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Jindal’s Charlotte Speech: The Analysis


If you missed Bobby Jindal’s keynote speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Charlotte last night, we had a text of it and C-SPAN has the archived video.

It was a relatively important speech, though that doesn’t necessarily make Jindal a first-tier 2016 presidential candidate. More on that later.

What Jindal offers is a move toward a more constitutional conservatism, one with far less reliance on Washington as a center of policy. Jindal, in fact, disparaged Washington in no uncertain terms in the speech…

In our public discourse today, America is pretty much defined by government, by the latest moves that occur in Washington.

If you landed from outer space…and read the news…and watched TV for a week…you would have to conclude that Washington is the hub of America and that what happens in Washington is what drives and dictates the success or failure of America.

In addition to Washington, there are a bunch of outlying areas we call states, but they are pretty much just adjuncts of the federal government.

This is not the idea of America. But…this is what America will become if we do not reorient our way of thinking right away.

There are echoes of Rick Perry’s 2012 message in this. Perry’s major campaign promise was that he’d make Washington as “inconsequential as possible to your life,” which is an excellent approach considering that virtually nobody thinks Washington is any good.

There were also echoes of some other pieces of thought which have been rolling around out there that we’ve picked up on in recent weeks. In December, historian James Piereson gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute developing an idea he’s had for a couple of years to the effect that we’re coming to the end of an era in American politics that began in the 1930′s and was marked by the development of a big government, a welfare state and interest-group politics, and moving into…something else. Bill Whittle built on that thinking and incorporated some things Rep. Thad McCotter has been saying about how the welfare state is a product of the Industrial Age, and since the governmental model reflects the society it governs we’re about to see a great shift to a sleeker, more responsive and perhaps less intrusive government per the demands of the Information Age. He presented an excellent summary of this idea in an Afterburner installment…

Jindal didn’t talk about great eras in American history and how we’re coming to the end of one, and if he had picked up on that it might have made his message a little stronger. But he’s arriving at a very similar place…

These are in reality sideshows in Washington that we have allowed to take center stage in our country – and as conservatives, we are falling into the sideshow trap.

All of these sideshow debates are about government.

Government and government power are the leading lady and the leading man.

Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs…even as we invent new entitlement programs.

We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping.

This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play.

Today it’s the fiscal cliff, tomorrow it’s the fiscal apocalypse, and then it will be the fiscal Armageddon.

But I have news for you; our government already went off the fiscal cliff.

It happened years ago, and has happened every year for many years.

Today’s conservatism is in love with zeroes.

We think if we can just unite behind a proposal to cut the deficit and debt…if we can just put together a spreadsheet and a power point and a TV ad….all will be well.

This obsession with zeroes has everyone in our party focused on what? Government.

By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington – instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport, and Cheyenne.

We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching – even conservative number crunching – is not the answer to our nation’s problems.

We also must face one more cold hard fact – Washington is so dysfunctional that any budget proposal based on fiscal sanity will be deemed ‘not-serious’ by the media, it will fail in the Senate, and it won’t even make it to the President’s desk where it would be vetoed anyway.

In fact, any serious proposal to restrain government growth is immediately deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington. The Balanced Budget is deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington.

Term Limits are deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington. Capping federal growth by tying it to private sector economic growth is deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington.

The truth is nothing serious is deemed serious in Washington.

He continues in this vein for a while, with a general idea that what the GOP should be about is growth and prosperity, and screw the government…

Instead of worrying about managing government, it’s time for us to address how we can lead America… to a place where she can once again become the land of opportunity, where she can once again become a place of growth and opportunity.

We should put all of our eggs in that basket.

Yes, we certainly do need folks in Washington who will devote themselves to the task of stopping this President from taking America so far off the ledge that we cannot get back.

We must do all we can to stop what is rapidly becoming the bankrupting of our federal government.

But we as conservatives must dedicate our energies and our efforts to growing America, to growing the American economy, to showing the younger generations how America can win the future.

That path does not lie in government. If more government were the answer, our economy would be booming right now. That path has been tried.

You can’t hire enough government workers or give enough taxpayer money to your friends who own green energy companies to create prosperity. The facts are in, it’s a disaster.

Balancing our government’s books is not what matters most. Government is not the end all and be all.

The health of America is not about government at all. Balancing government’s books is a nice goal, but that is not our primary objective.

Our objective is to grow the private sector. We need to focus our efforts on ideas to grow the American economy, not the government economy.

What the speech is a little weak on is exactly how you get there. He offers seven points he says will win elections, and while all of them are correct they don’t quite add up to “unbeatable…”

1. We must stop looking backward. We have to boldly show what the future can look like with the free market policies that we believe in. Many of our Governors are doing just that. Conservative ideals are aspirational, and our country is aspirational. Nostalgia about the good old days is heart-warming, but the battle of ideas must be waged in the future.

2. We must compete for every single vote. The 47 percent and the 53 percent. And any other combination of numbers that adds up to 100 percent. President Barack Obama and the Democrats can continue trying to divide America into groups of warring communities with competing interests, but we will have none of it. We are going after every vote as we work to unite all Americans.

3. We must reject identity politics. The old notion that ours should be a colorblind society is the right one, and we should pursue that with vigor. Identity politics is corrosive to the great American melting pot and we reject it. We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior. We must treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups. The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.

4. We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.

5. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.

6. We must quit “big.” We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything. We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive. We are the party whose ideas will help the middle class, and help more folks join the middle class. We are a populist party and need to make that clear.

7. We must focus on real people outside of Washington, not the lobbyists and government inside Washington. We must stop competing with Democrats for the job of “Government Manager,” and lay out ideas that can unleash the dynamic abilities of the American people. We need an equal opportunity society, one in which government does not see its job as picking winners and losers. Where do you go if you want special favors? Government. Where do you go if you want a tax break? Government. Where do you go if you want a handout? Government. This must stop. Our government must pursue a level playing field. At present, government is the un-leveler of the playing field.

What’s missing here is that Jindal doesn’t address the culture. He doesn’t talk about the fact that conservatives in the media are largely restricted to talk radio, which at this point has become a preach-to-the-choir medium without a great deal of demographic growth beyond the older white folks it already attracts, Fox News and the blogosphere – and because of this, carrying a message to low-information voters is a lot more difficult than it should be. He doesn’t talk about how the entertainment industry is overtly hostile to conservatism and nothing is being done about that. He doesn’t talk about the stranglehold the Left has on academia and what strategies can be employed to break that apart. And without addressing those issues, Jindal can’t tie together his message into a complete, winning strategy.

But what he has is a better vision than the “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush/Rove model, which essentially damned its own side as not caring about people, or whatever it was that Mitt Romney’s campaign attempted to push (“severely” conservative? competent management of the welfare state?). Jindal might be able to refine what he presented last night into a promise that if you vote Republican you’re going to get a much more down-to-earth, responsive government where the power will sit far closer to home – it will be in state and local governments that you might reasonably even be able to participate in yourself by running for town council or state representative, it will be web-based and it will leave you alone to a far larger extent than it has in the past.

Of course, that last bit will require a buy-in from some members of the conservative coalition that we’re going to stop offering up bills to keep people from doing things we don’t like. Promoting public virtue is a worthy aim, for sure, but again this is something we’ve got to do in the culture rather than in government. Not doing so has allowed the Left, which wants to dictate everything from what kind of cars, guns and toilets you can have to how much salt you put in your food, to cast conservatives as tyrants who want to control your behavior.

It’s one of the great lies in modern American politics, but they get away with it. Because they control the culture.

Jindal’s message might have some holes in it, but it’s still an improvement.

Will it get anywhere?

The message largely depends on the messenger. Can Jindal carry it?

BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller, who is no particular fan of conservatives and might be taken with the corresponding quantity of salt, didn’t seem convinced

But Jindal’s speech — which at 25 minutes was one and half times longer than Obama’s address — appeared to be cooly received by the Republican Party establishment, not least because of his rapid-fire speaking style and the band warming up in the next ballroom over.

Jindal opened with a joke about Mitt Romney’s bungled get-out-the-vote software “Orca,” telling RNC Chairman Reince Priebus not to rely on it for his re-election effort on Friday that earned tepid applause and the Republican guttural equivalent of “oh-snap.”

The speech was an attempt to paint Jindal as a serious contender for 2016 following his widely-mocked response to Obama’s first address to Congress in 2009 — an effort that largely failed. His delivery, speedy and robotic, didn’t allow for applause or crowd reaction, and many simply zoned it out.

That wasn’t the same reaction National Review’s Jim Geraghty had in today’s Morning Jolt…

I really like Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and I think his fan club is only going to grow in the years ahead:

The fact is, the jury is out on Jindal as a leader for the Republican Party on a national stage – presidential candidate or not.

It’s smart for him to say that playing bean-counter and trying to tackle the federal deficit as the whole of the party’s existence is the wrong approach, because here in Louisiana we know that managing the state’s budget has not been Jindal’s strong point.

But Republicans are sickened and scandalized by the profligate spending in Washington, and to come along and say it’s a waste of time to focus on that might serve to minimize a weakness of yours but it doesn’t exactly speak to the faithful. You have to do that first if you want to lead them. And more, you’ve got to have solid credentials as a fiscal hawk before you can say the fiscal hawk stuff isn’t the main focus. Only Nixon could go to China, and so on. Not to mention that if Jindal were to succeed in getting the Republican Party to move its focus away from fiscal conservatism and then there’s a debt crisis, now where are you?

So there is that.

Another issue Jindal has to deal with is that he’s just not a compelling speaker. He’s better now than he was in 2009, but he’s still a machine gun up there at the podium. He’s not funny or engaging enough to rile up a crowd with a speech like this, though with this material it can certainly be done.

But perhaps the biggest problem Jindal has is whether a Republican Party hierarchy overrun with profiteering, incompetent political consultants whose livelihoods depend on how connected they are with the Beltway in-crowd is ready to hear a 10th Amendment message. That hierarchy did everything it could to discredit Perry, from dredging up something offensive that was painted on a rock on a hunting lease he and his father had to casting him as a dunce, and they’ll do the same to Jindal. Perhaps the “stupid party” reference is an attempt to immunize him from that – get the first shot in, and everything they do in response you can say is because you ruffled their feathers – but the Chris Christie and Jeb Bush camps will stroke the insiders with a much lighter touch. And let’s face it – if you want to be an insurgent candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, you’re going to have a lot of trouble outselling Rand Paul at this point.

So as a set of ideas a little short of a comprehensive strategy for the party going forward, this speech has a lot to offer – and the party would do well to begin adopting much of what Jindal presented last night. But as a self-serving speech advertising its presenter as the Republican standard-bearer for 2016, perhaps not so much.

What’s good news for both Jindal and the party, though, is that it’s only January of 2013. There is a lot of time for formulating strategies, visions and messages. And a lot of time to pick a candidate.


1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Scott, I'd have to say Jindal's "managing [of] the state’s budget" in fact has been a "strong point" when you realize just what that involves. To use as an example because it is part of the biggest item in it, and the item most exposed to consequences of deficit forecasts, the budget would be a disaster today had not Jindal, Levine, Greenstein, et al. started some major efficiency reforms in Medicaid services. Keep in mind that while the state has some leeway in terms of coverage decisions, the old fee-for-service model and generous allocation of waiver service hours left the state little control over costs — if you had the procedure done or qualified for the hours, the state was on the hook to pay. These are not optional services and coverages that you can cut just because you think the state spends too much — federal law and court decisions mandate them. So something called the resource allocation model was adopted for waiver services and the move to Bayou Health's managed care model were made. On the former, the LA Medicaid folks say it's saved $200 million this year alone and, while they are still compiling Bayou Health savings numbers as they roll it out across the state, the preliminary figure I heard was at least 3 percent savings on a multi-billion dollar item. These are steps the Blanco Administration never would have taken, or would have belatedly when the magnitude of the crisis forced them. And there's so much other stuff uncontrollable as well — such as the $1 billion a year paid extra to fund the retirement system's UAL, etc. So Jindal deserves a fair amount of credit for taking a budget that has about as much flexibility as a straitjacket (not just the federal government's dictates, but also because of the asinine number and kinds of dedications) and making it work with revenues as they are without any significant hardships and continued popularity.

    The irony, of course, is that this is the kind of bean-counting he disparaged in the speech. But even if he doesn't want this to be at the center of the debate, he does all right at it.

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