Stephanie Grace: Jindal’s partisanship unattractive

Maybe Gov. Bobby Jindal could use a time out.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Stephanie Grace
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Stephanie Grace

Not necessarily a go-to-your-room-until-you-can-calm-down time out — although, as my colleague Walt Handelsman hilariously illustrated when he depicted Jindal as a petulant toddler seated in a high chair at a National Governors Association luncheon, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But I’m really talking about a break, a pause in the governor’s nonstop quest for something, anything, that will catapult him into the top tier of GOP presidential hopefuls. A chance to really think about what he’s doing, what he stands for, the impression he’s making. An opportunity to decide who he wants to be if he finally makes it to the grown-ups table.

Sure, Jindal got plenty of play for his partisan turn outside the White House on Monday — when, after he and his fellow governors emerged from a well-mannered, substantive meeting with President Barack Obama, he took to the bank of microphones and lashed out at the president for not using his executive powers he’s resorted to in the face of congressional paralysis to, among other things, approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Instead, Jindal said, Obama “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” on the economy by trying to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, up from $7.25. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that,” Jindal said, as colleagues shifted uncomfortably.

His outburst, as it was generally characterized, prompted an immediate rejoinder from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy.

“Until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road,” Malloy said. “I don’t know what the heck was a reference to a white flag, when it comes to people making $404 a week. I mean that’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”

But Jindal was just getting started.

“If that was the most partisan statement he’s heard all weekend, I want to make sure that he hears a more partisan statement,” Jindal said, and pivoted to the mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act.

Withering coverage aside, Jindal seemed quite pleased with his performance. His staff tweeted out a link to a video of the event, and the governor triumphantly recounted the action at his next stop, a Republican party dinner in Illinois.

“I went to the president’s house and said some things about this President Obama minimum wage economy that they didn’t like to hear,” Jindal said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m not sure if he heard me at the White House, so I decided to come to his hometown to say some of those same things so maybe he’ll hear me in Chicago.”

But what, exactly, did he accomplish?

Although he reiterated oft-quoted opinions on the pipeline and health care act, most of the hubbub centered on the white flag of surrender bit.

Sure, the line about the “minimum wage economy” was catchy, but what does it even mean? The president has repeatedly said that a person who works full time should not live in poverty, and polls show a large majority of Americans agree. How does Jindal answer that, and what does he propose as an alternative?

Or was this just another attempt to find a quotable line or signature issue, something that Jindal has been doing pretty much nonstop ever since Obama’s re-election? Jindal’s lurched in too many directions to list them all here, but the effort started out with his call to Republicans to not be the “stupid party,” shifted oh-so-briefly to making birth control pills available over the counter, and has circled back repeatedly to educational choice, health care, regulation and domestic energy.

Just a few weeks ago, he traveled to the Reagan presidential library to deliver a grandiose speech alleging a “silent war” on religious liberty, in which he endorsed the idea of allowing flower shops, caterers and photographers to refuse to serve same-sex couples who are getting married.

But this week, when an actual proposal along those lines almost became law in Arizona, it quickly became clear that the measure not only threatened the state’s ability to attract business, tourism and even — gasp — the Super Bowl, but also painted Arizona as a mean-spirited, intolerant place. At the urging of the Republicans’ last two presidential nominees, GOP Gov. Jan Brewer issued a dramatic Wednesday night veto.

The upshot? When the discussion turned serious, Jindal was suddenly mum on the subject.

The thing is, Jindal’s supposed to be one of the serious ones. He’s supposed to be smarter than the average politician, someone who really understands government and policy. That, every bit as much as ideology, is why voters in Louisiana elected him in the first place.

And really, partisan bluster aside, that’s the best he has to offer rest of the country. If only he would take a little time and refocus his attention less on form and more on substance.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes.