The historian Richard Brookhiser made a remark about the presidents that also is relevant to holders of other executive offices. “There hasn’t been a successful second term,” he said dryly, “since James Monroe’s.”
That can be roughly translated as a warning against complacency: After four years in office, the first blush of enthusiasm for any leader can wear off. Not only one’s actions are held against one, but the public already has heard much of a leader’s rhetoric.
He has to vary the tune, a bit, to keep the audience.
But at the same time, when one is re-elected as comfortably as Gov. Bobby Jindal was, there is also the tug of the “mandate.”
What he’s been doing is working, this theory goes, and has won the test that matters most in politics, the votes of the electorate.
True, the mandate for Jindal is somewhat thin. Few voters turned out compared with a really competitive election for governor. And because the governor felt little competition, he really did not have to outline his ideas for a second term in any detail.
That is the downside of a race in which the governor’s closest competitor ran almost 50 percentage points behind. The lack of a competitive race had the natural effect of diminishing the clash of ideas that is more useful to voters than attack ads.
Sheer energy matters in politics, though.
To ward off the Brookhiser curse, Jindal has moved quickly to install a new chief of staff - Steven Waguespack - to replace Timmy Teepell, who is departing for political consulting.
And Jindal has moved, even before legislative runoffs are settled next month, to anoint his choices as president of the Senate and speaker of the House.
There also might be some tug of national politics, as the 2012 presidential election hits its stride.
At age 40, the governor’s energy and intelligence have plenty of scope for action in his home state. In a national economic downturn since 2008, many people are hurting, and their prospects are uncertain. State institutions need leadership that unites concern for the taxpayers’ dollar with a drive for outcomes that improve the quality of life of all residents in the state.
Tackling big problems, such as public education, is the best way to make a lame duck more relevant, and perhaps beat the odds of the Brookhiser curse.