Calling Jindal's Bluff

Much like a beggar suspicious of a free meal, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said in a speech this week that his administration would scrutinize all stimulus funds directed at the state to confirm that there are no "strings attached". The just-signed economic stimulus legislation appropriates just under $4 billion to Louisiana and is meant to fund Medicaid, public education, road and bridge repair, and other miscellaneous expenses to reduce budget cuts.

Meanwhile, State House Speaker Jim Tucker, a fellow Republican and no doubt a loyal denizen to the governor in Baton Rouge, assured listeners that this scrutiny is in the interest of caution, not political gamesmanship. I'm going to go ahead and call their bluff. Is it not telling that Tucker felt it so necessary to issue this disclaimer? Is it not also telling that Governor Jindal, a GOP 2012 presidential hopeful, plans to reveal his findings during the much-hyped speech on February 24 in response to President Obama's first speech before Congress?

One would expect such ideological intransigence from the likes of ultra-fiscal conservative South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who has become notorious lately for his total unwillingness to fund unemployment programs in his state; but, coming from Jindal, it looks like nothing more than political posturing and puerile paranoia to reinforce his GOP credentials. This is presumably an advisable gambit for a presidential hopeful, but one cannot help but ask: what about the people of Louisiana? Surely Jindal, when his little game is up, would not actually be so bold as to refuse his state desperately needed aid.

We must wonder what Louisianans think of their "GOP prodigal son" governor's grandstanding, which is at odds with most other Republican governors around the nation, such as Florida's Charlie Crist, and which carries that subtle stench of being a cry for attention. Jindal should take a lesson from Sarah Palin's Vice Presidential run and subsequent media blitz, which resulted in more and more people asking whether she was putting her political aspirations before her current duties as governor. She has now banished herself from the limelight for the time being to concentrate on her gubernatorial duties, rather than her future delusions of grandeur.

Unlike Republican members of Congress, who fought the bill tooth and claw and ultimately voted against it, Jindal should have very different priorities for his constituents and state employees -- he does not enjoy his Capital Hill counterparts' luxury of ideological carte blanche. It is a shame that being held up as the GOP's next "prodigal son" demands such base displays of political prestidigitation. Perhaps Jindal should not take all the fire though. He is representative of a rising trend within the Republican Party that has emerged as a response to the current Democratic mandate. Republicans are now in the business of bending over backwards to emphasize -- indeed fetishize -- old-school conservatism. Jindal, having not taken part in crafting the legislation, must instead find some other venue wherein to flex his conservative muscles and make his voice heard (picture the little boy in the back of a classroom who is about to fall out of his seat trying to get the teacher's attention and show that he knows the answer to the question).

The desperation of the crisis and Jindal's own political ambitions certainly put him between a rock and a hard place. A reasonable prediction is that he will continue to vociferously express his doubt and disgust for the stimulus, but ultimately will accept the funds. Anything less would be political suicide, and surely the GOP did not pick a total crackpot for their next poster boy.