The sad decline of Bobby Jindal
He was once one of the conservative movement's brightest and most principled young prospects. What happened?
A Man for All Seasons tells the story of Sir Thomas More, the great statesman who refused to go along with English King Henry VIII's scheme to get a divorce in violation of Christian law — and was eventually sentenced to death as a result.
There's an iconic scene in the film, in which More is put on a show trial, and a perjurious witness, Sir Richard, is put forward against him. "There is one question I would like to ask the witness," More says after Sir Richard's false testimony. "That's a chain of office you're wearing. May I see it? [looking] The Red Dragon. What's this?" More is informed that Richard has been named attorney general for Wales after supporting King Henry VIII.
"Why Richard," More says, "it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?"
It's a great scene. Watch:
This is such a great line because it shows the ugly reality of how we sell our souls. What's particularly shocking is just how low the price is for so many of us.
For Catholics, Sir Thomas More is not just a statesman, but a saint, and indeed, the patron saint of politicians. His courageous stand for justice, even in the face of death, is supposed to be the image for how Catholics in politics ought to behave — an image we very often fall short of.
Which brings me to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The former presidential candidate (yes, he did run for president for a while there, I don't blame you if you didn't notice) recently appeared on the podcast of the conservative news website The Federalist and, among other things, rejected the idea of a fight at the Republican convention should Donald Trump win a plurality of delegates but fail to secure a majority. Jindal also said that if Trump is the nominee, conservatives should support him as a way to stop Hillary Clinton.
The problem with that idea is that Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump. He is temperamentally unfit for the presidency to an extent that no thinking person should wish him to acquire any sort of political power. More specifically, his corrupt morals and values and distinct lack of any sort of conservative beliefs ought to make him utterly unacceptable to those who profess to be conservatives.
The Trumpocalypse reveals people's true character. Chris Christie correctly pointed out all the ways Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency, but endorsed him anyway. Now, at least, we know a lot about who Chris Christie really is. It's been very instructive to watch who has thrown away principle and supported Trump, explicitly or implicitly. That applies to Jindal now, too.
It's depressing to see Jindal's sad and dramatic decline into perhaps the lamest politician in the contemporary GOP (which is saying something!), when he used to be one of the party's most interesting young prospects. Jindal first became famous, at least among conservative wonks, because he was a wonk's wonk. A Rhodes scholar, he was appointed in his twenties as secretary of health of Louisiana, and later, at 28, was the youngest ever president of the University of Louisiana system. As governor of one of the most infamously corrupt states in the union, he passed sweeping ethics reform. Most conservative wonks, myself very much included, saw him as a potential future president.
The Wilderness, the great book by BuzzFeed political reporter McKay Coppins on how many Republican wannabes prepared for 2016, gives an engaging and inspiring portrait of Jindal. His teenage conversion to evangelical Christianity was deep and sincere, and eventually blossomed into an intellectual Catholicism. This, in turn, prompted him to go into public service out of a genuine desire to serve his fellow man.
That Bobby Jindal is a distant memory today.
Perhaps the most embarrassing thing about the Trump phenomenon for conservatives is that it seems to confirm every caricature of the conservative movement that progressives make. That conservatism is not at all motivated by a belief in principles such as limited government, but by anger, resentment, and white identity politics, and that it is somehow in essence anti-intellectual. In a sense, it's understandable that Jindal is now backing Trump, since, even as Trump embodies that caricature, Jindal seems to have come to believe it's true.
After writing that the GOP needed to "stop being the stupid party," Jindal changed tack, and seemed to believe that his ticket to the presidency was to run the most aggressively stupid campaign he could imagine. As a student, Jindal wrote a memoir on healthcare policy arguing that Catholic ethics required a healthcare system that provided universal coverage, even though as a conservative he believed such coverage should be provided along free-market lines. The best conservative ObamaCare alternatives cover as many people as the Affordable Care Act, while improving efficiency, consumer choice, and innovation. But all of a sudden Jindal blasted those plans as "ObamaCare-lite" and boosted his own politically suicidal and morally indefensible plan, which basically involved taking away people's ObamaCare and replacing it with, essentially, a middle finger.
For a very long time, he seemed obsessed with the idea that Obama would magically win the war on terror if he could somehow bring himself to say the words "radical Islamic terrorism." (There's a fair debate to be had about the politically correct way in which Obama, like his predecessors, dances around the putative link between jihad and Islam, but Jindal's obsession was bizarre.) He started opining about European "no-go zones" where Sharia law is enforced, something which, again, only has a tiny kernel of truth in it and which he tried to turn into a bizarre culture war salvo.
In short, the man who was probably the highest IQ governor in America became a walking, talking Breitbart comment section.
What's Jindal's angle? His governorship is effectively over, he's still young, and he can have a national future. But he's certainly not going to get it by allying with Trump, who will get destroyed in November if he's the nominee, and after which conservatives will take knives to anyone who polluted themselves with him.
Why Bobby, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Trump?
Editor's note: This article originally misstated which university system Jindal led. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.