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‘A Character Like Bobby Jindal’: The Unkindest Cut in President Obama’s Memoir, ‘A Promised Land’

‘A Character Like Bobby Jindal’: The Unkindest Cut in President Obama’s Memoir, ‘A Promised Land’

  • Piyush Jindal is depicted as a hypocrite who wants the Big Government to rescue his state from the Big Oil disaster even as he riles against the federal government.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico was a major crisis that President Barack Obama had to contend with early in his administration. It coincided with the tenure of Piyush ‘Bobby’ Jindal as Governor of Louisiana, which was most affected by the spill. In his just-released memoir, “A Promised Land,” President Obama details how he dealt with one of the world’s major environmental disasters, and in the process pulls up the conservative and ambitious Jindal by his lapels.

While describing his visit to Louisiana to get a firsthand look at the cleanup operations, the President writes about how he spent a good deal of time with the “smart, ambitious, Jindal, “who had leveraged his sharp-edged conservatism to become the nation’s first Indian American governor.”

Even as he admits Jindal was viewed by the Republicans as “an up-and-comer,” who was selected to deliver televised GOP response to his first address to the joint session of the Congress, President Obama quickly paints Jindal as a lackey of Big Oil and a “fervent opponent of strengthening environmental regulations.”

“But the Deepwater incident, which threatened to shut down vital Louisiana industries like commercial seafood and tourism, put him in an awkward spot,” he explains. He quickly sees through the young Jindal’s ploy to be seen as doing everything to fix the crisis before the public sentiment turns favorable to regulatory efforts in reaction to the oil spill. 

“Scrambling to get ahead of any shift in public sentiment, Jindal spent most of his time pitching me a plan to rapidly erect a barrier island—a berm—along a portion of the Louisiana coast. This, he insisted, would help keep the impending oil slick at bay. ‘We’ve already got the contractors lined up to do the job,’ he said. His tone was confident, verging on cocky, though his dark eyes betrayed a wariness, almost pain, even when he smiled. ‘We just need your help to get the Army Corps of Engineers to approve it and BP to pay for it,’” President Obama writes.

Even though he recognized the barrier island idea was “impractical, expensive, and potentially counterproductive” and knowing that the proposal was “mainly a political play” by Jindal, President Obama says he didn’t dismiss his proposals out of hand. He even views Jindal’s persistence charitably — “There was a certain nobility in such stubbornness, I thought, part of the can-do spirit that had built America.” 

“I assured the governor that the Army Corps of Engineers would give his berm plan a quick and thorough evaluation,” he writes.

But what appears to get the President’s goat is Jindal’s apparent duplicity — seeking help from the federal government, “only to put out a press release ten minutes later blasting us for ignoring Louisiana.” He says that all the governors of the states that were affected by the oil spill, including the governor of the Ruby Red Alabama, only had “good things to say about the federal response.” The lone exception was Jindal, he cites Valerie Jarrett, his senior advisor who was coordinating the federal response with the affected states, as saying.

Using the oil spill and the federal government’s response, to illustrate the Republican hypocrisy, President Obama debunks their ideological opposition to the so-called big government even as they desperately seek it’s help to fix the egregious lapses of the private sector and its inability to fix them.

For the past 30 years, he writes, “a big chunk of American voters had bought into the Republican idea that government was the problem and that business always knew better, and had elected leaders who made it their mission to gut environmental regulations, starve agency budgets, denigrate civil servants, and allow industrial polluters do whatever the hell they wanted to do.”

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The President then proceeds to castigate “a character like Jindal.”

It is hard, he says, “to take seriously any criticism from a character like Bobby Jindal, who’d done Big Oil’s bidding throughout his career and would go on to support an oil industry lawsuit trying to get a federal court to lift our temporary drilling moratorium; and that if he and other Gulf-elected officials were truly concerned about the well-being of their constituents, they’d be urging their party to stop denying the effects of climate change, since it was precisely the people of the Gulf who were the most likely to lose homes or jobs as a result of rising global temperatures.”

That may be the President’s unkindest cut.

(Bhargavi Kulkarni and Anu Ghosh also contributed to the story)

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