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The Therapy Sessions
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Why I Love This Country

Things like this:
Bobby Jindal's Rise
Louisiana's next governor may be an Indian-American Republican.

California isn't the only state with an interesting governor's race this year. Republican Bobby Jindal, the son of immigrants from India who placed first in Louisiana's all-party primary for governor Saturday, was so unknown in the state that he wasn't even included in the first statewide poll on the race last January. But the former Rhodes Scholar will now face a runoff on Nov. 15 against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat.

The 32-year-old Mr. Jindal he had already impressed many in the state's elites with his intelligence and administrative ability. He became the head of the state's health-care system at age 24, director of the Breaux-Thomas national commission on Medicare at 26, president of the University of Louisiana system at 27, and a top adviser on health policy to President Bush at 29...

...He is the rare policy wonk who can easily make the transition into politics. In his first month after he announced, he raised $538,000, he appeared constantly on talk radio shows touting his conservative agenda, and he steadily rose in the polls to eclipse all other Republicans. He won 33% in Saturday's primary, with Ms. Blanco finishing second with 18%.

The young Mr. Jindal faced enormous skepticism that a person with dark skin could succeed in Louisiana, a state in which David Duke was the runner-up for governor just a dozen years ago...

...But the candidate has already confounded experts who predicted he would never make it past the primary. "What he's done so far has been amazing," says Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. Mr. Jindal scored points by touting his political inexperience: "I'm not a politician, I'm a problem solver." His impressive machine-gun like recitations of how he would shake up state government and attract industry became the highlight of candidate debates.

He treats his Indian background as an overall plus but won't trade on it. He left the space for "race" on his qualifying papers blank and attacks the division of people along racial lines. "I'm against all quotas, all set-asides," he says. "America is the greatest. We got ahead by hard work. We shouldn't respond to every problem with a government program. Here, anyone can succeed."

Mr. Jindal certainly has. He was born in Baton Rouge in 1971, shortly after his parents moved to the U.S. His father took a job as an engineer at Exxon so that Bobby's mother could earn a degree in nuclear physics at Louisiana State University. At the age of four he dropped "Piyush" as his first name in favor or "Bobby" after a character on "The Brady Bunch." He was raised a Hindu but converted to Catholicism at Brown University. He was admitted to medical school but dropped plans to be a doctor after winning a Rhodes Scholarship. His academic background in health-care administration impressed Gov. Mike Foster, who named him to head the state's $4 billion Department of Health and Hospitals. Mr. Jindal imposed budget discipline and rooted out so much fraud that he was able to turn the state's $400 million Medicaid deficit into a surplus.

I love immigrants. Oddly, they remind Americans who we are.

Anyone who says immigration is bad for the US ought to get to know some of the people I work with. They are brilliant.

The Nobel Prizes are currently being awarded. Americans are doing quite well, winning prizes in physics, economics, chemistry and medicine.

But look closely: most of those winning weren't born in the US. They came here to do their brilliant work (an exception to the "brilliant work" part comes when you get to the horrid Nobel Peace Prize, which has been an Award-A-FoolTM prize for years.)

The US is like a baseball team that many of the best players want to play for.

I say let them in.

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