Exhibit 14.15

Why Bobby Jindal is not Barack Obama

So I can't let politics go, not yet, not like this. Bear with me for one more chance to play pundit before the news dries up and I have to get my presumption off by playing Civilization IV on the computer and writing 1,400-word posts about how that Kublai Khan is misallocating his resources by decreeing a stately pleasure dome.

There's been a lot of talk about where the Republicans turn now that the old guard has failed and the new guard runs the gamut from crazy (Palin) to stupid (Palin). Anyone looking to gloat about this should remember identical conversations in 2000 and 2004 when it seemed like the Democrat's Vietnam generation produced a series of boring, self-loathing leaders incapable of winning over enough "real" Americans to beat even the most incompetent of Republicans. Four year election cycles offer the parties a long time to rebuild themselves, and I think one of the most important lessons of 2008's election is that the elongated campaign season opens up the presidency to younger, lesser known politicians by providing approximately 938 months of television coverage in which American can decide a candidate is good enough simply due to his or her continued existence.

Speaking of good enough due to his continued existence, it's Bobby Jindal! He's been in Iowa recently and the talk among the more hopeful conservatives is that he's going to be the Republican's very own Obama. They seem to think this because:

1) Bobby Jindal is brown. Not the same brown, but a brown. That will do, apparently.
2) Bobby Jindal is young. This is irrefutable.
3) Bobby Jindal has a funny name (yet isn't a secret Muslim. Even if he was, the people who care about such things won't care about such things as long as he's their secret Muslim).
4) Bobby Jindal is smart. This is irrefutable.

Political parties kill themselves by playing these superficial games of guess the zeitgeist. It's how 9/11 and the Iraq War led to the misguided choice of war hero John Kerry, completely ignoring how his patrician demeanor undercut his raison d’être and left him spending the campaign defending his service to a man who spent the war stateside. That Vietnam service, no matter how stellar, wasn't a reason to elect a president was clear to everyone except the Democratic Party who could never quite figure out why their candidate who seemed to have all of the needed characteristics of the moment, couldn't beat the clear incompetence of the incumbent.

Which brings us to Jindal. His trap is similar to Kerry's though probably deeper. That he is another smart, young minority might lead the Republican Party to forget that the last two of those qualities are net negatives and the first is often times construed as one (though, admittedly, usually by the Republicans themselves). Even if his position was exactly like Obama's, pretending that his election would somehow be as meaningful--even after Obama takes office--is silly. Most Americans know nothing about the Indian-American experience whereas Obama's election was the culmination of a struggle that has existed since our nation's founding. That is not to say it wouldn't be another meaningful win--certainly the image of the two men debating alone would be powerful--but that seeing analogies where there aren't any is a good way to lose.

Ultimately, Barack Obama won this past election not because of any of those characteristics he shares with Jindal but despite them. For the 40% of the country that saw him as a symbol of hope due partially to his atypical race, name, and history for a candidate, at least another 10% had to be talked into him based on policy and personality, and Jindal faces those voters with an argument that runs counter to the direction of the country. Outlawing abortion without any exceptions? Teaching creationism in schools? These two issues alone are going to make Jindal a tough sell in a number of conservative states let alone socially moderate swing states like Florida and Colorado.

And, as with Kerry, even those bullets on the resume that seemed like such a good idea are bound to fail Jindal when connected with the actual person. Unlike Obama, Jindal actually does have a religious background that will trouble his base. Converting from Hinduism to very strict Roman Catholicism is hardly a selling point to the megachurch set. So too he's less by-the-bootstraps symbol of American opportunity than he is another scion of privilege and money, not exactly the promise-fulfillment narrative of Barack Obama. And, perhaps most obviously, he appears much less comfortable in his own skin than Obama. From his religious conversion to forgoing Piyush for Bobby to his inconsistent use of folksy mannerisms depending on his audience, he's much more John Kerry/Mitt Romney than Barack Obama/George W. Bush/Bill Clinton (you might notice something the latter have in common).

Still, he's got an impressive resume, seems to be a fairly competent governor so far, and is said to be quite impressive in person (of course, the same things could be said of Romney). Jindal's struggle will be to moderate himself to match the electorate. Unfortunately, if the Republican Party's ardor only goes skin-deep, no one will force Jindal to do that until he's nominated and they realize that the public doesn't want a less compelling "Obama" over the real thing, let alone a retrograde one. Jindal's time may come and in a party bereft of better choices, he certainly looks pretty good four years out. But it's a temptation built on a desire to compete with a moment that's already happened. Jindal should look at this past year's election as opening a door for him (and millions of others) that many thought permanently closed but think very carefully about whether or not he wants to run against the man who opened it. Making his party feel more relevant and less uni-raced is not a good enough reason.


Anonymous said...

"Unlike Obama, Jindal actually does have a religious background that will trouble his base. Converting from Hinduism to very strict Roman Catholicism is hardly a selling point to the megachurch set."

In a lesser candidate, I think Obama's association with Wright could've been absolutely damning. & although the megachurch set do indeed despise Catholicism on principle, they tend to show extreme levels of support for conservative Catholics, ie Chief Justice Roberts & Justice Alito. In fact, much of the megachurch set was quite skeptical of Harriet Miers even though she is an Evangelical Christian. This certainly helped lead to her downfall.


A. Peterson said...

Both good points. I would say that I think Obama's association with Wright helped as much as hurt with his base. For those on the far left, Wright's comments were nothing worse than what they might say at their most frustrated. For many African-Americans, I think it cemented their support around Obama as opposed to Hillary (who first raised the issue). At worst, I'd say Wright was a wash in the primary.

As for Jindal, I completely agree that evangelicals would rally around him strongly were he to be the nominee. My thought was that when presented with several evangelical choices in a primary, the base I referred to would tend to flock to them (e.g. Huckabee, Palin). I have nothing to base this off of other than the reaction to non-evangelicals like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in 2008 (and certainly there were other factors for both).

In other words, I think you're right that being a Catholic, especially a conservative pro-life one, isn't a detriment to Jindal on the whole, but I still think it's a net negative in the primaries.