While Clintonian in manner, knowledge and political sophistication, Jindal is not ideologically malleable. His high-pressure Asian-immigrant background has clearly taught him not to blend in but to stand out. He has tended to join small, beleaguered minorities -- such as the College Republicans at Brown University. He converted to a traditionalist Catholicism, in a nation where anti-Catholicism has been called "the last acceptable prejudice." Jindal, sometimes accused of excessive assimilation, has actually shown a restless, countercultural, intellectual independence.
But this has earned him some unexpected enthusiasm. In Louisiana, Jindal is the darling of evangelical and charismatic churches, where he often tells his conversion story. One Louisiana Republican official has commented, "People think of Bobby Jindal as one of us." Consider that a moment. In some of the most conservative Protestant communities, in one of the most conservative states in America, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, a strong Catholic with parents from Punjab, is considered "one of us."
This is a large political achievement. It is also an indication of what has been called the "ecumenism of the trenches" -- the remarkable alliance between evangelicals and Catholics on moral issues such as abortion and family values against an aggressive secularism. Two or three hundred years ago, the Protestant/Catholic divide remained a source of violence. Two or three decades ago, many conservative Protestant churches questioned if Catholics were properly considered Christians. If Jindal runs for president in three or seven years, he will be widely viewed as an evangelical choice.
Ultimately, however, Jindal is a problem-solving wonk, fond of explaining 31-point policy plans (his state ethics reform proposal actually had 31 points). This can have disadvantages -- a lack of human connection and organizing vision. But this approach also has advantages. Jindal is a genuine policy innovator. "His reforms," says Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, "are the only constructive thing Republicans are doing on health care anywhere."
And Jindal's resume, intellectual confidence and command of policy make him the anti-Palin. Fairly or unfairly, media and intellectual elites (including some conservative elites) regard Gov. Sarah Palin as the inhabitant of another cultural planet. Jindal, while also religious and conservative, speaks the language of the knowledge class and will not be easily caricatured or dismissed. To journalists, policy experts and Rhodes Scholars, Jindal is also "one of us."
At this point in the election cycle, no Republican can be considered more than the flavor of the month. But this is an appealing one.