Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog—arguably one of the best blogs about politics today—have gotten a copy of Bobby Jindal’s speech to the RNC this Thursday. It looks like it will be a well-needed tongue-lasher:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will deliver a forceful denunciation of his party’s Washington-centric focus in a speech to the Republican National Committee on Thursday evening, arguing that the GOP is fighting the wrong fight as it seeks to rebuild from losses at the ballot box last November.
“A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and short-sighted debate,” Jindal will tell the RNC members gathered in Charlotte, N.C. for the organization’s winter meeting, according to a copy of the speech provided to The Fix. “If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win.”
Jindal’s speech — and his call to “recalibrate the compass of conservatism” — is the latest shred of a growing amount of evidence that the Louisiana governor is positioning himself to not only run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 but do so in direct (or close to it) opposition to his party in the nation’s capital.
In the speech, Jindal will repeatedly caution that Republicans in Washington have fallen into the “sideshow trap” of debating with Democrats over the proper size of the federal 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 (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”
Running against Washington — and the Republicans who inhabit it — is smart politics for Jindal. Congress, viewed broadly, is at or close to all-time lows when it comes to approval ratings. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month, just 24 percent of those tested approved of the job that Republicans in Congress were doing.
Even more stunning, among self-identified Republicans only 39 percent offered a favorable rating for their own party’s representatives, while 58 percent viewed their own elected officials in an unfavorable light.
It’s good that Jindal, who will likely end up running for the White House in 2016, is going to excoriate national Republicans. Daniel Larison noted in The American Conservative last week that self-congratulatory Republicans were ruining the party and bringing on more defeat. He has since added with a more recent post that the party is unable or unwilling to even examine it’s own failings:
The problem for the GOP, as it is for all defeated, flailing parties, is that its leaders are sometimes oblivious to the party’s most serious weaknesses, or else they mistake those weaknesses for strengths. Hard-line foreign policy is one example of a clear liability for the party that its leaders believe to be one of their great advantages, which is one reason why it never even occurs to them that they are losing current and possible future supporters by hanging on to failed policy ideas. (Another is that they can’t or won’t acknowledge that the policies failed.) Far more politically damaging for Republicans are the national party’s lack of any relevant economic policy agenda and its cynical, selective interest in fiscal responsibility. This is the “pro-growth” party that presided over wage stagnation and anemic job growth in the 2000s, and this is the party supposedly horrified by deficit spending while being historically far worse at running up deficits when in power.
The weaknesses don’t stop there. The GOP wants to be perceived as the party of limited, constitutional government, but it just went through the better part of a decade expanding the size and intrusiveness of government, and it supported practices of illegal detention and illegal surveillance to boot. With depressingly few exceptions, the party hasn’t repudiated any of the latter, and there appears to be no urgency in reversing or undoing any of the damage done by these things. Having trashed almost everything that their party was supposed to represent, many Republican leaders act as if the worst thing that ever happened during the Bush years was a profusion of earmarks. Until they stop kidding or lying to themselves about what happened the last time there was unified Republican government, it’s doubtful that the public will be willing to entrust them with that much power.
I would add to this depressing litany of failures the party’s insistence on taking the hardcore social conservative path: no gay marriage, a ban on all abortions, banning recreational drugs, hostility to immigration reform (though, to be fair, with Larison being a paleoconservative, he probably agrees with them on that), and a general perspective on society that is still pegged to a fantastical version of the 1950s that never really existed. And yet, even though these views brought the party down last year, some Republican leaders still trumpet these as strengths. It’s clear that the party leadership, and a great deal of it’s base, live in a bizarro world that only has a tenuous link to reality.
Now take that and compare it to Jindal’s list of things the GOP needs to work on:
* On Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments: “We must compete for every single vote — the 47 percent and the 53 percent, and any other combination that adds up to 100 percent.”
* On the party’s struggles to court non-white voters: “We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior. …The first step in getting voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”
* On the likes of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock: “It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.”
And Jindal will also try to demonstrate the sort of big-picture vision — you know, “that vision thing” — that is in demand in a party searching for itself in the electoral wilderness. “We must shift the eye line and the ambition of our conservative movement away from managing government and toward the mission of growth,” Jindal will say.
That’s a pretty good start. I would also add that the GOP needs to be the party of ideas, and must actively cultivate an intellectual movement. Instead of listening to Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, instead of watching Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, and instead of just making a knee-jerk response that is automatically 180 degrees of what a liberal or Democrat says, they need to think. Right now, the GOP is not an actual political party; it is a “atonal choir of rabid complaint” that merely spouts off whatever is the opposite of what the Democrats are saying. That’s not a way to run a party, manage a government, or lead a country. What the modern conservative movement needs are ideas and intellectuals, those who can actually craft and articulate a valid, strong argument against the left’s command-and-control economic policies and explain just why capitalism is the best engine for creating prosperity and lifting the poor out of poverty. They also need to understand that pro-business is not pro-market, and that giving subsidies to their friends on the big corporate farms, or dozens of extremely lucrative and poorly vetted contracts to their defense contractors (themselves a form of government subsidy), or bailing out banks that took on bad loans, is not capitalism. It’s not free market. And it most certainly isn’t “limited government.”
Of course, what I’m saying is that the GOP needs more libertarians. While the conservatives have lost their way, libertarians have stayed consistent. I’m not sure that Jindal is a libertarian; I’m probably sure he isn’t. But, at least, if the GOP can get it’s act together, and actually have some ideas rather than just mere “talking points,” maybe we can get back on the road again to a limited government and a free market economy that produces prosperity in every corner of the nation.
I, for one, will be watching Gov. Jindal’s political career with some interest from now on.