Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal faced the scrutiny of a large oval table of journalists this morning at the St. Regis hotel a hop, skip and jump from the White House, a place he might hope to be someday. For Monday morning, however, it was scrambled eggs with reporters at the famed Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
While Jindal wanted to talk about his education plan, reporters wanted to talk about his presidential aspirations.
Controversy erupted on social media last week when a Louisiana blogger, Lamar White, released a portrait of Jindal that makes the Indian American look decidedly white. What followed was Jindal’s chief of staff, Kyle Plotkin, accusing the blogger of “race baiting.” What’s more, Plotkin asserted that it’s not the governor’s “official portrait” and that it’s on loan from a constituent who painted it.
So The Daily Caller‘s Mirror blog asked him about it. Q: “Last week there was a controversy concerning your office about a portrait. Kyle Plotkin, your chief of staff, claimed a blogger was ‘race baiting’ by sending out a portrait that made you look white. Do you agree with the assessment? And how do you feel about the painting? Do you think it looks like you?”
Quoting Richard Pryor, Jindal replied, “You mean I’m not white?”
He told me he’d give me permission to write in all my stories that he’s not white. “I think this whole thing is silly,” he said. “I think the left is obsessed by race. The dumbest thing we can do is try to divide people by the color of their skin. This is nonsense.. Look, I know that any country…dividing people by the color of their skin…is one of the dumbest ways [for people to interact]. It’s time to move beyond this.”
When it became clear that he wasn’t going to answer my question, I asked again: “Do you agree with your chief of staff that this was race baiting?”
Once again, Jindal dodged. “I didn’t see the tweets,” he said. “I have a day job to run [my state]. Folks that try to divide by the color of the skin is silly. …You can write in every article that you write that I’m not white. I haven’t met the artist. The painting will go back to her.”
Even with MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt in the room, the governor stated MSNBC recently said something that was ridiculous about Jindal and race. He stayed in sweeping generalities and wouldn’t get specific.
What he was referring to was Arsalan Iftikhar, a human rights attorney who appeared on MSNBC a few weeks ago, who said Jindal’s support of a Muslim “no go zone” theory was really the governor “trying to scrub some of the brown off his skin” to make himself more attractive among the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls.
But what was really astonishing at the fancy breakfast was Jindal’s refusal to take his own chief of staff’s racial accusations seriously or use this as a moment and his own personal experience to discuss race as it relates to deep divides in this country.
The fact is, the portrait didn’t become a debacle until Plotkin publicly accused the blogger of race baiting by sending out the picture over Twitter. The painting originally sparked attention because it clearly makes the governor look white.
Does Jindal agree with his chief of staff’s assessment or not?
Who knows because he refused to really answer the question. Saying you didn’t read a person’s tweets is not an answer. He clearly knows what happened and should be aware that his chief of staff made such a bold accusation.
The blogger never said a word about race. What’s more, the portrait obviously looked nothing like him.
Still, Plotkin threw a fit, saying this painting was not Jindal’s “official portrait.”
Jindal also deflected questions pertaining to a potential presidential run. “Trust me, when I do make a decision it won’t be a secret,” he said. “For me, it won’t be about fundraising, polls or fundraisers.”
As with many politicians, ignoring reporters’ specific questions is an art form that goes with the territory.
It’s too bad that Jindal, as pleasant as he is, isn’t an exception on this front.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor.