Politicians don’t make the rain come, the crops grow (or the economy, for that matter) and they don’t make storms subside. But compare the performance of Louisiana’s government under Bobby Jindal during Gustav to its performance under Kathleen Blanco during Katrina and it’s obvious why governors are so often considered more desirable presidential (and vice-presidential) candidates than are senators.
The media, especially the Washington Post, have been at pains to define Gustav as a reminder of the failures that attended Katrina, but the calm, cool, and authoritative performance of the thirtysomething Gov. Jindal makes this a different kind of story: There’s a new generation of leaders on the Right — and they’re pretty good.
This is an important development in the narrative of the campaign because the media and the Democrats have invested their hopes in a particular narrative template, using George W. Bush as a synecdoche for the Republican party and the entire conservative movement. If the rule is Conservatism = George W. Bush, then it’s easy to make the unpopular president a millstone around the neck of the entire Right. But if Conservatism = Bobby Jindal, and Conservatism = Sarah Palin, then the political calculus is different.
Stealing a rhetorical base, the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin wrote:
As it bore down on New Orleans, Hurricane Gustav evoked powerful memories of President Bush’s most colossal domestic failure.
Setting aside the question of whether Katrina represented one “colossal domestic failure” among many on the part of President Bush (“colossal” is a pretty high bar to clear, and it’s unreasonable to blame Bush for the persistent failure of local institutions in Louisiana) what’s remarkable here is the turnaround in state institutions that Jindal apparently has executed in a relatively short period of time. Jindal vs. Blanco is day and night. Even the WaPo describes Jindal’s media performances as “authoritative and extremely detail-oriented,” though the newspaper predictably fails to appreciate that these qualities are not restricted to his ability to conduct a press conference. And Jindal also shines in the implicit comparison to President Bush, who has been too ready to delegate important tasks to sometimes poorly chosen personnel and who has been occasionally paralyzed by his loyalty to underperforming deputies.
President Bush launched his career in national politics by distinguishing himself from the Right as a “compassionate conservative.” And the Right here has a chance to repay the favor by distinguishing itself from some of the shortcomings of the Bush administration — shortcomings which we should be frank about. This opportunity is one of the reasons conservatives are so enthused about the presence of Sarah Palin on the ticket. Conservatives have to own some of the things that have made President Bush unpopular. But some of them we don’t. And as we try to make those distinctions, we can count on the media to resist the effort tooth and nail, telling a story in which every day is Katrina at home and Fallujah 2004 abroad.