Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Ode to Bobby Jindal

Louisiana shows us how it's done.

Or... the Democratic wave continues... not.

Bobby Jindal not only won the LA governorship, but he became the first candidate since the current non-partisan primary system was developed (everyone runs in one pool, then there is a runoff if no-one gets an outright majority) to win that post without needing a runoff.

In a field of 12 candidates, he garnered a whopping 53% of the vote, with his nearest competitor sitting at 18%.

The story of how a Republican won this election in the worst national Republican climate in decades is one that should make us sit up and take notice:

1. Jindal was a good candidate. No, scratch that. Jindal was an extradordinary candidate.

He a brilliant prodigy -- he was tapped at age 24 to revamp the entire lumbering Louisiana Health and Hospitals department.

But more importantly, he is a tireless problem solver, and succeeded in that job and in his post at the federal DHHS.

In other words, he didn't just succeed in making himself look good. He just plain succeeded... and brilliantly.

2. Jindal really believes in his principles, and isn't afraid to put things on the line for them.

For instance, in revamping the Health and Hospitals Department, he took a tremendous risk by essentially asking for an advance on Medicaid funding -- with the understanding that it would cut what the Department got in the future.

It was a tremendous gamble, but he believed that he could eliminate waste and restructure things in a way that would leave LA in the black in relation to Medicaid. And he succeeded. This is the stuff of legend.

3. Jindal isn't a moper. He lost the governorship 4 years ago, in no small part because Democrats successfully waged a stealth racist smear campaign against him (they tried to do the same thing this time with regard to his Catholic faith, trying to turn Protestant Republicans against him -- this time they failed.)

But he turned around, won a U.S. House seat, and when Katrina hit, instead of sitting and watching Gov. Kathleen Blanco turn around helplessly in circles, he flew back to Louisiana, rolled up his sleeves, and essentially created a private relief enterprise single-handedly that outperformed what the state government was doing -- or rather not doing.

He connected willing donors and assistance from around the country with people and places that needed help. Rather than sitting and saying -- "now, if I were governor, things would be so much better," -- he buttoned his lip and helped his state.

The political consequences were that at least oh, say, 53% of Louisianans had buyers' remorse, thinking to themselves that if Jindal could accomplish what he did outside of the governor's office -- what might he have been able to accomplish had he been sitting in it when Katrina hit?

4. As noted above, Jindal built his political reputation and strength not on the ephemeral basis of words and rhetoric, but on accomplishments and action -- demonstrations, as it were, of administrative competence.

5. Jindal is committed to honesty and high ethical standards. Corrupt politics can be ignored -- and even found to be slightly amusing and colorful -- when things are going well. But when the chips are down, a political system built on corruption and cronyism just doesn't perform. Louisiana discovered this in spades when Katrina hit -- from New Orleans city government to the LA state government to "Brownie" and the federal relief effort.

Jindal is going to expend a part of his political capital immediately by calling the LA legislature into special session to pass new, strict, ethics laws that Louisianans know have been a long, long time in coming.

6. Jindal doesn't play the race card, or any sympathy card, for that matter. In spite of the attacks sent his way, Jindal quite simply proved to the people of his state that he was, far and away, who they needed to be their governor. End of story.

7. Jindal understands the importance of the governorship. He could easily have taken on Mary Landrieu for her vulnerable U.S. Senate seat and blown her out of the water -- and spent the rest of his life in Washington being a big-time Senator. With his brilliance, he would have distinguished himself.

But the governorship is where it is at. That is why America's Presidents have overwhelmingly been former governors, and not Senators or Representatives. What the U.S. Senate does is crucial to the well-being of our country. But where the rubber hits the road is with well-administered state governments and strong states.

8. Jindal has a sense of public service. Jindal was a Rhodes Scholar and was accepted to both Harvard and Yale for medical school and law school.

He could have gone on to be a business tycoon, a high-powered corporate lawyer, a wealthy Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, or dean of Harvard Medical School.

All of these would have been honorable (well, maybe not the Beverly Hills bit) outlets for his talents.

But he chose to apply those talents in the service of his community, his country, and his state. This is not for everyone. But all too many people who "dedicate themselves to public service" are not doers like Jindal -- all too many are slick operating pols who know how to amass power, and perhaps how to use it in the service of narrow self-interest and for the amassing of yet more political power.

But how many talented and honest people are willing to give their lives to this kind of public service -- not the "service" of knowing how to work the press and manipulate a legislature.

But the service of actually making government work in the limited but important ways it is supposed to work.

The GOP is full of smart, wealthy, connected, and talented people. But all too often, we don't see any of that put to use in true public service. In one sense we can't blame them. After all, what decent person wants to subject themselves and their families to the ruthless personal attack machines of the political opposition?

We know that even if we are honest and hard-working people, there will be something in our closets that can be dragged out and dressed up to look like a skeleton -- and that a lot of people will readily listen to and believe such tripe. We'll probably have a parade of such "skeletons" coming out of the closet of Jindal himself, knowing how political operations work.

Better, many Republicans think, just to keep your head low, run your business, do good work for your employer, raise your family, help out at church, and go hunting and fishing.

But that can't last. It never does. Someone always has to step forward if we don't want to leave government to the venal, corrupt, and lazy. And that's not just a reference to Democrats, just in case any GOP readers are feeling smug today.

It has taken the son of Indian immigrants to remind the GOP faithful of what needs to be done, and just as importantly, how it is done.

And did he ever show us. And inspire us.

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