If Hurricane Gustav has any lasting power of significance–and we may thank a merciful God that its destructive power appears to have been very minimal in nature–it will be that it shows us just how calm, how cool, how collected and how utterly up to the task of commanding a great enterprise in a time of crisis Governor Bobby Jindal really is
He talks about “helo assets,” military-speak for helicopters. He delivers recovery statistics rapid-fire. And in a nod to local sporting passions, he frequently resorts to football analogies.
“The evacuation was the pregame,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced at a press conference Tuesday, appearing calm and unruffled amid the commotion of Hurricane Gustav. “We’re not yet at halftime. We have a lot more work ahead of us.”
Thrust in the spotlight by Gustav, Jindal, 37, a political whiz kid in office for all of eight months, is asserting mastery over his state’s response to the natural disaster — just the sort that can have serious consequences for politicians.
Three years ago, Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D), sometimes seemed overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina, nervous and frowning before the cameras. Her popularity slumped afterward, and she chose not to run for reelection.
Now Jindal, a rising star in the Republican Party whose name was once bandied about as a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), is at the helm as Louisiana weathers Gustav. He had been scheduled to address the Republican National Convention but canceled his plans as the storm loomed.
“Bobby Jindal has been pitch perfect during Gustav,” said Douglas Brinkley, who wrote “The Great Deluge,” which describes the chaos after Katrina. “He promised to be a hands-on administrator, and I think he delivered. He had such an easy factual grasp of the situation. It’s almost the exact opposite of Blanco and [New Orleans Mayor C. Ray] Nagin during Katrina.”
I saw one of Jindal’s press conferences. It was outstanding. He was completely on top of the situation, entirely reassuring towards the people of Louisiana and a firehose when it came to dispensing information. At the same time, he dispensed that information in a very controlled, direct and organized fashion. It was a masterful brief by a masterful briefer; highly informative and highly honest. The people around him–including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff–looked as if they were in awe.
Bobby Jindal shows himself repeatedly to possess all of the knowledge of a technocrat, all of the raw intelligence of the Rhodes Scholar he was and all of the political savvy of the seasoned leader that he is. A leader who can set the political situation in Louisiana right after decades of neglect and corruption. A leader who can restore confidence after what Louisianans went through in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And a leader who can translate his obvious gifts onto the national stage; something one can only earnestly hope will happen soon.
And just in case it is necessary to point this out: This masterful performance was not a one-time fluke.