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Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pandering- and floundering with evolution and fracking

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Does Gov. Bobby Jindal — a Rhodes scholar — believe in evolution? That question came up last week at a Washington, D.C. breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. Jindal ducked the question not once, but three times. "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," the governor offered in one of his dodges. "And we can talk about Common Core and why I don't believe in a national curriculum. I think local school districts should make decisions about what should be taught in their classroom. I want my kids to be exposed to the best science, the best critical thinking."

  Jindal's non-responses were a particularly awkward tightrope act because the governor, who panders to GOP evangelicals, graduated from Brown University with honors in biology and public policy. Evolution is one of the precepts of modern biology. It is taught in high schools and colleges across the country, including many faith-based schools.

  Jindal isn't a petroleum engineer, either, but that didn't stop him from bringing a 47-page white paper on U.S. energy policy from his America Next think tank to the breakfast. Titled "Organizing Around Abundance," the report was a slick repackaging of the GOP's "drill, baby, drill" policy. Jindal's paper paid particular attention to fracking, the controversial oil and gas extraction method used widely in north Louisiana and elsewhere. In another ironic twist, Jindal accused President Barack Obama's administration of being "science deniers" in regard to "America's energy resources and the potential to create good-paying jobs." Yes, the Rhodes scholar biology major who punted when asked if he believed in evolution called someone else a "science denier."

  The governor's final self-serving fillip was a series of tweets about energy policy. One of them read, "If they think that Yoko Ono and Lady Gaga should be setting U.S. energy policy, I'm happy 2 go on record denying that it's a good idea."

Jindal has done a lot of speechifying himself, and it hasn't accomplished much of anything.

  Yoko Ono? Lady Gaga? Turns out Jindal was referring to a group called Artists Against Fracking, of which the two singers are members. It might have been a stronger message if Jindal's Twitter image wasn't a photo of himself posing with the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty — a family of entertainers whose right-wing political pronouncements Jindal has slavishly embraced for his own gain.

  All this pandering has ended up looking more like political floundering, however. A CNN poll of New Hampshire Republican primary voters, taken Sept. 8-11, found Jindal once again at the bottom of a field of 12 candidates, polling at 3 percent. (The margin of error on the poll was actually larger: 5 percent.) "No one/none" and "No opinion" polled higher than Jindal, with 4 and 7 percent, respectively.

  Still, Jindal insists — despite his trips to primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire — he hasn't decided whether to run for president in 2016. At the breakfast, he pooh-poohed his dismal poll numbers, saying, "If I were to decide to run for 2016, it would have nothing to do with polls or fundraising numbers. It would simply be based on the same calculation that I made when I ran for ... Congress or governor. Do I think I could make a difference? Do I have something unique to offer in terms of my specific ideas or my experiences? Is this something that I'm supposed to be doing?"

  One thing he's "supposed" to be doing is working on Louisiana's many problems — here at home. He isn't, of course. Another thing he isn't doing is endorsing candidates in Louisiana's major races, though he frequently and enthusiastically endorses Republicans in other states. A Jindal spokesperson told The Times-Picayune last week that the governor didn't want to get involved in races with multiple Republican candidates until a runoff. Maybe so, but Jindal also doesn't want to offend the tea party wing of the GOP, which is behind Col. Rob Maness in Louisiana's closely watched U.S. Senate race. Maness is the second-highest polling Republican in that race. The frontrunner, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, already has dozens of Louisiana Republicans in his corner. Given Jindal's unpopularity here, Cassidy may have little to gain from the governor's backing anyway.

  At the breakfast last week, Jindal aimed a punch at the president that could come back to hit him in the face. "If speeches actually accomplished something," Jindal said, "we would have the best foreign policy in a generation. Unfortunately, they do not."

  Jindal has done a lot of speechifying himself, and it hasn't accomplished much of anything.

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