
Jindal reached peak stupid in January 2015, when he staged a massive prayerapooloza in Louisiana. Modeled after Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer rally, it was a pathetic attempt to gin up support for his presidential campaign. The event itself was an orgy of bigotry and religious demagoguery. Here’s a passage drawn directly from the rally materials:
“We have watched sin escalate to a proportion the nation has never seen before. We live in the first generation in which…homosexuality has been embraced…While the United States still claims to be a nation ‘under God’ it is obvious that we have greatly strayed from our foundations in Christianity. This year we have seen a dramatic increase in tornadoes that have taken the lives of many…and let us not forget that we are only six years from the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina…”
You read that correctly: Gay people are responsible for a “dramatic increase in tornadoes” and other naturally occurring phenomena. That’s how low Jindal sunk; that’s how far he was willing to go. He embraced hate speech in order to appease bigoted fundamentalists, and he refused to distance himself from the fatuous assertion that gay people are the cause of bad weather. Indeed, he remains unpersuaded by a mountain of climate science, but appears cocksure that hurricanes are celestial punishments for America’s toleration of homosexuals. I don’t know if Jindal really believes that, but he pretended to, and that’s enough.
Jindal’s desperation was on full display last week, when he announced his plan to issue an executive order to enforce the “religious freedom” bill. The legislation is nakedly discriminatory against gay people, and has very little support in Louisiana. Jindal backed this bill and threatened to unilaterally impose it on the state after the Legislature rejected it – a perfectly ironic thing to do for a small government conservative.
He did this despite the massive backlash Mike Pence received after passing a slightly less offensive version of the bill in Indiana earlier this year. There was no sensible reason for Jindal to take this position, apart from his monomaniacal desire to impress religious conservatives in primary states. He even penned a puerile Op-Ed for the New York Times in order to take a courageous stand against civil rights for gay Americans. This is not the kind of leadership you’d expect from a guy hoping to distinguish himself from stupid people.
It’s worth asking what Jindal’s decline says about him personally and about the GOP more generally. As for Jindal, it’s fairly obvious: His ambition eclipsed his sense of duty. He exchanged his integrity for votes, and he did it in the most cynical fashion possible; Louisianans have suffered immensely because of it.
Jindal’s strategy also says something about the electoral base of the Republican Party. It’s increasingly evident that the most extreme elements of the right have become too influential. Republican candidates, in many respects, are boxed in. There’s no path for an internal reformer in the GOP; the ultra-conservative and Southern base, which controls the party, won’t allow it. Jindal’s asininity is a manifestation of this problem; he knows he’s appealing to a significant subset of Republican voters. He won’t win their votes, but someone else will, and they’ll have to pretend to be stupid in order to do it. This powerful minority within the GOP is the real problem; if the Republicans don’t do something about it, they will remain what they’ve become: the stupid party.