Jindal shifts gears on free speech

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican Convention in Grand Island, Neb., Saturday, July 14, 2012.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican Convention in Grand Island, Neb., Saturday, July 14, 2012.
In December, Phil Robertson, one of the stars of a reality-television show called "Duck Dynasty," made a series of offensive comments during an interview. A&E, the network that airs the reality show, decided to suspend him over his bigoted remarks.
Almost immediately, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) leapt to Robertson's defense. For a private business to suspend an employee, Jindal was, was an affront to the "First Amendment." As a constitutional matter, this was gibberish, but the far-right governor dug in anyway, positioning himself as a free-speech absolutist -- Americans must be able to communicate whatever message they please, without exception or consequence. "The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with," Jindal said. "This is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views."
At least, that's what Jindal thought when the controversy was over bigotry from a television personality. The governor's take on free speech is different now.

MoveOn and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) are locked in a fight over ObamaCare, billboards and free speech. Louisiana's lieutenant governor has issued a cease-and-desist order to MoveOn, arguing the liberal group is improperly using Louisiana's "Pick your passion" tourism slogan to slam Jindal's refusal to accept an expansion of Medicaid. The liberal group's billboard in Baton Rouge reads: "Louisiana! Pick your passion! But hope you don't love your health. Gov. Jindal is denying Medicaid to 242,000 people."

As the Jindal administration sees it, when a television network suspends an employee, it's an outrageous First Amendment violation, but when the government tries to restrict political speech on a billboard, that's fine.
For context, the Jindal administration is arguing that the public may find the billboards confusing. Louisiana is running a "Pick your passion" tourism campaign, and since MoveOn.org is relying on the same phrase, the argument goes, the public may mistakenly believe the state supports the billboards' message.
For its part, MoveOn.org believes their political speech is intended as satire, and is therefore covered by the First Amendment. Who's right? I'll leave this to constitutional scholars who can speak to the argument with more authority than I can.
It is amazing, though, for Jindal to position himself as a champion of free speech in the private sector, while balking at free speech in the public sector.
As for the underlying policy point, Medicaid expansion in Louisiana would bring coverage to an estimated 242,000 low-income residents. Jindal refuses to consider the idea.