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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Reformation Returns to Louisiana

Louisiana politics is never dull, and rarely conventional. And we’re seeing a fresh example of that in an ad being run by the state’s Democratic Party criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal for his hostility towards–you’ll never guess this one–Protestants.
The ad, part of a series aimed at cutting into Jindal’s lead over the gubernatorial field heading towards the October 20 open primary, focuses on a 1996 Jindal article published by the New Oxford Review, that hardy outlet for Catholic “traditionalist” polemics. According to the ad, Jindal called Protestants depraved, selfish and heretical. It directs viewers to a web page offering links to that and other Jindal writings on religion, much of it also from NOR.
The 1996 piece basically reads like a first draft of Catholic Apologetics For Dummies. Relying heavily on scriptural citations, Jindal trudges through a defense of Catholic teaching on such topics as justification-by-faith, tradition-versus-scripture, the sacraments, the papacy, the apostolic succession of bishops, and Rome’s claims to universality. Other than its leaden, pre-Vatican II writing style, the only jarring thing about the article is that a guy like Jindal–at the time the wunderkind secretary of health services for Louisiana–is the author.
Unsurprisingly, the Democratic ad is running in three Northern Louisiana media markets. This is a heavily Protestant (especially Baptist and Pentecostal) region, and also where Kathleen Blanco exceeded expectations in her upset win over Jindal in 2003. Indeed, Jindal and other Republicans are probably screaming bloody murder over the ad in order to make sure the heavily Catholic population of southern LA knows he’s being attacked for his fidei defensor scribblings. Since Louisiana Democrats knew they couldn’t really microtarget the ad, you have to figure they calculated that many Catholics ain’t that jazzed about old-school Catholic-Protestant polemics, either.
My own feeling is that having forced some poor grad student researcher to read back issues of the New Oxford Review, the state Democratic Party might have done better to contrast that publication’s–and for that matter, the Vatican’s–chronic hostility to the Iraq War and Bush foreign policies generally with Jindal’s thousand-percent support for same. But perhaps the whole thing is just an effort to suggest that Bobby is, well, just a strange dude, because of, not despite, his remarkably precocious career. We’re talking about a twenty-five-year old running a Medicaid program in one of America’s poorest states, who apparently has enough spare time from his day job to pen a 16th-century style theological tract for a publication considered a extreme even by other right-wing Catholics.
Louisiana Democrats are clearly trying to suggest Jindal’s “not one of us” without getting into the vieled racial issues that likely played a role in Bobby’s loss in 2003. I’m skeptical that this latest tack will work, but Jindal had best be careful that in reacting to such criticisms, he doesn’t reinforce the larger point.

5 comments on “The Reformation Returns to Louisiana

  1. Steve Feinman on

    As a transplanted Yankee, I am amazed to see how low Louisiana political tactics go. Earlier in the year Breaux floated the race
    issue for the Demo’s calling him his given Indian name rather then bobby. This effort fluttered off into space, since the use of nicknames is near as common as the use of given names among the general population.
    But, the more important notion is that the Dem’s, given the performance of the current governor, did not have much to criticize Jindal on, especially because of his leadership on Katrina in the House.
    another often overlooked point in LA politics, it seems that
    many pols chose/switch parties as a matter of convenience, rather than an sort of principle.

  2. john patton on

    One related issue that is entirely valid for Dems to point out to ordinary Catholics and Protestants is the profoundly dishonest way religious conservatives have been concealing their true theological feelings about each other in order to advance a common political agenda for a vaguely specified “Christian Nation”.
    It is entirely legitimate for moderate and progressive Protestants and Catholics as well as others to insist that religious conservatives should openly spell out how they intend to treat their political “allies” – to ask at exactly what point Protestant Fundamentalists intend to come out and openly denounce their conservative Catholic allies for theological heresy and how they would use the power of the state to prevent distortions of true Christianity such as Catholicism if their coalition ever did take power.

  3. Albert Whited on

    …And furthermore, Dems would do doubly well to steer clear of doctrinal debates. That would be as dumb as, say, getting between the Sunnis and the Shia!

  4. Albert Whited on

    LA Dems should be wary of the rhetoric of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”, since it could motivate a beleaguered GOP base. Besides, Jindal could spin his tract as a play for new investment in the state–maybe he’s angling for Tom Monaghan to bankroll an Ave Maria West!

  5. ducdebrabant on

    I shouldn’t think it would be a big deal if he called Protestants “heretical,” and “selfish” I’d want to see in context, but did he really say “depraved”? I come from a perspective where the fact that certain things have been said or done for hundreds of years is no excuse for saying and doing them now. The essay might seem quaint, since it’s so retrograde, but you can still hurt somebody with a catapult. As for trying to peel away Catholic voters by accusing Jindal of cherrypicking the Church’s teachings for political positions he happens to share, has that ever worked? Catholics do that every day. Most use birth control. Besides, it puts the Democratic party in the position of telling Catholics how to be good Catholics, which is kind of ridiculous. On the other hand, a lot of Catholics might feel their church is injured in the larger society when it doesn’t show tolerance for Protestants and calls them names. If they decide Jindal is an embarrassment to the team, they might consider him expendable.


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