Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana delivered a hard-hitting address to the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee in Charlotte, NC yesterday. The speech was warmly received and has sparked interest and debate across the conservative media. Jindal’s basic point was that Republicans need to talk less about government and more about economic growth, less about Washington and more about America beyond the Beltway.
He is only half-right. The fact is that Republicans did not lose in 2012 because we talked about government too much and economic growth too little. Mitt Romney made growth and job creation the center of his campaign message; if anything, he spoke too rarely about the size and cost of government. His best line of the first debate, “trickle-down government,” was used once and barely featured again on the campaign trail.
Romney’s unique weakness, aside from his failure to connect to voters on a personal level, was that he could not make Obamacare the focus of his campaign, having made Romneycare the highlight of his governorship in Massachusetts. As Jindal is no doubt aware, opposition to Obamacare is what drove conservative voters to the polls in 2010 and caused independent voters to shift back over to the GOP, where they remain today.
Jindal’s suggestion that Republicans move beyond abstract ideas and start talking about the real lives of real people is long overdue. On the gun issue, for example, why has no one from the GOP or the NRA sought out the numerous elderly black people in Chicago who have used firearms–illegally–to defend themselves from burglars and thugs in neighborhoods where mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t or won’t keep the peace?
But Republicans can and should do that without abandoning the philosophical fight. The battle over the debt ceiling, for example,–what Jindal derided as an “obsession with zeros”–is critical. It is something to worry about, even if it is happening in Washington, because voters do understand that our national debt places our entire economy at risk. There already is one party that does not care about spending; we do not need another.
Jindal also seems to have accepted much of the false media critique of the party. If you only heard about his speech through the mainstream media, you would only know that he called on Republicans to “stop being the stupid party.” He referred to “offensive and bizarre comments” in recent months, presumably Todd Akin’s statement on rape. Yes, Republicans must do better in the media, but the media’s generalization was absurd.
There are plenty of “stupid” Democrats, and stupid things said by smart Democrats. (Ask President Barack Obama what language Austrians speak.) Jindal himself, Rhodes scholar that he is, has some beliefs that some might have called “anti-science,” including support for teaching creation in schools. Insulting Republicans achieves nothing but media notoriety: the question is not who is “stupid” but who is willing to defend liberty.
The Republican Party does need to face some hard truths, and Jindal deserves credit for encouraging a vigorous debate. Yet his address was the kind only a governor could give–optimistic about the impact of good policy, impatient with high-falutin’ principles. The immediate task facing Republicans is to prove to their own voters that they can provide strong opposition to Obama’s radical agenda. The “zeros” are here to stay.