Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s speech at CPAC 2013 was a strange performance. It seemed like it fell a bit flat with the audience. For some reason, he decided to devote an extraordinarily large chunk at the beginning to recycling his jokes from the Gridiron Dinner. He had a couple of good cracks in there, but he just kept going and going, and he’s really not a very good jokester. (Which can be turned to advantage with a little humor jiu-jutsu – the stiff joke-teller can bring the house down by slipping a laugh line into the middle of serious oratory without warning.)
Once the jokes were out of the way, the rest of his speech was quite a bit different than what other conservatives have been saying. Jindal’s Big Idea is to stop fighting for control of Washington and focus on growth instead of fiscal restraint. “We must not become the party of austerity, we must become the party of growth,” as he put it. He envisioned the success of pro-growth policies, particularly those implemented by Republican governors, building up public enthusiasm for the GOP that could be translated into national electoral success in 2016.
I gather he’s worried that focusing, in the manner of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), on fiscal discipline and spending cuts is a political loser: it sounds sour and defeatist, it’s easy for the Lollipop Party to demagogue, and once you get past a few obvious federal excesses (which Jindal did sound amenable to cutting) it provokes strife within the GOP, because a lot of that federal spending has its Republican constituents. Jindal thinks it’s more effective, and politically smarter, to focus on growing the economy until those monster deficits clear up.
I profess myself a bit dubious about his approach. For one thing, our bloated government is an active enemy to growth, due to both how much it spends, and how much it borrows. Good luck getting those little state gardens of prosperity blooming when the federal Leviathan is stomping across the landscape, smashing all beneath its feat. What is Washington doing with all that money it spends and borrows? Distorting markets, hiring regulators, and building up a mountain of past-due invoices that soon become irresistible pressure for growth-choking tax increases, that’s what.
I suspect Governor Jindal would discover that the debt accumulated through the Clinton-Bush-Obama years would be introduced as leverage against any pro-growth tax-reducing national agenda. The Democrats currently pretending we don’t have a debt crisis will instantly turn into screeching deficit hawks if Republicans introduce growth-oriented tax reforms. In every way, through both the power it exercises and the debt it accumulates through irresponsible spending, the Washington machine Jindal is telling us to ignore reduces the boundaries of what is possible. The bigger we allow that machine to grow, the smaller the rest of America will become.
And even if Jindal’s state-by-state campaign of growth panned out, the national Democrat Party would swiftly step in to take credit away from state governors. There’s no way the Democrats would allow a narrative of Republican strength building from state capitols to take shape. Somehow I get the sense this strategy would end with those innovative GOP governors, Jindal included, sputtering with impotent rage as media liberals wrote stories of Obama’s long-delayed recovery arriving at last, just in time to be touted by the 2016 campaign of his Democrat successor.