Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is trying hard to ingratiate himself with his base—too hard. He has been positioning himself for a possible presidential run, with disastrous results.
Jindal’s name has been all over the social media because of a portrait hanging in his office in which he looks decidedly white. Turns out that this wasn’t an official portrait, as some tweeters alleged (giving opportunity to Jindal’s chief of staff to accuse them of “race-baiting”). The official likeness, however, is just a little better. Judge for yourself.
Less trivially, Jindal has also been in the news for patently untrue statements he made during a Europe trip about certain places on the continent being areas where non-Muslims can’t enter.
"It is startling to think that any country would allow, even unofficially, for a so-called ‘no-go zone,’” he said.
The assertion repeated a falsehood first propagated by Fox News. In a rare move, the network later apologized. "To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion,” anchor Julie Banderas admitted.
Jindal is standing by his misstatements, though, using his official website to back up his wrongheadedness. “The landing page of his website links to a page titled ‘Setting the Record Straight,’ which compiles reports largely cribbed from a think tank linked to anti-Muslim activists,” Talking Points Memo reports.
In his speech in England, Jindal, without a trace of irony, claimed all that he was doing was “dealing with reality and facts.”
People back home weren’t amused.
“Governor Jindal's talk in London about ‘no-go zones’ doesn't seem like a smart strategy for wooing corporations to invest in Louisiana,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune editorialized. “Then again, that wasn't the point, was it?”
Absolutely. In fact, the whole point of Jindal’s political career has been to say and do anything that will please his white, Christian, conservative fans.
“Social conservatives like what they have heard about the public and private Jindal: his steadfast opposition to abortion without exceptions; his disapproval of embryonic stem cell research; his and his wife Supriya's decision in 1997 to enter into a Louisiana covenant marriage that prohibits no-fault divorce in the state; and his decision to sign into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, a bill heartily supported by creationists that permits public school teachers to educate students about both the theory of 'scientific design' and criticisms of Darwinian evolutionary concepts," The Washington Post reported a few years ago.
Jindal started his journey early on. He converted to Christianity from his native Hindu faith in college. He launched his first, failed gubernatorial campaign in 2003 while standing beside Louisiana Christian Coalition leader Billy McCormack. One of Jindal's radio ads in that campaign asked, "What's so wrong with the Ten Commandments?”
He has written and spoken extensively about his conversion. Jindal's public display of his Catholicism has earned him lots of political benefits. In the four years before his successful gubernatorial bid, Jindal visited Northern Louisiana seventy-seven times. Much of this time was spent in the pews on Sundays, where Jindal expounded on why he became a Roman Catholic. “Some churchgoers noted that they had never before heard a Roman Catholic testify in quite the way Jindal did, casting his own experience in terms similar to that of a born-again fundamentalist,” Esquire magazine noted some years ago.
In his speech in England, Jindal also expounded on race in a manner to please his constituency, recalling some homespun wisdom imparted to him by his folks.
“My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans—not Indian-Americans,” Jindal said.
However, when it has been politically expedient, he has not hesitated to publicly deride his parents. He has talked about their opposition and disappointment to his conversion and how he avoided telling them of his epiphany for a long time, because he didn’t want an “inevitable confrontation with my very unsympathetic Hindu parents.” Instead, he claims, his situation—reading the Bible by flashlight—was comparable to the early Christians “hiding from government persecution.”
He went on in London to lay out his blinkered vision of race in America.
“I do not believe in hyphenated Americans,” he added. “This view gets me into some trouble with the media back home.”
Jindal has actually ventured into nastier racial territory before. In the middle of his second gubernatorial campaign, he referred to demonstrators protesting harassment of black students in the city of Jena as "outside agitators" in an ugly echo of the language used in the 1960s by segregationists.
Jindal is attempting to make his constituency happy in other ways, too. He recently lambasted the national Common Core educational standards—for reasons that will resonate with rightwingers.
“We stop teaching American exceptionalism to our students?” he rhetorically asked. “What happens when the American history they're taught is not the one you and I were taught, but a history of grievances?”
There is no level to which Jindal will not stoop to further his political ambitions.
“I am explicitly saying that it is completely reasonable for nations to discriminate,” he said in his London speech, “between allowing people into their country who want to embrace their culture, or allowing people into their country who want to destroy their culture, or establish a separate culture within.”
No prizes for guessing which “culture” he’s referring to. Let’s see if his complete lack of scruples yields Bobby Jindal the political dividends he’s hoping for.
Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive.