Bobby Jindal, Meet Pope Francis

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       By all accounts, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is an extremely well-educated person who was once considered to be an up-and-coming star of the Republican Party.


        Before he became involved in politics, Jindal received a Bachelor of Science in biology and public policy from Brown University thereafter earned a Master of Letters in political science from New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.  In 1996, Governor Murphy Foster appointed Jindal Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, and in 1999, he was appointed President of the University of Louisiana System. In 2001, Jindal was appointed as the principal adviser to Tommy Thompson, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services by President George W. Bush.



        In 2004, Mr. Jindal was elected as to the United States House of Representatives, reelected in 2006 and in 2007, he became the very first Indian-American to ever be elected as a governor.


       It's been all downhill since. In February of 2014, Jindal accused President Obama of appeasement and poor stewardship of the economy.  "What I worry about is that this president and the White House seem to be waving the white flag of surrender after five years under this administration," Jindal announced to reporters. "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that. I think America can do better than that."


        More recently, New York Times columnist Charles Blow reminded readers that, in January of this year, Jindal repeated a preposterous claim that parts of Europe were "no-go" zones because of Muslim extremists and recalled British Prime Minister David Cameron reply to that claim: "When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools' Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot."


       Blow also noted that on March 19th of this year Jindal appeared on Fox News to defend his statement that America "shouldn't tolerate those who want to come and try to impose some variant, or some version, of Shariah law." Jindal added that, "In America we want people who want to be Americans. We want people who want to come here. We don't say, 'You have to adopt our creed, or any particular creed,' but we do say, 'If you come here, you need to believe in American exceptionalism.'"        


       In a letter to the editor, Jindal took umbrage at Blow's comments and at recent New York Times' editorial that criticized him and other GOP governors for their failures as chief executives of their states. With regard to Jindal, the editors observed, "Mr. Jindal is blithely dealing with a looming budget gap by proposing draconian cuts of $1.2 billion. Even Louisiana Republicans were decrying a 40 percent cut for the state university until Mr. Jindal on Friday reduced that to a 6 percent cut by adjusting certain tax break programs to increase revenues. Mr. Jindal, in a recent interview with Politico, said he was proud that he had slashed the budget by a quarter and the state work force by almost a third. Mr. Walker seems no less proud of the way his new budget

avoids tax increases by relying on borrowing and spending cuts, particularly for state universities."          


        Jindal's reply tends to confirm Blow's conclusion that, "The smart-on-paper Jindal increasingly comes across as nuttier than a piece of praline." Jindal first raised the usual right-wing canard about the alleged ideological bias of the newspaper and its reporters: " Mr. Blow's column and your editorial critical of my record as governor provide good examples of how liberals at The New York Times and I have a different opinion on how to measure successful governance and what it looks like in practice."


       Jindal continued, "When I campaigned for governor seven years ago, I promised to make the government smaller and the economy larger. That's exactly what I have done. We cut taxes and reduced the size of government. In fact, the government is smaller by more than $9 billion and 30,000 workers. This fiscal responsibility resulted in eight straight upgrades by the major credit agencies. And what did lower taxes do for our economy? They spurred growth. Louisiana now has higher incomes, a larger gross domestic product, more exports, more jobs and more people than we've ever had in the history of our state. That's a record of which I am proud. I measure success not in the prosperity of government, but in the prosperity of citizens."


       Left unexplained by Jindal was how cutting $9 billion dollars in public spending improved the quality of life and public service for the average citizen of his state, nor did he explain how eliminating 30,000 public jobs reduced the overall unemployment rate in Louisiana.


       Jindal presides over a state that is, by almost all measures, a rural, third-world, low-wage state. The economy of  Louisiana, aside from tourism, some ship building and commercial fishing, is still largely dominated by oil, gas and extractive mining interests  - i.e. the production of minerals, oil and natural gas, sulfur, lime, salt, lignite; petroleum refining; chemical and petrochemical manufacturing - and agriculture. 


        According the U.S. Census Bureau data, Louisiana has fewer high school graduates than almost all other states in the union, and the number of adults who have earned a bachelor's degree or better is well below the national average, as is the number of residents who have ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. In addition, between 2008-and 2012, Louisiana's median household income lagged almost $10,000 below the national median while the number of persons living in poverty between 2008-2012 - 18.7% or almost one fifth of the states' population - was the second largest recorded number among the 50 states.


       A Gallup study reported in USA Today, February 27, 2014, descried Louisiana as the "tenth most miserable state" in the union based upon its misery index. The report summarized its findings: "Louisiana residents suffered from limited access to basic needs. Last year, nearly 9% of those surveyed in the state noted they did not have easy access to clean and safe drinking water, while nearly 12% of residents lacked easy access to medicine, both among the worst rates in the nation. Just 61.4% of respondents felt safe walking home alone at night, the lowest rate in the U.S., and significantly lower than the national rate of more than 70% who felt safe in the same circumstances. Louisiana also ranked among the lowest in healthy behaviors because of its residents' high smoking rate and limited healthy eating. As of 2010, there were 229.4 deaths due to heart disease per 100,000 people in the state, fourth-highest nationally. That same year, life expectancy at birth in the state was just 75.7 years, one of the worst figures in the nation."


       Although Jindal claims to be a conservative, to the contrary he is, in fact, an exemplar of a virulent and discredited strain of 19th century classical liberalism that still insists, all evidence to the contrary, that a competitive marketplace with minimal government regulation somehow promotes economic growth and protects personal freedom.


       Jindal is unable to reconcile this professed belief with his unwavering support for Louisiana's "right-to-work" laws. Those laws - which epitomize government inference in the most basic unit of economic organization - the work place - impair the ability of employees to organize unions and to bargain freely and collectively with management over wages and working conditions. Those laws also make it virtually impossible for agricultural workers - who are often among the most vulnerable and exploited - to ever be able to improve their standard of living through mutual, collective action.


       Gov. Bobby Jindal is also unable to explain how, given his rejection of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act, the "free-for-profit - market" is a more efficient way and effective to improve access to health care, when U.S. Census Bureau data showed that in 2011, 886,000 residents -or roughly 20% of the population of Louisiana-  were uninsured.


       Jindal's defense of minimalism and unfettered capital is is utterly alien to the authentic conservative political tradition that traces its lineage from the Greeks and Romans  through Thomas Aquinas to contemporary Catholic thinkers.  In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospel"), Pope Francis restated the historic essence of Catholic social philosophy as he called upon people of good will everywhere, believers  and non-believers alike, to work for a better, more just world.


       In unequivocal terms, the pope condemned the free market ideology that has become the conventional wisdom in today's GOP: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."


       The pope lamented that, "Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a 'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised - they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'"


        Pope Francis concluded that the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with human dignity. Passionate defenders of the status quo who are enamored of conventional wisdom - such as Governor Jindal - counter that the pope's call social justice is far too radical and that our economic needs are best served when decisions about the resources of the public are made in private, behind closed doors. 


        One would not expect Governor Jindal to agree with Pope Francis, nor would he understand the import of Anatole France's observation that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." But perhaps he might heed the advice of one sage, Neapolitan political thinker whose writings Jindal possibly read at Oxford - Niccolò Machiavelli: "He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must fall with the greatest loss."



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