Louisiana has always been a strange place. This is, after all, the state that once elected a convicted felon (former Gov. Edwin Edwards) over former KKK leader David Duke on the strength of the sentiment expressed on an Edwards bumper sticker: "Vote for the crook. It's important."
The state patterns its justice system on Napoleonic Law. Its major city sits below sea level. Its history is steeped in a weird combination of influences: French, Spanish, Catholicism, voodoo. Over the years, the state has spawned a bizarre parade of corrupt politicos, from die-hard socialists like Huey and Earl Long to committed incompetents like Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco - Democrats all.
But something amazing has happened in Louisiana. Bobby Jindal has been elected governor. Jindal, a 36-year-old Republican whose Indian parents came to the United States mere months before their son was born, was raised a Hindu but later converted to Christianity, becoming a Catholic as a teenager. He is pro-life, pro-family, conservative to his core and committed to cleaning up the corruption that has permeated Louisiana politics for at least a hundred years.
This man is the first non-white to be elected governor of Louisiana since reconstruction, and the first Indian American to be elected to a governorship in the history of the country. A brilliant student who went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal became head of Louisiana's Health and Human Services Department at the tender age of 24. Four years ago, in 2003, Jindal was defeated for governor by Kathleen Blanco. He went on to win a congressional seat in a landslide in 2004. He was reelected by an even larger margin (88 percent) in 2006, a supposedly Democrat year.
So what does Bobby Jindal's election as Louisiana's governor say about the future of GOP politics? As Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard" and a Fox News commentator, has said, this is very good news for Republicans.
"He's a very impressive guy," Kristol said. "It's awfully good news for Republicans. Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi, one of the two states worst hit (by Hurricane Katrina), is going to get reelected with a huge margin, and the other state which had an incompetent Democratic governor, has now elected a Republican to replace her. Republicans who make a good case for themselves can do well."
Republicans who make a good case for themselves can do well. That statement should be taken to heart by every GOP candidate, campaign manager, speechwriter, press secretary and consultant running for any office next year. And the way to make a good case for themselves is to run as unabashed conservatives.
Ronald Reagan proved that in 1980 when he ran on a platform of lowering taxes, rebuilding our military and bringing the Soviet Union to its knees.
George H. W. Bush proved it again when he said, "Read my lips: no new taxes" in 1988. Too bad he didn't mean it, which is why he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Newt Gingrich proved it in 1994 when he led the Republican Revolution by nationalizing a congressional election, using the Contract with America as the key to that lopsided victory.
When Republicans controlled the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, they lost the confidence of the American people. Voters repudiated the party last year because Republicans had stopped acting like Republicans. The GOP grew government at a rate dizzying enough to have thoroughly impressed FDR, and they failed utterly at closing our borders after the worst attack in our nation's history.
But the Democrat victory prophesied by every inside-the-beltway pundit writing or broadcasting is not a foregone conclusion. Bobby Jindal has proven that voters will give a conservative a chance to govern if they believe he or she will follow through on the promises that are made to them.