WASHINGTON — Some in the media were quick to dismiss Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s speech attacking Donald Trump as the opportunistic rant of a 1 percenter.
That is, as a presidential candidate whose poll rating hovers around 1 percent. The consensus was that Jindal was trying to hook his wagon to Trump’s jet by calling him out, not to mention calling him a narcissistic, know-nothing, shallow, egomaniacal carnival act.
Whew. My memory’s not so good these days, but did I write that speech?
If getting attention fast was Jindal’s purpose, he succeeded. When one of the lowest-ranking candidates attacks the leading candidate, comments will be made. “Morning Joe” on Friday morning devoted several minutes to Jindal, his speech at the National Press Club, and his subsequent remarks about Trump’s latest insult to women.
A Rolling Stone cover story about Trump has the billionaire commenting on Carly Fiorina’s appearance as he watched her on TV.
“Look at that face!” he exclaimed. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Trump hasn’t denied the comments attributed to him, but he told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that he was speaking of Fiorina’s “persona.”
But of course he was.
Several candidates, including Hillary Clinton, condemned Trump’s remarks, but Jindal was, shall we say, the most frank.
“I think it’s pretty outrageous for him to be attacking anybody’s appearance when he looks like he’s got a squirrel sitting on his head,” Jindal said to CBS News White House Correspondent Major Garrett. Of course, Jindal was really just commenting on Trump’s hair’s persona.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been this entertained since South Carolina’s 1979 Rooster Crow-Off. (Note to Googlers: I made that up.) Not made up: I can’t believe I just wrote “squirrel sitting on his head” and editors will let it fly, so to speak.
Then again, keeping things silly and superficial is essential to Trump’s success. Jindal, whose intellectual stamina isn’t in question even if some of his policies are, was right when he said you can’t debate policy with a man who “tells us that his health care plan is going to be fabulous.”
Jindal, by comparison, was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals when he was a tyke of 25. Three years later, he became president of the University of Louisiana System, followed by an appointment as a top adviser to then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.
His political rise to the governorship, however, resulted primarily from his successful handling of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath while a congressman, as federal authorities were still flipping through the disaster rulebook. But he is perhaps best known for having urged his fellow Republicans to stop being the “party of stupid.”
No one, apparently, was listening.
Although one can understand some of the GOP’s frustrations with the status quo — politics-as-usual, a dismissive media that reflexively conflates regard for the rule-of-law (immigration) and traditional values (marriage) with xenophobia and hate, as well as recent challenges to religious freedom — the ways and means of political debate on these subjects borders at times on the cretinous.
Case in point: The grandstanding attachment of candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was exactly the wrong poster person(a) to advance religious freedom arguments. The clerk’s job is to execute the law of the land, end of story. If Davis doesn’t like the law, she can honorably resign her elected position and seek employment that doesn’t require her to compromise her convictions.
Surely both Huckabee, a former governor, and Cruz, who clerked for the chief justice of the U.S., know this, which makes their pandering all the more offensive. There are certainly legitimate contexts and arguments to be made for religious freedom, but the secular office of a county clerk isn’t one of them.
Why would any candidate align himself with the sort of ignorance that prompts someone to carry a sign comparing the U.S. Supreme Court to the Islamic State?
Because stupid sells, apparently. But party members and candidates who understand the distinctions in this and other instances have a duty to challenge erroneous representations when they are made, not with bland dispassion but with outrage equal to the offense. Otherwise, they are complicit in the eventual demise of rational conservatism.
Sometimes, it takes a 1 percenter with nothing to lose to say what’s true.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.