Jindal could save La. and his legacy, but he won't

by Lamar White Jr.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after Moody’s downgraded LSU's credit rating, panicked investors withdrew their backing of $114.5 million in bonds for the university.

It is hard to blame them: Louisiana is currently grappling with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, the result of years of fiscal mismanagement and astonishing negligence, and thus far, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the stubbornly pliant Republican super-majority in the Legislature continue to be in complete denial. The state’s flagship university is imminently imperiled. Its newly-minted president, F. King Alexander, is, prudently, preparing to file for academic exigency, the equivalent of bankruptcy, in order to insulate the damage as much as possible.

LSU is not the only school in danger: The state’s entire system of higher education is threatened. So too is the state’s already precarious and vulnerable network of public and charity hospitals, clinics, and health care providers. Earlier this year, an emergency room in Baton Rouge was forced to shut its doors; five minutes after it shuttered, a heart attack patient arrived at its front steps. Mercifully, they treated the man, and he survived. He was the last person saved by a dedicated team of doctors and nurses who took an oath to serve their neighbors, no matter what.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature should learn from this example, but they won’t. For the last seven years, emboldened by a $1 billion surplus he inherited from his Democratic predecessor and the promise of billions more in federal disaster relief funding, Bobby Jindal has single-handedly guided Louisiana to the brink of financial catastrophe.

In 2009, in the aftermath of the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, Jindal refused to accept tens of millions in federal economic stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the overwhelming majority of which was directed toward infrastructure projects. In 2010, following the passage of the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Jindal blocked billions in federal funding for Medicaid expansion, effectively shutting out more than 250,000 Louisiana citizens from accessing health insurance that would otherwise be available. He rejected millions in federal grant funding for the expansion of broadband in rural North and Central Louisiana and millions more for the construction of a commuter rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He squandered hundreds of millions in damages from BP in order to construct a series of sand berms, which had been roundly rejected as a feasible solution by geologists, marine biologists, and oceanographers and which dissipated back into the Gulf of Mexico almost as quickly as they were constructed.

When Louisiana had the chance to recover billions in damages from the oil and gas industry for their negligence in coastal erosion and environmental degradation, many of those companies had been willing to settle; Jindal, however, championed legislation designed to completely immunize the industry from liability and eventually knocked the case out of court entirely.

During his two terms as governor, Bobby Jindal has dedicated hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in order to lure major corporations into Louisiana, and he has prevented the state from collecting the 55 percent of corporate tax revenue that it leaves on the table every single year. Louisiana has absolutely nothing to show for these gimmicks, aside from the farcical rankings by big business that suggest it is suddenly one of the best places to do business in the country (primarily because the governor is willing to pay so much for so little). The state’s unemployment rate is well above the national average; its health outcomes are abysmal, its infrastructure is failing, and its education system is consistently ranked as one of the worst three or four in the nation.

Bobby Jindal could save Louisiana and his legacy, but he won’t. He could insist on increasing taxes on wealthy corporations, closing loopholes, reinstating the Stelly Tax Plan, eliminating the obscene incentives the state currently provides to the film industry, holding the oil and gas industry accountable, and accepting the billions of dollars rightfully guaranteed for Medicaid expansion. If he did, the state’s budget crisis would be over tomorrow; LSU would no longer be in jeopardy; emergency rooms could reopen; lives would be saved.

Unfortunately, that will never happen because, for some strange and pathetic reason, Bobby Jindal has long been under the illusion that he could become the next president of the United States. No one has been willing to be honest with this man since he was 24 years old. His best friends have become millionaires as a result of their association with him, and as governor, Jindal has almost exclusively surrounded himself with uneducated hucksters who traffic in Christian Dominionism, lurching from one manufactured culture war to the next. At the beginning of his first term, it was creationism in the classroom. Today, it’s the existential threat of two consenting adults of the same sex dedicating their lives to one another and attempting to avail themselves to the more than 1,100 statutory protections guaranteed to their heterosexual friends. Somewhere, perhaps it was after he cured a student with cancer after performing an exorcism on her, Bobby Jindal, the Catholic convert with Hindu parents, decided he would be even more comfortable as an evangelical protestant.

So, he now dresses in costumes of belt buckles and cowboy boots, poses in ATVs in camouflage with his wife and children for a Christian card, and pretends to be the long-lost little Hindu brother of the Robertson — “Duck Dynasty” — family.

If Willie or Phil or the certifiable uncle, Jindal’s wife, and friend Timmy stage an intervention for Jindal, it needs to go something like this: It’s not your year, Bobby. It’s time to stop being an actor and pretending to be someone you’re not.

It’s time to tell him that his portrait is comically whitened, that he looks silly and undignified, that it appears fake and inauthentic. It is time to tell him that his opposition to marriage equality and his fears of Muslim immigrants are transparently bigoted, that he is a sing-songy public speaker, that he still has a job to do, that the law matters.

And that, finally, no one thinks he has a remote chance at becoming president.

But look at this man. No one, including himself, can even recognize him anymore.