Many Democrats believe that they lose elections because Republicans run vicious, hard-hitting campaigns, while Democrats run clean ones. In this narrative, Republicans pry lower-income voters off from their “natural” Democratic voting patterns through a vile combination of “wedge issues,” which usually involve race-bating and woman-hating.
This Manichean view of elections is bunk, and Democrats are just as willing as Republicans (maybe more) to wallow in the mud. Democrats have used abortion and gay rights for years to move upper income voters away from their Republican voting habits. Republicans will remember the NAACP’s 2000 advertisement against George W. Bush, in which the daughter of the murdered James Byrd intoned that George Bush’s veto of hate crimes legislation was like killing her father all over again. And then there was Alex Sanders, the Democrats’ candidate to fill Strom Thurmond’s Senate seat in 2002, commenting that bachelor Lindsay Graham was “light in the loafers,” and a liberal interest group running ads calling attention to Max Baucus’s 2002 opponent’s career as hipster hairdresser in the 1970s, with the obvious intent of showing him to be gay.
But the Louisiana Democratic Party has reset the bar for nasty campaigns. In 2003, Bobby Jindal ran for election to fill the seat of Governor Mike Foster, who was term-limited. Jindal led in the polls until the very end, when Democrats went all out to play on Jindal’s ethnicity. At a rally in New Orleans, the President of College Democrats of America called Jindal an “Arab American” and Bush’s “do boy.” An ad run in the northern reaches of the state — David Duke’s best area — showed Jindal with disheveled hair and darkened skin and stated that “they” hope that “we” won’t wake up.
Jindal lost that race 52%-48% to Democrat Katherine Blanco, proven catastrophically inept in the Katrina debacle. Jindal ran as well as forecast in 2003 in the southern, heavily Catholic and ethnically diverse portion of the state, but ran behind in the northern portions, which were both more Protestant and more white. After Blanco’s poor performance in office, she dropped out of her re-election bid. Today, Jindal has an even stronger lead than he had at this point in 2003, leading Republican-turned-Democrat Walter Boasso 63%-14% in a recent poll.
The Democrats seem intent on running on a similar strategy as they did in 2003. The Democratic Party of Louisiana has been issuing press releases that refer to Jindal by his given, ethnic-sounding name of “Piyush,” in an obvious attempt to play on Jindal’s ethnicity. More recently, the Democrats have taken things a step further. An advertisement played only in the northern sections of the state, called “Religion,” features a white woman holding an article Jindal had written back in the 1990s, and telling readers that he referred to Protestants as “depraved,” “immoral,” “selfish,” and “heretical.” She refers readers to a site called “www.jindalonreligion.com.” There, readers see links to a number of articles, with selected (and selective) quotes from each article. The worst claims are that Jindal “explained how Catholicism has more merit than all other Religions” and that “non-Catholics are burdened with ‘utterly depraved minds’ and calls individuals who ignore the teachings of the Catholic church intellectually dishonest.”
These articles are behind a firewall that makes it impossible for someone not willing to pay for the ads to read them (read: most people.) But the lead article, called “Catholicism is different,” was posted on Free Republic last year. It shows that the quotes are taken badly out of context. For example, the article does refer to utterly depraved minds, but only in the context of John Calvin’s writings: “the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their ‘utterly depraved’ minds.” Jindal later refers to Calvin’s belief in man’s “utterly depraved” mind a second time, and contrasts it with Catholicism’s belief in total absolution of sins. In other words, it is simply untrue to say that Jindal called Protestants depraved; it was Protestants — sixteenth century Protestants at that — who called mankind writ large “depraved.”
Nor should it come as a surprise that Jindal believes Catholicism is superior to other religions. One would hope that a person believes his faith is correct. What is troubling is if a person believes that his faith is correct and that it means that he must kill or otherwise coerce non-believers to join that faith. This fear that Jindal will somehow impose his faith on others is what the ad seeks to play to, a strategy of anti-Catholics since the 1800s. But Jindal is explicit that this is not what he means, and writes that he is “thrilled by the recent ecumenical discussions that have resulted in Catholics and Evangelicals discovering what they have in common.” Jindal also urges Catholics to learn from things Protestants do well: “the energy and fervor that animate the Baptist and Pentecostal denominations, the stirring biblical preaching of the Lutherans and Calvinists, and the liturgical solemnity of the Anglicans.”
The Democrats’ goal is clear: Bring Jindal down to 50% in order to force a runoff after the open primary election this October, by whatever means necessary. But this may not pay off. Although the Democrats have run the advertisement only in northern Louisiana, voters in the heavily Catholic south are hearing about it. The story is grabbing national attention as well, as veteran independent campaign analyst Stu Rothenberg has called the ad “one of the hardest hitting . . . television ads aired in history.” Even liberal websites such as Crooked Timber have expressed their discomfort with the campaign.
This advertisement likely does not hurt Jindal that much, though he may eventually find himself in a runoff. It does present opportunities for Republicans to go on the offense, though , and not just in Louisiana. When David Duke received the Republican nomination for Governor and Senate in the early 1990s, Democrats delighted in forcing Republicans to attack someone who had won their nomination, which most Republicans did.
Republicans now have a chance to ask Democrats in Louisiana and outside of it whether they will condemn the Louisiana Democratic Party for making an issue of Jindal’s religion.