Just before Hurricane Gustav blew into the Gulf as the GOP powers that be were calling off the party in Minneapolis-St. Paul, I mused about whether Republicans would come to wonder if they might be better off in the presidential race had John McCain picked a different running mate.
In the wake of newly hatched Palinmania, it seemed a sacrilege to question the choice of a governor who had so excited the conservative base. Considering the excessive media tear against Palin, as opposed to the kid-gloves treatment afforded Barack Obama, it was no surprise that anyone in the media who questioned the selection of Palin — regardless of whether he or she fell on the right of left side of the aisle, or somewhere in between — was regarded as having nefarious ulterior motives by fans of the newly created ticket.
But I’ve rarely seen a leader so pulled together in the face of crisis as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And on the eve of Gustav, as Jindal delivered some of the most comprehensive and detailed press briefings around (with information subsequently printed and easily accessible for all on the governor’s Web site), I wondered if, after all was said and done, it would become clear that Jindal should have been No. 2 on the GOP ticket.
Mind you, this was before all the Palin drama began; the veritable circus surrounding her candidacy and the comparison of her length in office compared to Obama’s, as if they were facing each other for the same spot; before the morbid punditry that presumed McCain wouldn’t last long enough to see the end of his first term, thus the justification given for going after Palin with both barrels. And before we knew that Gustav wouldn’t have the same catastrophic effect as Hurricane Katrina.
But as soon as I blogged on the possibility that storm season could show Jindal may have been the smarter choice, commenters in conservative forums were calling me a Marxist mainstream media louse who was surely making the suggestion to sabotage a right-wing dream ticket (though, it should be said, McCain was in the not-too-distant past considered a poseur Republican, and any pundit who pitched him in the primary over Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee was roundly castigated). Never mind that I was suggesting another Reagan Republican as McCain’s ideal running mate.
This is because you won’t find many doubting Jindal’s conservative credentials — but you also won’t find many doubting his managerial, financial, or gubernatorial chops.
It was clear early on that Jindal, who became America’s youngest current governor not even a year ago, felt he as a leader should stay at the job to which he was elected. In fact, when early speculation fell on Jindal as a potential VP pick, he stressed (again), “Let me be clear: I have said in every private and public conversation, I’ve got the job that I want. … I look forward to continuing to be governor of Louisiana. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve our state.” Jindal also added on Fox & Friends that he thinks there should be one key quality in a vice president: “I think the most important thing in picking a vice president is not what state they come from, not what demographic they appeal to, but rather whether the senator thinks this person would be ready to be president if — God forbid — that situation arises. That’s probably the only thing that should matter.”
Spoken like a lot of present-day punditry.
If Jindal had taken that convention stage as McCain’s running mate, he would face much of the same criticism on his social-issue stands as Palin is. But it would be hard to dock the 37-year-old on experience, particularly when paired in the odd president/vice president comparison now being done between Obama and Palin. A Rhodes Scholar who advised Fortune 500 companies after earning a graduate degree at Oxford, the Baton Rouge native began his government career overseeing some 40 percent of the state’s budget as director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He completely turned the department around from deficit to surplus, judiciously trimmed wasteful spending, and led the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.
Not that much older than your standard undergraduates, Jindal next was appointed president of the University of Louisiana system, with oversight of eight colleges under his belt. Two years later, George W. Bush appointed Jindal to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. Endorsed by everyone from the Times-Picayune to now-infamous New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Jindal ran for governor in 2003 and lost to Kathleen Blanco. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck (Jindal having handily won a seat in Congress the year before), and the rest is history with Blanco’s boondoggles. In Washington, meanwhile, Jindal was getting experience in yet another policy area with a seat on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
So here you have a guy younger than Obama, also a history-maker (the first Louisiana governor of color since Reconstruction, as well as America’s first Indian governor), and with a resume that would have been hard for his opponents to crack: leadership in the key domestic issues of health care and education. Real-world experience in the business community. Bipartisan support. Homeland security experience.
And, of course, his superior crisis-management skills or the ability to orchestrate mass evacuations and keep residents safe and informed as Gustav threatened to strike as Katrina Part Deux. As the storm blew through and southern governors recorded taped messages for the delayed start of the Republican National Convention, Jindal didn’t partake in the P.R. He had more important things to do. That’s a sign of a leader. And that’s a simple declarative statement of what Jindal could have brought to the ticket, not any sort of conniving underhanded dig at Palin.
Some in the throes of Palin euphoria quickly respond to the suggestion of Jindal on a ticket by suggesting a Palin-Jindal campaign for 2016 — based on the assumption, of course, that McCain-Palin will win, that McCain-Palin will win re-election, and that Palin would, at the end of that, be jonesing to campaign for the presidency. Then, in that theoretical scenario, eight years of Palin with Jindal at No. 2 would mean 16 years before he ran for the presidency.
I’m not sure the GOP can wait that long, though, to bring someone of Jindal’s caliber to the forefront. Both the right and left tickets have their Achilles’ heels in this election, so we’ll see who can eke out a win come Nov. 4. The rest should be interesting to watch.