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An Armchair Psychologist Analyzes Bobby Jindal

What's eating Bobby Jindal?

On Wednesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal opened a new front in his one-man war on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Jindal filed a lawsuit [see complaint below] in federal court that accuses the U.S. Department of Education of violating the Tenth Amendment by essentially forcing states to adopt the standards. Yesterday’s lawsuit comes just one week after a Louisiana judge issued an injunction lifting the Jindal Administration’s suspension of the state’s contracts for the Common Core-aligned PARCC test.

Jindal’s latest move against CCSS raises two important questions:

Q1: Is Bobby Jindal unaware that Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Alaska never adopted Common Core?

Admittedly, it’s hard to believe Jindal doesn’t know that Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Alaska originally opted out of CCSS, especially since he’s spending so much political capital on the issue. On the other hand, since this fact totally undermines Jindal’s argument that CCSS was forced on states, perhaps it’s worth asking.

Jindal's argument is undermined by the fact Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Alaska never adopted CCSS.
Jindal’s argument is undermined by the fact Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Alaska never adopted CCSS (FYI: Minnesota only adopted the English standards, not math).

Q2: Is deep-seated insecurity driving Jindal’s fight against Common Core?

OK, this one’s a bit “out there,” so bear with me while I explain…

It’s no secret that Bobby Jindal’s sudden shift from CCSS supporter to opponent is aimed at bolstering his standing among conservatives ahead of the GOP presidential primaries. Given his political aspirations, once Tea Partiers revealed Common Core was a socialist plot to brainwash America’s children, it was only a matter of time before Jindal started to backpedal on the standards. Thus when Jindal threw his support behind several anti-CCSS proposals during this year’s legislative session, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Rather, it was assumed that once these bills were rejected by lawmakers, Jindal would walk away, claim he took a principled stand against Common Core, and leave it at that.

So why hasn’t he dropped it and moved on? Why has Jindal instead attempted to unilaterally kill Common Core and PARCC – in defiance of the legislature and state board – until his effort was sidelined in court last week? In addition, why is he now launching an entirely new court battle over CCSS that will accomplish little more than throwing taxpayers’ money out the window? As Bellwether’s Anne Hyslop noted in an interview with Politico, “Gov. Jindal has made his point 10 times over that he is no fan of Common Core, but at this point, he isn’t breaking any new ground.”

Bobby Jindal holds press conference to announce he's going to overboard with this Common Core thing.
Bobby Jindal holds press conference to announce he’s going to overboard with this Common Core thing.

Anne’s right: from a strategic standpoint, Jindal’s refusal to yield on Common Core doesn’t make logical sense. As much as one hates to admit it, Jindal is obviously an intelligent person (see: Brown, Rhodes, two-terms, etc.). He must know that his opposition to Common Core isn’t going to be the deciding factor that propels him to the top of the GOP ticket. Moreover, by the time primaries roll around, it’s doubtful CCSS will be the hot-button issue it is today, so it’s unclear how much real mileage Jindal can gain from it. In short, Common Core doesn’t seem like a hill worth dying on, and yet Jindal is charging up the slope in a full frontal assault on CCSS.

On the other hand, this stubborn fight against CCSS fits a regrettable pattern of behavior Jindal has exhibited over the years; specifically, his propensity for going overboard with ill-advised political stunts. Whether he’s mocking volcano monitoring in his response to the State of the Union, chastising his own party for bedwetting and navelgazing, or killing a feel-good bipartisan vibe on the White House lawn, time and again we’ve seen Jindal jettison self-restraint in an attempt to steal the spotlight, only to have it blow up in his face. It’s as if Jindal is driven by a desperate need to keep proving himself by being more critical, more outspoken, and more extreme than anyone else, and in the process, he loses sight of the big picture.1


While it’s possible that Jindal’s Common Core battle is winning over converts on the far right, it’s also coming at the expense of his potential supporters in the broad middle, who see Jindal’s actions for what they are: politically-motivated and several steps too far. Furthermore, it isn’t helping his already dismal approval ratings in Louisiana (currently polling around 30%), where folks just want Jindal to give it a rest, so public schools can get on with job of educating kids.

As long-time political journalist and commentator Elizabeth Drew once noted, “Feel is very, very important in politics, especially in a president.” Jindal’s latest salvo against Common Core makes it painfully clear that he’s lost his sense of touch.

  1. Interesting Freudian aside: During his press conference announcing his plan to pull out of Common Core and PARCC, he said: “Personally speaking, when my brother and I would bring home grades of 95%, my dad would always ask, ‘What happened to the other 5%?'” Translation: Daddy was never thought I was good enough? 

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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