In his new book, Leadership and Crisis, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal describes a scene that will not be unfamiliar to anyone who watched the president’s December 7 press conference. It was May 28, and President Obama was on his second trip to Louisiana during the BP oil spill. During a meeting with local officials there, President Obama singled out the governor and one of the parish presidents “and told us to stop going on television and criticizing him,” Jindal recalls. Quoting the president, Jindal continues:
“I go home every night and I see on TV people saying I’m not doing anything,” he said. “I don’t need to see you guys on CNN criticizing us.” For some reason he was particularly miffed that Billy was going on with Anderson Cooper. It was the oddest conversation. Actually, it was not really a conversation. It was more like a lecture. Before we had a chance to reply and explain that this seemed to be the only way to get federal action, the president adjourned the meeting. Again, the White House seemed to focus on the wrong things. I felt like we needed to be on a wartime footing against the oil, and the president was wondering, why is everybody criticizing me? The irony is that right after that exchange, someone from the White House staff came over to prepare us for the all important photo opportunity where the president would make remarks to the national press. The staff member was insistent that I stand next to the president. But before the photographers arrived, Florida Governor Charlie Crist edged me out of the way. I was happy to yield the ground.
And that is only a taste of the candid Leadership and Crisis, which Jindal wrote along with multi-book author Peter Schweizer and aide Curt Anderson. It’s also sarcastic and self-deprecating (like his math-tournament past and that State of the Union response), and it tells compelling stories. Stories of government inefficiencies and tragedies, but stories of redemption and reform, too. In an interview with National Review Online, Governor Jindal talks about the book and more.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is your proudest accomplishment as governor?
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Making our economy one of the best in the nation and outperforming the country even during the national recession. Since taking office in 2008, we have announced economic-development wins that will create more than 38,000 new direct and indirect jobs for Louisiana workers and represent more than $7 billion in capital investment in our state. This represents thousands of Louisianans who will not have to leave our state to pursue their dreams. Both Site Selection and Pollina Corporate Real Estate recently designated Louisiana as the most improved state for business in the U.S., and Portfolio.com concluded that Louisiana ranked second-best in the U.S. in economic performance during the recession. These are the successes we must continue to build on.
LOPEZ: What frustrated you most about being governor?
GOV. JINDAL: That we will run out of time before we will run out of things to get done to move our state forward.
LOPEZ: Do you have advice for new members of the House of Representatives, where you once served?
GOV. JINDAL: Cut spending. Right away. That has to be the first priority for this new Congress. Closely after that must be to repeal Obamacare.
LOPEZ: What’s your advice to new Republican governors this year?
GOV. JINDAL: Unlike Washington, most governors are required to balance their budgets. In Louisiana, we are reforming government to live within our means. I think you will see a lot of the new Republican governors doing the same thing. You can’t spend more money than you have, and in Louisiana, that also means we are not raising taxes on our people just to keep growing government. We need to be focused on growing businesses and creating jobs. That means cutting bureaucracy and getting government out of the way so our economy can continue to compete and succeed in the global marketplace.
LOPEZ: Is the work you and Chris Christie and others are doing on education some of the most important policy work in America today?
GOV. JINDAL: Absolutely. In Louisiana we’ve invested in school-choice programs, we’ve cut red tape to let districts have more autonomy to compete with one another, and we’ve made school funding more transparent so parents can see how their tax dollars are being spent. We’ve also empowered teachers by cutting down on excessive paperwork and passed a teacher’s bill of rights to put discipline back into our classrooms.
Last year, we also put a law in place to use value-added data to improve teaching, student achievement, and communication about school performance. The law establishes standards for what students should learn in a year, then assess their results compared with other students to reward those teachers who have the most improvement in their students. This is especially important for those teachers who take on challenging subject areas or at-risk students who often need the most attention. We must reward and encourage teachers based on student performance, not just length of service.<
LOPEZ: You write that “leadership is tested in times of adversity.” Has Barack Obama, based on your experiences with him, failed as a leader thus far, based on that formulation of leadership?
GOV. JINDAL: I think that’s something the voters will have to decide at the polls in 2012. But the message we sent this past election was pretty clear. Americans are sick of the government running car companies, banks, and health care. As I write in the book, government needs to focus on a few core missions and on doing them well. I think the Obama administration wants government in all these areas where we don’t need government, and Americans are sick of it. I don’t want a bureaucrat making health-care decisions for me from some office in Washington, D.C. This is why we have to start by cutting spending and shrinking government. Remember what President Ford said: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”
LOPEZ: Did you hesitate at all writing such pointed observations about a sitting president?
GOV. JINDAL: No. It was very frustrating seeing some of the same mistakes from the federal government during Hurricane Katrina again in the federal response to the BP oil spill. It is time for the feds to learn from their mistakes and never let them happen again — here in Louisiana or anywhere else.
LOPEZ: What do you think about the Obama tax deal?
GOV. JINDAL: This isn’t a perfect deal and it’s not what I would have written, but after what we have seen the past two years with more government and more taxes, this deal is a big relief in the nick of time. We have a Democratic Congress that doesn’t leave office until January 5, taxes are set to go up on January 1 without this agreement, and once Washington raises taxes, it almost never cuts them. If we can get this through the Democratic Congress, even with its flaws, it will be the best legislation they’ve passed in two years. But, let’s be honest, it took a whipping at the polls to drag President Obama to stop a tax increase. American voters should congratulate themselves. LOPEZ: When did you decide your book would have plenty of snark?
GOV. JINDAL: I wrote the book the only way I know how — the way I talk! Plus, sometimes it helps to have a sense of humor when writing about government.
LOPEZ: You write about the failure of the 1986 amnesty bill that Ronald Reagan signed. Do we romanticize Reagan’s presidency in dangerous ways?
GOV. JINDAL: No. I think Ronald Reagan is missed more and more with each passing day for good reason. He knew the role of the federal government was to focus on doing core government functions well and then to get out of the way and let businesses fuel the American economy. That said, we must learn from history or we will be doomed to repeat it, and I think we can learn from the 1986 amnesty by being more determined than ever to start with securing our borders first. That must be the first step of any reform in immigration policy.
LOPEZ: As a governor — and one who is as clearly concerned about border security as you are — are you outraged that the U.S. Department of Justice would sue the state of Arizona for doing the job the federal government isn’t doing?
GOV. JINDAL: As I say in the book — when the federal government does not do its job, the American people take action on their own. The ultimate solution is for the federal government to fulfill its responsibility to secure our borders.
It’s like in Katrina, where volunteers came down with boats and wanted to rescue folks, but the feds would not let them. Bureaucracies fail us and then they make it illegal for us to try to work in their place. It’s ridiculous, and this is why we need our federal government to come back to its core missions — one of which is to keep our country safe by securing our borders.
LOPEZ: You write about a discussion you had with then-president Bush and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour about whether you would run for the Louisiana governorship. In that conversation, you made it clear you weren’t all that interested in other people’s opinions. Has that come from experience — being selective about who you get advice from?
GOV. JINDAL: I think I owe that to a strong prayer life. I am very thoughtful about big decisions, and when considering something really life-changing, like running for office, I spend a lot of time in prayer and in counsel with my wonderful wife, Supriya, and close friends.
LOPEZ: Speaking of prayer: How crucial has your conversion to Christianity — which you write about and certainly has been written about by others — been to your life in politics?
GOV. JINDAL: It gives me an eternal perspective — every day. In politics, it is easy to get lost in the problems of the moment and maybe make decisions you otherwise would not have made because of the pressures of time or circumstance. But knowing that I am living not for a life here on earth but for an eternity far beyond this earth is not only a comfort but a reminder of how well we must use the little time we have. Each day I pray for the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the courage to do it.
LOPEZ: Is the story of post-Katrina New Orleans a uniquely American story?
GOV. JINDAL: Yes. Even as I sit here today, I am blown away by the generosity of the American people and the perseverance of the people of Louisiana.
Communities here have now been through four storms in three years. They have endured loss together, prayed together, cried together, hoped together, and rebuilt together.
Now, New Orleans is coming back better than ever. We’re the home of the Super Bowl–champion New Orleans Saints, we’re hosting the 2013 Super Bowl, and we’ve had a huge economic win in southeast Louisiana with Nucor coming to St. James Parish.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.