Why This Jindal-For-VP Talk Is Misplaced

It appears there’s a good bit of hype circulating around the concept of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as the running mate to Mitt Romney this fall.

Jindal did an appearance on CNN last week in which he was asked about being selected as a VP candidate and he brushed it aside. He’d been put forward as a possibility by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, who had considered him before eventually picking Sarah Palin.

But that’s hardly all.

Over the weekend the India edition of the New York Daily News put forth Jindal and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is also of Indian descent, as possibilities. That report was largely a response to a piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday saying something similar.

And at CNN’s website, “conservative” columnist David Frum touted Jindal as a VP choice last week in what could only be considered a racist analysis of his appeal. Frum spent the majority of his column trashing the idea of Marco Rubio – who most people think is the leading choice – as the selection, on the basis that Mexican-Americans won’t like a Cuban-American getting the nod, and then said Asian-Americans are better suited to a Republican appeal based on lower poverty rates. And because Asians, and Indians and Vietnamese in particular, are good prospects Jindal would be a good VP choice.

One of Frum’s disciples at his now-defunct website, Mark Yzaguirre, parroted this dazzling analysis in a piece at the Huffington Post, with little additional depth. Yzaguirre says Jindal’s educational attainments would help to attract academics and the highly-educated to the ticket, playing into the idea that Republicans have a problem with anti-intellectualism which could be fixed with a VP choice…

I think Frum is on to something here and not just on the issue of moving particular Democratic-leaning ethnic groups towards the Republican Party in the 2012 election. While Jindal may help the Republican Party among Asian American voters (Jindal’s parents emigrated from India), I think he would also help with gaining support among highly-educated voters, which is another group that the GOP has been having problems with. As Michael Medved points out, university graduates are an increasing portion of the electorate and as a group they have been moving towards the Democrats in recent years.

The Republican Party over recent years has been developing a reputation for anti-intellectualism that has damaged its brand among highly educated voters. A Romney-Jindal ticket could help move such voters to the GOP column. Jindal is a graduate of Brown University and a Rhodes Scholar. It would be difficult to tag him and Mitt Romney (who holds not one but two degrees from Harvard) as being people who don’t appreciate the importance of higher education and intellectual values to the same degree that, for example, it would be relatively easy to tag candidates like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as such.

If Romney wants to encourage highly-educated voters to support him, picking Bobby Jindal as his running mate would be a good move. It would be a move that would signal that the GOP (at least in Mitt Romney’s White House) isn’t hostile to those who value and aspire to academic success. A Romney-Jindal ticket would be a formidable one and as such Romney should strongly consider Jindal as his running mate, even if conventional wisdom suggests other choices.

You’ve apparently got to really do your homework to offer national punditry. Jindal’s of Indian descent, so he’ll appeal to Asian-Americans who might be Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese – and that’s going to work better than Rubio, of Cuban descent, attempting to appeal to Mexicans. And since people with degrees from “elite” universities don’t like Republicans Jindal would help solidify the ticket since he was a Rhodes Scholar and has a degree from Brown.

Getting all this? If not, go have a few drinks and it might start to make sense.

The fact is, Jindal isn’t going to be the VP choice, and he shouldn’t be. Particularly not as some Affirmative Action-Diversity hire alone, which is the criterion Frum and Yzaguirre seem to be using to tout him. That’s an insult to the voters, to the GOP and to Jindal. He needs to be judged on the merits, not on the color of his skin. And the merits don’t indicate he’s the best choice.

Look, we like Jindal as Louisiana’s governor. And we think history will record the educational reform plan he just pushed through the state legislature as a major policy achievement benefiting an enormous number of people. Jindal also should get credit for making Louisiana a far more attractive state to do business in, and he’s got the rankings in business publications and the economic development wins to prove it.

One could make a very real, substantive case that Jindal is the best governor Louisiana has had in modern times. We’d probably agree with such a case. The problem is, that’s like being King of the Dunghill given the procession of laggards, troglodytes, dimwits, well-meaning incompetents and crooks who came before him. It doesn’t qualify Jindal for elected national office, sad to say.

Education reform and economic development wins aside, Jindal’s policy record will be a problem as a VP choice, something none of those touting him have even bothered to discuss.

Take, for example, Louisiana’s constant budget problems under Jindal’s watch. It’s unfortunate to say this, but you can’t run Mitt Romney atop a fiscal-responsibility ticket like the GOP wants to do this fall with Jindal as the VP choice.

Jindal can credibly say he’s cut the size of state government in his five years as Louisiana’s governor. It’s true; he has. But there’s a problem with such a statement; namely that what he’s been cutting from was an extraordinarily bloated government flush with federal dollars after Katrina, and some of that bloat was created by Jindal in the first two years he was in office. Since those hurricane revenues have dried up in the last three years the budget process in this state has been an unmitigated disaster; even Jindal’s supporters on the conservative side recognize that he’s not cutting the size of state government anywhere near as fast as it needs to be cut.

Over and over we’ve seen the same situation play out – namely, the fiscal conservatives in the House of Representatives attempt to take the budget axe to a state government which has an appalling number of six-figure employees and the highest per-capita employee count of any state in the South, and Jindal’s commissioner of administration Paul Rainwater angrily waving his hands and screaming that such cuts will destroy the state’s ability to provide services. As a result, the budget-cutting falls short and the state finances its budget using rainy-day funds and sweeps from dedicated revenue streams, and other such devices, to patch up the difference.

It’s come to such an extent that at the Legislature they’re now considering the idea of putting off balancing the budget, which is required by the state’s constitution, until this fall or winter in a special session. Between this current budget year and the 2012-13 budget, which the legislature is supposed to be planning for in the current session, there is more than $500 million in deficits to patch over. Jindal and his legislative leaders don’t seem to have any solutions.

And Jindal is now getting pounded for the use of one-time money by Louisiana’s Republican senator David Vitter, who said last week that “Using these one-time pots of money to band-aid yearly budgets is exactly the kind of gimmick and short-sighted policy-making I fight against daily in Washington. It’s not sound fiscal policy, and all it does is kick the can down the road.” Vitter isn’t exactly a political ally of Jindal’s, and because he’s had problems of his own that aren’t relevant to the issue at hand in this column he might not have the last word on Louisiana’s budget, but there’s no question the national media wouldn’t pick up on the criticism were Jindal to be the VP choice.

He’s also getting clobbered on the Left for having agreed to cut taxes a few years ago – a poor argument, given that the odious Stelly tax plan which made Louisiana’s state income taxes the worst in the South had all but wiped out population and economic growth in Louisiana for a decade and it was done away with by a groundswell in the legislature Jindal jumped on at the end. He’s also getting clobbered for having supported much of Louisiana’s hodge-podge of tax exemptions and breaks making swiss cheese of the state’s tax revenues – though when you’re competing with Texas and Florida, states without an income tax at all, for economic development it’s impossible to do so effectively without tax incentives.

The general picture is that after five years of being governor Jindal still doesn’t have a handle on the most fundamental task in government – managing the money. And the national media, which will look to take apart the GOP ticket any way it can, is going to point to this picture and guffaw at Romney’s campaign message about fiscal responsibility.

Can’t have it.

Then there’s this business of the state’s caucus a week and a half ago, in which Ron Paul managed to win most of the congressional districts and will send a significant number of delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa. That’s going to be a major problem for Jindal as a VP choice among the national Republican establishment; the establishment people don’t want Ron Paul making decisions for them or having much influence at the convention, and the people running that convention really don’t want Paul to get a prime-time speaking slot given that much of what he’ll say won’t be anywhere near the party’s platform. That Louisiana contributed to making it more difficult to marginalize Paul will be remembered.

This is true, though it’s not fair to Jindal. After all, Jindal endorsed Rick Perry and never did make an overt endorsement when Perry dropped out of the race. He wasn’t obligated to turn anybody out for Romney at the caucus, and he largely stayed out of the process. Romney’s camp expended zero effort to win the state caucus, and that’s their fault rather than Jindal’s. But the fact that Jindal has never really been a Romney guy – compared, for example, to Rubio, who has made a public endorsement and is actively working to help the presumptive nominee both in Florida and with Hispanic voters, or Chris Christie or Bob McDonnell, who were with Romney all along – is a relative negative; the Paul caucus win just punctuates it.

And there are other problems with Jindal as a VP choice. There’s his association with Senate president John Alario, whose history as a former Democrat engaged in all the rampant corruption of the Edwin Edwards years in Louisiana. Alario, whom Jindal supported for his current post, is a symbol of the kind of ethically-challenged politics people associate with Louisiana and the stink of that bad reputation carries to Jindal for having backed the 40-year state legislator. Is that fair? No. Right or wrong, Jindal backed Alario when it was obvious he had the votes to be Senate president; politically he could either cultivate him and make him an ally or he could watch his second term as governor descend into legislative failure. But again, a national media looking to trash a Romney-Jindal ticket will turn him into Spiro Agnew for his having associated himself with Alario.

And then there’s Jindal’s friendly relationship with trial attorneys. He’s raised a fortune from some of the more prominent p0litical donors in that profession, and they clearly have some influence with him – from Jindal’s friendly treatment of the plaintiff bar following the BP oil spill, and specifically the attempt to contract out state legal work to them on a contingency basis, to the governor’s tepid response to the state’s problem with exploding numbers of legacy lawsuits against the oil patch which an LSU study indicates is costing Louisiana 30,000 jobs’ worth of economic development. The GOP is not going to get trial attorneys behind a Romney ticket regardless of who the VP is; Jindal would be a negative in some circles for having had his flirtations with the lawyers.

None of this is to indicate Jindal can’t hold federal office – say, a cabinet position, or even make a presidential run in 2016 or 2020 or some later date – with distinction. But what it does indicate that in comparison to the other potential VP choices out there like a Rubio, Rob Portman, Christie, McDonnell or even Condaleeza Rice, he just doesn’t measure up.

And one hopes that Romney wouldn’t make a VP choice on the thin affirmative-action basis that Frum and Yzaguirre suggest, regardless of whether it’s Jindal or the man in the moon. A choice such as this needs to be made by seeking the best person for the job, and ethnic background has nothing to do with that.

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