Washington, D.C. — He’s so clean he can’t even accept a routine coffee mug.
At the National Press Club on Friday, just days after Reverend Jeremiah Wright appeared in the same spot, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced: “I don’t intend on being as entertaining or as newsworthy as Reverend Wright.”
But, sure enough, before the end of his luncheon appearance, Jindal proved to be as interesting as they come. Whereas not too long ago, the prospect of a Cajun politician being too honest he couldn’t even accept a coffee mug would have been laughable — or, as the governor himself said, putting Louisiana and ethics reform together would have sounded like material for a Washington correspondents’ dinner skit — Jindal is anything but a joke. The reformer governor made it a point to let the Beltway crowd know ethics reform is alive and well and brooks no exception: A Press Club mug would be accepted by Jindal on the state’s behalf, no gubernatorial perk — even if he sang for his lunch.
In other words: The funniest thing about Jindal laying on the jokes about being boring is that he is anything but.
A week away from a McCain stop in Louisiana, the crowd was abuzz with questions about the possibility of Jindal, the nation’s youngest governor (36) running as the Republican vice-presidential nominee this year. But listening to the nation’s youngest governor, you know the only place Jindal is going is home. He revisits a joke from his Jay Leno appearance earlier in the week when asked the veep question: Saying “no” to the possibility of being on the GOP ticket “would be like saying I’m not going with that pretty girl to the prom before she asks you.” But it’s no joke to Jindal. He insists that “I’ve got the job I want. This is a historic time for Louisiana. I want to be a part of that.”
That Jindal does not look at his job as governor as “a stepping stone” for higher ambition makes him, of course, all the more attractive to a national conservative audience. It also helps that Rush Limbaugh has said of Jindal: “He is the next Ronald Reagan, if he doesn’t change. Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana, is the next Ronald Reagan. He’s young. He was just sworn in for his first term. He’s the guy that beat the liberal Democrat machine throughout Louisiana. He did it on 100-percent conservatism.”
So far, there’s no change. Talking about fiscal responsibility to the Washington press, Jindal talks like what other pols might reserve for a conservative think-tank audience: “If you want to discourage something, tax it. If you want to encourage it, don’t tax it.” During the Q&A portion of the lunch, Jindal shows emotion as he gives a Katrina example of the lethal danger that government bureaucracy can pose. Before the speech, in conversation, Jindal, a former congressman, reminded me — with a real concern that conservatives in Washington might not yet get it — that Republicans lost in 2006 because we forgot our principles.
There’s a sense of urgency and passion to Jindal. A sense that he is overflowing with ideas — on education, the economy, levees, you name it — and will waste no time in implementing them, with some evangelizing along the way. As he tells the Press Club crowd, Louisiana “should be running rings around other states.” And if he has anything to say about it, it will. As governor, he presides over “the best opportunity in our lifetimes to fix our state.” With enthusiasm, Jindal announces about his state: “We have the chance to rebuild better than it was before.” He’s ready to go nowhere but home right now. He insisted: “I’ve got the best job in the world.” And added: “My prediction is: I’ll be running for reelection.”
And thank goodness for that. At a time when conservatives are hungry for a jolt of Right energy, Jindal is exactly that. Echoing the leader of his state’s GOP, John Kennedy — a Republican candidate for Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat — told me earlier in the week: “The Republican party is the party of reform in Louisiana.” And knowing the nation is watching post-Katrina Louisiana, Jindal clearly wants others to learn from the example.
And there is a nation of anxious conservatives receptive to the political gospel Jindal preaches and the model he’s building in Louisiana. Talk to conservatives — Washington insiders and National Review Online readers alike — and you’ll almost universally hear an enthusiasm for Jindal: a conservative Republican who knows what he’s about and is confident it’s a winning philosophy. Jindal represents the future of the conservative movement for many who hunger for principles, ideas, and competence. To the Press Club crowd, exuding an appreciation for and love of American generosity and ingenuity, Jindal made clear he’s focused on the job at hand, adding that his tenure is “not about Governor Jindal. This is about Louisiana.” He said: “The legacy I want to leave is a legacy of effective leadership.” Preach it, Governor. But even better: Continue to practice it. We’ll see you back in Washington when you’ve got the job done.