Exorcism nothing to get exercised over
As parents prepare to send their kids off to college (or, rather, drive them there and move them into dorms), no doubt they worry about what dangers lurk on and off campus: binge drinking, drugs, unprotected sex, psychotic roommates, Communist professors—hazards abound.
Their fears are not wholly misplaced, for they have seen before how some crazy college experience, even innocent, can follow one the rest of his or her life. Ask Gov. Bobby Jindal.
For all the words to have rushed from his mouth and keyboard, none have been as scrutinized or might affect his future career more than an article he wrote about watching a dorm-room exorcism while a student at Brown University. Even the governor's lame national-debut TV speech in 2009 was more panned for his singsong delivery than for what he said, which no one remembers.
"Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare," which Jindal wrote for New Oxford Review in 1994, has spawned scores of news stories, columns, radio and TV commentaries, even a few YouTube videos (the governor's press secretary called one "insane"). The article now is frequently cited in speculation about its effect on his chances of becoming Mitt Romney's running mate. Responses from pundits range from "can't help" to "deal killer."
Some call it a minor strike against Jindal, compared to his inability to deliver a strategic state. Others, like LSU's Bob Mann, an author and former press secretary for top Democrats, consider the episode fatal. He reasons that Romney, whose Mormonism already is a turn-off for some Christian voters, doesn't need another religious controversy on his ticket.
For many parents, if the craziest thing their college student did was to watch an amateurish ritual in which prayers were chanted and crucifixes wielded, they would thank the Lord.
Jindal used that tack in a statement to The Associated Press: ''I wrote a lot of stuff in high school and college. While other kids were out partying, I was reading and writing. I'm sure some of that stuff is goofy. I just hope they don't review my grade school work.'' Nice try, Governor.
But while he experienced the event in college, he wrote about it when he was 23, working for a major consulting firm—only a year away from being hired to lead the largest agency in state government.
Those willing to shell out $29.95 to read the article online (the free excerpt likely has received more clicks than any other opus posted on the website) will be struck as much by his account of the ritual as by how he expresses his caring, conflicted feelings toward his platonic friend Susan, though she, allegedly possessed by the devil, sounds a bit of a drama queen.
Still unsure of what he had witnessed, in conclusion he acknowledged ''the reality of spirits, angels and other related phenomena that I can neither touch nor see.'' There is nothing wacky or wildly zealous here, for Jindal's writing only exposes a young convert's unguarded, searching spirit, his compassion and humanity, the likes of which we have not read or heard from him since. Congregants in Baptist and Pentecostal churches may have experienced the authentic Jindal, though, according to those who have heard him three or four times, he usually says the same thing the same way.
Perhaps what really holds Jindal back is not the candor of his youth but his bland, carefully scripted persona of today. Talking points have their place, but voters are still attracted to leaders they can connect with on a personal level, even if it's just a feeling. That could be Romney's greatest shortcoming in the end, despite Republican fervor to get rid of the president, and why Jindal for vice president doesn't solve the problem.
A national TV producer who once met with Jindal and later talked to me was suitably impressed with his résumé and intellect, but asked, closing her fist to her chest, "Where's the heart?"
He showed more of it 18 years ago in the New Oxford Review, even if he wishes now he hadn't. His attitude might change one day, when he's gray around the temples, after he's had the job he really wants, or realizes he won't get it, and feels that by speaking straight from the heart he has nothing to lose, if he ever did.
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