Battlefield General: Is Bobby Jindal Making Sense?

By tapping into his constituents' anger toward Washington, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has watched his approval ratings skyrocket

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks to the media during an update on BP's massive oil spill.

Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes scholar with a skeletal frame, doesn't look like a battlefield commander. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, Louisiana's Republican governor has cast the fight to protect the state's coastline as a struggle for survival. "The war against the spill continues," Jindal wrote in a typical Twitter post June 21. "We will not wait on bureaucracy or wishful thinking, we will move forward."

A year after his wooden rebuttal to the 2009 State of the Union address, Jindal's aggressive response to the spill is paying dividends. In one recent poll, his approval rating in the state jumped to 74%, up 10 points since April. Unlike Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who says the Obama Administration has "done more right than wrong," Jindal has tapped into his constituents' frustrations by using Washington as a foil. He has a tendency to beseech federal authorities for help and skewer their efforts as ineffectual in the same breath. The government, he likes to say, should either "lead or get out of the way."

The notion that Washington should lead is not the only puzzling position taken by Jindal, a small-government conservative. An advocate of offshore oil exploration, he points to environmental devastation as a consequence of the government's "lack of urgency" but opposes a moratorium on deepwater drilling.

More important, in the throes of a crisis, a governor admired for his grasp of policy has sometimes sacrificed caution for speed. For weeks, Jindal blistered the government for dithering over his signature initiative, a plan to build sand berms to safeguard the state's marshland. The proposal was finally okayed despite objections raised by scientists who questioned the $360 million project's efficacy. When the Interior Department later halted the sand dredging to protect the existing barrier-island system, Jindal fumed at the "red tape and bureaucracy." On July 6, the governor railed at the Army Corps of Engineers for denying a local parish's request to protect coastal waters by constructing rock dikes. (A Corps commander said the measure might do more harm than good.)

But when Washington has provided resources, Jindal hasn't always deployed them. A CBS News study found that he had mobilized only a fraction of the National Guard troops allotted to the state. Louisiana's contingency plan to combat the spill had gaps, and Jindal slashed financing for the state oil-spill coordinator's office. Appraising whether Jindal has met his own leadership standards may be impossible, however. On June 25, citing a desire to avoid compromising future litigation against BP, he vetoed legislation that would have made public all records of the state's response to the crisis.