Jindal needs to engage in more than a war of words

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Weeks ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal joined Sen. David Vitter’s call for the government to treat the response to the Gulf Coast oil gusher as it would a war. Here’s a representative quote:

[W]e need the federal government and BP to intensify their efforts and treat this oil spill like a war. We need to be using everything we have in this fight to save our coastWe are in a war to protect our coast and failure is not an option.

You might recall that Jindal freely used war language throughout his 2007 gubernatorial campaign, saying:

This is a war… a war against corruption… a war against government incompetence, and a war against out-of-control

government spending. And, this fight will not be easy.

The danger in so much “war” rhetoric is fairly obvious: It dilutes the meaning of the most serious word in politics. If everything becomes a war, then nothing is. We cannot forget that the country is already engaged in two military

Jindal

conflicts overseas. As a congressman, Jindal was vague at times about his position on the Iraq war. And his “war record” on runaway spending is also mixed. (This year the state budget props up higher education with federal stimulus money, which Jindal criticized in a national address). Since Jindal’s combat experience is limited to observing the “spiritual warfare” of a demon attacking one of his friends in college, it’s perhaps surprising how often Jindal tosses around the word “war.”

To be sure, the Macondo-BP oil gusher is an extreme crisis. If anything aside from real military conflict calls for war declarations, it’s certainly an uncontrolled oil gusher soaking the Gulf Coast with pollution. But if Jindal wants to sport warlike rhetoric, he should be prepared to follow through. In some cases, he hasn’t. For example, as President Obama spoke from the Oval Office about the oil in the Gulf, he subtly noted that Jindal had not deployed thousands of National Guard members to the coast.

War rhetoric implies total commitment to victory, and thus can be a double-edged sword for politicians. Critics of Jindal might be emboldened to ask why the maximum allotment of National Guard members weren’t used during this oil “war.” Why is the governor not using all the weapons in his arsenal?

More importantly, politics aside, how will victory be defined in this war? Is encroaching oil the only enemy? And what about the long-term fights – health effects on humans and damage to the fisheries – that will take decades to “win”? What constitutes success –  survival?

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