Gov. Bobby Jindal may have billed his European swing as an economic development mission on behalf of Louisiana, but his primary agenda has been obvious to anyone who’s turned on a television set, logged onto the Internet or followed his PR operation via email or social media.
Far more than state business, Jindal’s trip was all about grabbing a piece of the GOP spotlight currently being hogged by Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and what feels like a cast of thousands more. It was about proving that he too belongs at that top level of national politics and that he can hold his own on the world stage.
So how come the bigger Jindal tries to go, the smaller he looks?
His blockbuster speech in London, the one in which he set out to “Expose Truth about Radical Islam” and “Bash Hillary’s ‘Mindless Naiveté,’ ” — both characterizations that appeared in email subject lines sent out by his taxpayer-funded communications office on state of Louisiana letterhead — did accomplish one goal: It got plenty of attention.
But although the address was apparently a hit in Jindal’s own mind, the governor’s assertion that there are Muslim “no-go zones” where police and non-Muslims won’t go and where Sharia law unofficially rules, drew a flood of skepticism, not to mention outright ridicule.
“It is startling to think that any country would allow, even unofficially, for a so-called ‘no-go zone.’ The idea that a free country would allow for specific areas of its country to operate in an autonomous way that is not free and is in direct opposition to its laws is hard to fathom,” Jindal said.
But while there are certainly Muslim enclaves in Europe and some actors who refuse to assimilate, just about everyone who’s looked closely at the topic says the rumors of widespread no-go zones are vastly overblown.
Fox News went so far as to retract and apologize for allowing a so-called expert to make similar allegations on the air — allegations that prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to call the expert a “complete idiot.” And that was before Jindal gave his speech.
Facing equally rare pushback from the national media afterward, Jindal did nothing to help his case. He deflected requests for specifics by insisting he’s “heard from folks here that there are neighborhoods where women don’t feel comfortable going in without veils. ... We all know that there are neighborhoods where police are less likely to go into.”
He tried to turn reasonable questions into evidence of bias on the part of the questioners.
“I think that the radical left absolutely wants to pretend like this problem is not here,” he told CNN.
He all but congratulated himself for having the courage to say what others aren’t saying.
“I knew that by speaking the truth, we were going to make people upset,” Jindal said.
And back home, his lead political adviser, Timmy Teepell, sent out an email on behalf of Jindal’s affiliated “Stand up to Washington” PAC headlined “Liberals attacking Bobby.” It linked to an old CNN report that he claimed bolstered Jindal’s case but that also included plenty of information that undercut it. The reporter on that piece noted that the group trying to enforce self-rule was “very, very small,” that police had stepped up patrols rather than pulled back and that local Muslim leaders had condemned the practice.
Teepell also took the opportunity to ask supporters to “show your support for the Conservative movement” by writing a check.
There’s a sad irony here.
One of Jindal’s main arguments was that Muslim leaders have a responsibility to call out their own, but Jindal has never done that back home.
Not when “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson made derogatory comments about gay people and African-Americans; Jindal defended Robertson’s First Amendment rights from the rooftops but never disavowed his views.
And not when the American Family Association, which is sponsoring this weekend’s Jindal-headlined prayer rally at LSU, posted suggestions that Hurricane Katrina was somehow God’s punishment for gay marriage and abortion.
Inflaming prejudice by making questionable charges on a big stage may have gotten Jindal the notice he so clearly craves.
If he wants some respect to go with it, he might try holding the inflammatory bluster and simply leading by example.