The Return Of Bobby Jindal

The health care debate has brought us a lot of things: industry execs gathered at the White House, town-halls, a national day of service, and a head-on confrontation between President Obama and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)...but not to be overlooked is the return of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

Today, Jindal penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the latest in a string of public appearances and speakings out that have brought him back into the national spotlight this week after a long hiatus, during which some concluded that his star in the GOP had fallen.

It's probably no coincidence that the policy-minded Jindal has returned to the stage for what will likely be the most complicated policy debate of Obama's first term. In several national TV appearances this week, Jindal has used his intrinsic wonkiness to espouse small-government philosophy on health care, citing statistics and venturing into the weeds of policy where, in the realm of health reform especially, others fear to tread.

It seems as good a moment as any for Jindal.

Democrats this week have blasted the GOP for practicing political gamesmanship, making a showcase of DeMint and alleging a partisan defeatism by Republicans that's devoid of any constructivity. It's the "party of no" theme, and Democrats have scored their points.

This week saw RNC Chairman Michael Steele get mocked by liberals after an appearance at the National Press Club, in which he came out strongly against Obama's health reform initiative but admitted "I don't do policy." Steele seemed to, by some accounts, (though it's unfair to say for sure) demonstrate an unfamiliarity with the concept of an individual mandate (a requirement that individuals acquire health coverage), which has been a cornerstone of the health debate since the Democratic primary, at least. We also saw Obama personally accuse DeMint of empty political malice, as he responded to DeMint's comment that the GOP could "break" Obama by blocking health care reform, making it the president's "Waterloo." "This isn't about me," Obama declared, insinuating Republican pettiness.

So where was the GOP's wiz-kid of small-government policy, as these accusations of vapid political posturing were being leveled? Coincidentally, Bobby Jindal was undertaking a comeback tour of sourts after months out of the limelight, following his poorly received response to Obama's January address to Congress (which the White House didn't call a "State of the Union"). Before that speech, Jindal was touted as a top prospect for the GOP ticket in 2012--the rising star in the Republican Party; afterward, not as much.

Since then, his national-level appearances had been scant. He made an appearance on "Today" and another on "Good Morning America" as well as a couple other networks. But he had fallen off the national political radar, to an extent. As fellow Republican stars Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Eric Cantor, Rick Perry, and Mark Sanford (pre-scandal) drew attention by talking about national issues, Jindal tended to Louisiana business and forewent national media appearances entirely during the state's legislative session.

Eventually, people stopped talking about his prospects for 2012.

But Jindal returned this week to blast Democrats' health reform plans in an appearance on CNN, two more on Fox News, and in an op-ed for Politico Monday, as well as in today's WSJ piece. According to his office, more TV appearances are likely to follow in the coming days.

In all instances, Jindal has offered a slightly wonkier edge on health reform than some of his Republican cohorts, like DeMint and Steele--though not wonkier than those who are in the dry weeds of policy themselves in Congress, like Sens. Judd Gregg and Chuck Grassley, who routinely field questions about the funding intricacies being negotiated.

Jindal has not been afraid to get into policy, statistics, and details.

On Fox's "Hannity," Jindal railed against the expansion of government, as many conservatives do, while backing up his talk by citing a Heritage Foundation projection that, under Democratic reforms, marginal tax rates at the high-end of the income spectrum could climb higher than in European countries. On CNN, he cited Dartmouth statistics indicating higher Medicare spending doesn't necessarily improve quality of care, and he parsed the fundamental similarity between the terms "government-run health care" and a "government-run insurance" deftly when John Roberts of "American Morning" pressed him, bringing the discussion back to a study by the Lewin Group on how many Americans would leave their private insurance coverage for the government plan, a study he references in today's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Unlike the much-criticized Steele, Jindal is a policy guy. This week, he's stepped into the role of high-profile GOP spokesman, a typically political role, and his attacks on Democrats' efforts have been broad and political. But as a guy who can talk policy, he carries more gravitas than Steele or DeMint, and he isn't afraid to verge into wonkishness.

In today's Wall Street Journal op-ed, Jindal provides seven bullet-pointed policy areas on which Republicans and Democrats can agree, a blueprint for how to "make health-care reform bipartisan." They're not out there in the weedy province of the Senate Finance Committee, but they go well beyond the attack lines of "government takeover."

When asked about the timing of Jindal's re-emergence, Jindal's communications director, Melissa Sellers, said, "The Governor has an extensive background in health care and he is troubled by the government-run health care plan that Speaker Pelosi is trying to quickly push through Congress, as it would mean an estimated up to 100 million people would leave their private plans for government-run care, while also raising taxes and again dramatically increasing federal debt and spending."

Republicans have taken their lumps for not talking enough policy this week, and it should be noted that health care is a particularly difficult issue to talk about. Just listen to Grassley talk about marginal tax rates, and note that funding is only half of the health care debate; there are whole universes of wonkishness in payment rates, individual mandate and guaranteed issue, and co-op plans vs. strong public options that don't even get touched.

Jindal has apparently chosen health care as a moment to venture back into the national political fore after being criticized for a perceived lack of charisma in his State of the Union response. As the ins and outs of health reform demand a genuine handle on both fiscal and regulatory policy, it's little wonder that this is the chosen moment for Jindal, who seems to actually enjoy the weeds.