Are there some lines that a presidential candidate, even one unlucky enough to run in an era when outrageousness reaps only reward, simply can’t cross?
Let’s hope so. And let’s hope that Gov. Bobby Jindal, a candidate so blinded by his quest for attention, has finally stumbled across it.
Jindal, who long ago abandoned the conciliatory tone that helped fuel his rapid rise in Louisiana politics, has said some shockingly mean-spirited things before. But nothing compares to his recent tirade about the latest mass shooting, which resulted in the deaths of nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
On his website, Jindal singles out the casual violence in popular culture, which is fair enough if he’d stopped there. But, of course, he didn’t.
The governor went on to blame broken families, neglecting to note that many children of divorce overcome difficult upbringings and turn out fine. But far, far worse were his comments about shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer’s father, who’d had the audacity to call for solutions in the wake of the tragedy.
“This killer’s father is now lecturing us on the need for gun control, and he says he has no idea how or where his son got the guns,” Jindal wrote. “Of course, he doesn’t know. You know why he doesn’t know? Because he is not, and has never been, in his son’s life. He’s a complete failure as a father; he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public. He’s the problem here. He brags that he has never held a gun in his life and that he had no idea that his son had any guns. Why didn’t he know? Because he failed to raise his son. He should be ashamed of himself, and he owes us all an apology.”
All this ugliness was aimed at a man who must be experiencing unspeakable guilt and grief, one whom Jindal does not know, despite his declared expertise on his parenting skills.
Meanwhile, the shooter’s mother, who shared his fascination with guns, got a pass. And the people grappling with the problem who have a different takeaway, those who favor things such as more aggressive background checks, or limiting the number of weapons a person can own, or restricting high-capacity magazines, earned only ridicule in Jindal’s mind.
Amazingly enough, this wasn’t even the most appalling take on the tragedy to come from a Republican candidate. Ben Carson drew even more headlines by blaming the victims themselves.
“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday. “I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’ ”
It’s all enough to make Jeb Bush’s “stuff happens” comment seem downright sensitive.
As usual, Jindal cloaked his argument in self-congratulation and cast himself as the most courageous of the GOP’s many candidates.
“I will warn you in advance that this is going to be a sermon, but someone needs to speak the truth for a change,” he wrote.
But OK, let’s take him at his word for a moment. He wants the truth? Here are some things that are demonstrably factual.
Most Americans favor sensible measures to try to get a handle on guns. Universal background checks, for example, drew support from 93 percent of respondents, including 90 percent of Republicans, in one recent Quinnipiac national survey. Such a measure failed to pass the U.S. Senate in 2013, soon after the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Ronald Reagan, patron saint of GOP politics, did, too, despite opposition by the powerful National Rifle Association. He pushed for passage of the Brady Law, which was named in honor of the press secretary who was gravely injured during an assassination attempt against Reagan and which became law under President Bill Clinton.
And here’s something else that appears to be true: Distance from politics has a way of clearing heads.
That’s apparently what happened to former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey, of Arkansas, who authored the amendment blocking federal funding for public health research on gun violence nearly two decades ago, a move he now acknowledges had a chilling effect. Dickey recently told the Huffington Post that he regrets the role he played in preventing experts from gaining a better understanding of the problem’s real roots — as opposed to those Jindal imagines.
“I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” he said. “If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment.”
Will Jindal, Carson and the rest also look back years from now and see that they’d gone too far? Maybe.
But I wonder how much more reprehensible rhetoric we’ll need to hear until then.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com.
Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.