The apology Bobby Jindal owes all Louisianans

by Sean Illing

"You entrusted me to lead, and I was too cowardly to do it."


_[Note: The following is an imagined open letter from Gov. Bobby Jindal to the people of Louisiana. Admittedly, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Jindal would confess his political sins in the way I describe below. Perhaps months from now, when his presidential campaign becomes a farce, he’ll find the freedom to be honest, with himself and his constituents. Maybe then he’ll be able to see straight. Maybe then he’ll have no reason to carry on the charade. And maybe then he’ll be able to do some good. I doubt it, though. Instead, I expect our governor to go the way of Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin; that is to say, I expect him to become a media personality, a political celebrity.

Indeed, Jindal is likely to make thousands of dollars on the conservative lecture circuit, taking money from people in exchange for telling them precisely what they want to hear. But that’s just a guess. Time will tell, as it always does. In any case, this is a letter that Jindal should, but almost certainly never will, write. For that reason, I’ve decided to write it on his behalf. Consider it the apology Gov. Jindal owes every Louisianan.]_

Dear people of Louisiana,

I’m sorry.

You entrusted me to lead, and I was too cowardly to do it. I never set out to do what I’ve done. I never intended to debase myself for votes or money or power – yet that is what I’ve done, with impunity, for the duration of my time in office. I cannot adequately atone for this, but I will do my best to explain what happened.

I began my governorship in 2007 with high but earnest ambitions. I was a serious person. I wanted to be a transformative leader, to set an example for the rest of the country. But then something happened, something changed. I lost my way. I became a national figure, a rising star in the Republican Party. Hell, Rush Limbaugh said I was “the next Ronald Reagan.” My priorities shifted. I began to think more and more about my political future. I thought, not without cause, that I might become president one day. That, I now know, was the beginning of the end.

The truth is that once I was anointed the GOP’s golden boy, I became monomaniacal. I was determined to win the presidency. Every speech I gave, every public statement I made, every policy decision, was carefully calculated. My first thought was always: how will this play in Iowa or New Hampshire? In the midst of this madness, I forgot that the best way to campaign for president was to exercise prudent leadership in Louisiana. That was a mistake. Blinded by ambition, I got ahead of myself, turned my back on the people of Louisiana.

I’m still not entirely sure how all this happened. Maybe things really changed in 2003, when I lost to Kathleen Blanco. After that, I was transfixed by the power of identity politics. I surrendered to cynicism. Thus, when my national stock began to rise in 2008, I was prepared to do anything to win and advance. I decided to peddle my political narrative, promote my national brand, above all else. Why else would I, a biology major who was accepted into Harvard Medical School, sign the Louisiana Science Education Act? I was prepared to compromise science education in Louisiana because I believed it would improve my conservative credentials among GOP primary voters. It was an act of political nihilism. I know that now.

When my presidential campaign fails, as I know it will, I’ll reflect on my time as governor. The shame and regret will consume me, I imagine. But that’s not important now. Here I want only to say that I’m sorry, Louisianans. I’m sorry for mismanaging your state; for leaving Louisiana at the bottom of every relevant measure of health, education, and workforce development; for shirking my responsibilities; for betraying my constituents; for my political posturing and patent disingenuousness; for supporting the largest tax cuts in the state’s history despite the desperate need for revenue; for placating the rich and balancing the budget on the backs of poor people; for stealing from state reserve funds; for using religion as a political wedge; for embarrassing myself abroad; for selling myself to special interests; for shamelessly shielding the oil and gas industry from legitimate criminal prosecution; for turning your home into a campaign platform; for wrecking higher education; for decimating the state health care system; for squandering the $1 billion dollar surplus I inherited; and, perhaps most of all, for my near-sociopathic indifference to anything other than my career.

I cannot undo what I’ve done. It’s too late for that. I believe Louisiana can survive my stewardship, but it will fall to others to fix what I’ve broken.

I had my turn. I failed. You deserved better.

I’m so sorry.

Gov. Bobby Jindal

Sean Illing is an adjunct professor of political science at LSU.