MEANWHILE, whatever happened to Bobby Jindal? At one point he was the great hope of the GOP and now we hardly hear a word about him. The change dates to February 24th, 2009, when, anointed by his party, he gave a goofy speech in response to Barack Obama's first address to Congress. He was slammed by press and public alike and seemed to disappear overnight.
There are two explanations. The first is that Mr Jindal's big speech was so bad that it ruined his national profile and scuttled his presidential aspirations. Now he's back in no-man's land, just governing Louisiana. The second is that Mr Jindal dropped off the national chatter screen simply because he had turned his attention to Louisiana's tough legislative session, which ran from April 27th to June 25th this year.
These explanations are not mutually exclusive, but the second is more plausible. The speech didn't do Mr Jindal any favours, but it was only one speech, and no one expected him to beat Mr Obama in an oratorical cage match. If I were an advisor to Mr Jindal I might want him to be a little bit more public, because as it is the Kenneth-the-Page moment is the lingering impression. But if Mr Jindal does decide to throw his hat in the ring this will not be an insuperable obstacle. Arguably it will help: it is easier to exceed lowered expectations than to live up to all the hype and hopes of a flailing party.
The important thing is that Mr Jindal has, since taking office in January 2008, been an effective governor. During the campaign, for example, he promised to reform Louisiana's ethics laws, and that was one of the first things he did: the reforms were signed in March 2008. As a result, this year Louisiana leapt 43 spots in the Center for Public Integrity's rankings of standards for legislators—from 44th place to 1st. That's a tremendous jump.
Another focus of the young administration is economic development. To that end they are taking steps to show that the state is a good place to do business. In this week's paper we mention Louisiana's stance on the unemployment-insurance debate: they aren't taking federal stimulus money to expand unemployment insurance because if they expand the programme then down the line employers might have to pay more taxes for unemployment insurance. (Louisiana's strict stance here reminds me of the bit in "The Bottom Billion" in which Paul Collier, speaking of Uganda, says that a government committed to reform has to accept some pain: "The government needs to create a convincing signal of its intentions, and to do this it has to adopt reforms that are so painful that a bogus reformer is simply not prepared to adopt them." Louisiana is not Uganda, of course, but a version of the idea is applicable here.)
One other note about Mr Jindal, in light of the news of the day. His experience gives the lie to Sarah Palin's implicit claim that liberal elitists and the mainstream media are set on personally destroying anybody who imperils the cozy, cliquish white-male old-money boy's club. We hardly hear a peep about Mr Jindal's personal life. I don't even know if he has kids. Possibly because if he does he's not always using them as props in glamorous photo shoots. We hear only a little about his remarkable religious experiences, but only a little, because he doesn't generally refer to Jesus when he's explaining his political beliefs or governing decisions. Had Ms Palin gone back to Alaska after the campaign and paid attention to governing the sideshow part of life would quickly have subsided. It's like Dr Phil says, Ms Palin: you teach people how to treat you.