By mid-June, Louisiana was building sand berms without the approval of the federal government, in an effort to prevent the oil from hitting irreplaceable bayou ecosystems. The berms are believed to have contained no more than 1,000 barrels (out of millions of barrels spilled), and the Obama administration called them a waste of money. Jindal called the berm criticism, from Obama’s oil-spill review commission, “partisan revisionist history at taxpayer expense.” Either way, most Louisianans saluted their governor for trying something and standing up for them, as they deemed the administration and BP useless ditherers for much of the crisis.
Even today, Jindal criticizes the president in tones tame by tea-party standards but pretty disdainful by the standards of his cheery personality: “One of my frustrations [during the BP spill] was his inability or unwillingness to make quick decisions. Our president had never really run anything, other than his campaign, before he got elected president. He’s never had to make that kind of an executive decision. When you’re a governor, you’re going to have to make decisions. You’re going to be responsible for balancing the budget. You’re responsible in times of crisis — a hurricane, an oil spill, or something else, you’ve got to make the decisions. . . . Our president gives a great speech and that’s fine, but you want somebody who’s been tested and who has that executive experience.”
This year, the Louisiana portion of the Gulf Coast enjoyed one of its better summer tourism seasons in recent memory, and the oysters, shrimp, and fish collected from its waters are being widely consumed with no ill effects on health. There are lingering fears about the spill’s effect on the reproductive habits of species key to the Gulf’s fisheries, a phenomenon that will have to be monitored for years to come. (Jindal notes that when discussing the health of the ecosystem, he habitually refers to all of the Gulf’s creatures as “seafood,” whether or not they’re meant to be eaten.)
Jindal spent almost every day last summer in coastal communities, and he has managed a breakneck travel pace during his first term, usually doing at least two events each weekday and often more, the vast majority outside of Baton Rouge. Many Louisianans in rural parishes respond to his first visit pleasantly surprised and remarking that they hadn’t had a gubernatorial visit in years — and then see Jindal return again and again. Jindal and his staff believe his constant zipping around the state in his black SUV is a key element of his appeal, giving as many residents as possible a chance to tell him their concerns face to face.
Jindal, who often seems over-caffeinated, cites a barrage of facts and figures whenever he discusses the results of his policies, but he often comes back to those childhood friends who moved out of state and the out-migration trend they represented. While much ink was spilled about the exodus after Katrina, the storm only briefly accelerated that trend: For the past four years, the state has actually added population, almost 10,000 people in 2010.
If Louisiana can rebound so robustly and comprehensively from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — and, perhaps even more significant, decades of corrupt mismanagement — then perhaps no state is too far gone to salvage. It’s a sign of hope for residents of Illinois, California — and America as a whole, under this presidency gone awry.
– Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on National Review Online.