Time: 'Is Bobby Jindal Making Sense?'

While the media have apparently given up -- if they ever seriously attempted -- on holding the Obama administration to account for its handling of the Gulf oil spill cleanup, Republican governors in the Gulf are a different story, particularly Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, a potential 2012 presidential hopeful.

In a short post at Time.com entitled "Battlefield General: Is Bobby Jindal Making Sense?", writer Alex Altman cast doubt on Jindal's handling of the oil spill cleanup while suggesting the conservative governor is hypocritical for his complaints about Obama's handling of the disaster at the federal level:

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.)

Of course it's perfectly legitimate for journalists to raise questions about how Gulf state governors have handled their share of the BP oil spill cleanup, but Altman's piece assumes the federal government's response is virtually flawless and Jindal's disagreements with its strategy and tactics are suspect.

What's more, Altman's swipe at Jindal's conservatism distorts the true conservative position that Jindal is staking out. Jindals complaints have largely been that the Obama administration's regulatory micromanagement has gummed up cleanup efforts. It's not so much that Jindal wants the federal government to solve the problem as he wants the feds to quit hampering private industry and local governments from solving the problem due to mindless red tape.

Time is not alone in setting its sights on bashing Jindal. Last month, Newsweek's Sharon Begley took a much more stringent tone in her criticism of Louisiana's Republican governor:

Scientists are such spoilsports, always insisting on gathering data on the likely effects of a strategy before implementing it. Politicians are more inclined to just go for it, especially when they’re desperate. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is desperate: millions of gallons of BP’s crude are launching an amphibious assault on his beaches and wetlands. So let’s do the math: desperation + a pol’s “do something” mentality = a loony decision to build 14-foot sand berms to protect the state’s coastline—a decision that bodes ill for the many others the state will face as BP’s oil gushes at least until August.

Before this, Jindal was known to scientists as the governor who in 2008 signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach creationism (excuse me! “intelligent design”) in their classrooms. The difficulty he has distinguishing science from faith reared its ugly head again when he cast about for a way to hold back BP’s oil. Emissaries from Jindal’s office have made regular pilgrimages to the Netherlands to consult with engineers about protecting the state’s coasts from the next Katrina. Van Oord, a marine engineering and dredging company that is constructing the artificial Palm Islands for Dubai, proposed building what amounts to artificial sandbars. “If you ask a Dutch company that builds artificial islands in Dubai how to protect marshlands and barrier islands,” says coastal geologist Rob Young of Western Carolina University, “of course they’ll say, ‘Let’s make an offshore island!—and shall we put a palm tree on it for you?’

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When a politician is faced with an economic or social mess, the “just try something” mentality can be justified. Policies on these fronts cannot be accurately predicted for the simple reason that human behavior is involved. No amount of science can reliably forecast the effects of, say, financial or health-care reform, so a reasonable case can be made for “do something.” Not so when we’re talking about the laws of physics and chemistry rather than human behavior. In these cases, ignoring the science makes politicians seem like petulant children.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters