Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) addressed the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit on Saturday. Currently considering joining the 2016 presidential race, Jindal shared what the American Dream has meant for his family, especially how education created opportunities.
What worries him the most about President Barack Obama’s legacy, said Jindal, was what the president was doing to redefine the American dream, mentioning his “failed foreign policy where he refuses to stand with Israel” and how Obama seemed determined to divide Americans by race, class gender, income, and other categories.
“That is not the American Dream my parents taught me,” said Jindal. Instead, he was taught that America’s best days are still ahead of us and you “don’t have to be born to the right family, wealthy parents, the right zip code” in order to be a success.
Like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jindal’s story about how his family came to America is a major part of how he defines the American dream and has clearly shaped his vision for the country.
Jindal’s father was one of nine children and grew up in a house without electricity or running water. He was the only one in the family to get past the fifth grade. Jindal joked that he knows these details because his father reminded him of them “every day” growing up, saying that he didn’t claim to be walking in the snow “but it was still ‘uphill, both ways’…try getting an allowance from a father like that, good luck!”
Jindal’s parents immigrated from India to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as newlyweds, his mother pregnant with him. His mother enrolled in classes at Louisiana State University, and they moved into married student housing. His father started calling for work out of the yellow pages until he found a job. He had no driver’s license and no car, but his enthusiasm convinced his new employer to not only hire him but to agree to pick him up and give him a ride to work.
When Jindal was born, his birth was not covered by insurance; he quipped that he was a “pre-existing condition.” His father worked out a handshake deal with the doctor at the hospital and promised to send him money every month until the bill was paid. “That’s how you did things back then,” said Jindal, but government interferences like Obamacare meant that “it’s a lot more complicated today…how do you pay for a baby on layaway?”
Jindal quoted Mark Twain, who said that the older we get the smarter we become. “The older I get the more like my dad I become, and I hate it,” said Jindal, saying that his father often said things like, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” and, “You’re not living in a democracy in my house, you’re living in a dictatorship.” Jindal said now he found himself saying the same things to his kids.
But two things his father said were great, continued Jindal. First, Jindal’s father told them that he was not giving them a famous last name or a rich inheritance, but he was making sure they got a great education, which meant that there was “no limit on what you can accomplish.” The second was that Jindal’s father instructed them that they needed to “get on your knees and thank God almighty that you were blessed to be born in the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.”
The first statement from his father is why Jindal has fought so hard for school choice. Too often, Jindal explained, a child’s zip code determines whether that child can get a good education. This is unacceptable for many reasons, he continued: it’s bad for the economy and contrary to the “aspirational society” in which we live. Students should know they can work hard and improve their life.
“Let the dollars follow the child,” continued Jindal, who said that Louisiana had implemented a variety of statewide school choice programs, and the benefits were clear. Reading and math scores had significantly improved, 90 percent of New Orleans children are now in charter schools, scholarship programs and vouchers gave students the option to attend private schools, and a course selection program let students start the day in a public school and take private classes later.
He clarified that charter schools are not the answer for every child, but they are part of the options — public schools, private schools, charter schools, homeschool programs, etc. — that should be available so families can pursue the education that is best for their children.
Jindal quoted a teachers’ union representative who said, “Parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for our children.” This was absolutely wrong, said Jindal; of course parents know better than the bureaucrats in Baton Rouge or Washington, D.C.
The “same elitist mindset” that government bureaucrats know better than parents is what led to Common Core, said Jindal. “We’ve got to get rid of Common Core,” he said. “I’m actually in federal court right now,” suing to stop the program. We’ve never let the federal government control curriculum before, so when does it end?” he asked.
Jindal also criticized Obama as the “first president in history who doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism… Jimmy Carter was just incompetent but at least he believed in American exceptionalism.”
He bragged a bit about some of his accomplishments as governor. According to Jindal, the budget was $9 billion smaller than the day he took office, while they had reduced the number of state employees by 30,000 and doubled the state’s economic growth. The people of Louisiana are the biggest beneficiaries of this, he said.
Jindal also praised New Hampshire for being “so hardheaded” about refusing to enact an income tax. A state senator had called Jindal “stubborn as a mule” about raising taxes, a term he accepted with pride and said he was going to put on his campaign mailers.
Turning back to his vision, and his family’s vision, for the American dream, Jindal said, “when my parents came to America, they were coming to be Americans.” They were proud to be from India, and proud of their heritage, he explained, but they were not coming here to raise Indians. Jindal praised the idea of America as the great “melting pot” society and said that he was “tired of hyphenated Americans.” Instead of being Indian-Americans, African-Americans, and so on, we needed to just be Americans.
Jindal concluded his remarks saying that it was absolutely critical to elect a Republican and beat Hillary Clinton, but that he was confident that this was possible. “We can win, we must win, we will win.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.