Republican Party

Bobby Jindal's (Almost) Radical GOP Reformism


Transom scribe Ben Domenech calls Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's recent speech to the Republican National Convention "as close to an encapsulation of libertarian populism" as he's seen from an elected official. That's not how I would describe it, but Jindal did manage to deliver a rare thing: a major political speech that's actually worth reading.

Which is not to say it's one I entirely, or even mostly, agree with. Jindal's speech is admirably focused on getting away from a Washington-centric view of America and the economy. But he's so determined to push the idea that government isn't the be-all, end-all of American life that he ends up saying things like: "Balancing our government's books is not what matters most." Instead, it's "a nice goal, but not what matters most." He warns that "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," and is clear that he thinks this monomania is a bad thing. His fellow conservatives, he says, should be focused on promoting a vision of growth, of economic success that has nothing to do with government intervention, of entrepreneurship and individual initiative. Instead, he says, they "have an obsession with bookkeeping."

Judging by the actual governing record of Republicans in Washington, they aren't nearly obsessed enough. It was under President Bush that federal spending climbed the most in both real and per-capita terms, that Congress nearly doubled defense spending and passed an unfunded expansion of Medicare benefits. President Obama took Bush's inflated spending levels, topped them off, and has more or less made them permanent—but it was Bush who allowed federal spending to grow the most. That's what happened when Republicans focused on growth rather than boring old budget math, and it's part of why the budget situation is, as Jindal correctly notes, such a wreck today.

Nor is it clear that this GOP obsession has grown stronger in ways that matter. Republicans remain wary of talking about real cuts to spending: Just look at Mitt Romney's detail-free campaign, or House Speaker John Boehner's repeated evasions when it comes to offering specifics about spending cuts or entitlement reforms. In the last week, the GOP has hatched a plan to try putting together a budget that balances in a decade, but the boldest budget framework that Republicans have endorsed so far—the Ryan Roadmap—was a plan to balance the budget in about forty years. Today's Republicans could probably stand to be a little more wrapped up in "solving the hideous mess that is the federal government"—especially since it's a mess that yesterday's Republicans helped create.

So why do I think it's a speech worth reading? Because for all the griping about how Republicans are too focused on fixing federal failures, and too little focused on the campaign-friendly topic of jolting economic growth, Jindal hints at a refreshingly (almost) radical vision of federal reform:

We must focus on the empowerment of citizens making relevant and different decisions in their communities while Democrats sell factory-style government that cranks out one dumbed-down answer for the whole country.

This means re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington. Very few of them work in my view, and frankly, the one-size fits all crowd has had its chance.

If any rational human being were to create our government anew, today, from a blank piece of paper – we would have about one fourth of the buildings we have in Washington and about half of the government workers.

We would replace most of its bureaucracy with a handful of good websites.

If we created American government today, we would not dream of taking money out of people's pockets, sending it all the way to Washington, handing it over to politicians and bureaucrats to staple thousands of pages of artificial and political instructions to it, then wear that money out by grinding it through the engine of bureaucratic friction…and then sending what's left of it back to the states, where it all started, in order to grow the American economy.

What we are doing now to govern ourselves is not just wrong. It is out of date and it is a failure.

This, in my view, is the most interesting part of the speech, and the part with the most potential. That's a pretty low threshold, to be sure, but how often does one hear a major political figure even suggest that we should not simply accept the dysfunctional major federal policy structures of today and work within their bounds? I don't expect much to come of it, of course, but it's nice to hear Jindal go beyond asking how to manage the policy infrastructure we have a little more efficiently (not that doing so would be a bad thing!).

I call this an almost radical vision of federal reform because the answers Jindal suggests are quite a bit smaller than the big questions he seems to be asking: Block granting federal programs is a good idea, and could significantly improve any number of existing policies, but still requires the federal government to funnel megabucks into state budgets. And I'd love to replace bureaucrats and bureaucracies with accessible web portals, but in this context, Jindal's remark has the whiff of tech-guru utopianism. The GOP doesn't need any more consultants promising to make things easy. In a later section of the speech, meanwhile, Jindal tacks on a series of bullet points that basically restate the GOP's old commitments to government-led social conservatism and defense-hawk maximalism. Jindal, like many Republican reformers, seems unwilling to consider the possibility that those commitments might be out of date failures as well.

Still, he gets two big ideas right: One is that government isn't everything, or even most everything; it's a sideshow, and life has an awful lot more to offer than another tax break, public benefit, or office of somekindasomething affairs. That's something that politicians don't say enough, and certainly don't act on very often. The other is that policy reform is a bigger project than most of today's Republicans imagine, and should involve a ground-up rethinking of just about everything government currently does. 

The speech is pretty pointedly directed at a Republican party that's doing some rethinking of its own right now. Indeed, part of what's fascinating here is that you can see the collision of two strains of right-of-center reformism: On the one hand, Jindal sounds notes that are awfully reminiscent of the Bush-era compassionate conservatism that disregarded basic budget soundness in favor of pro-growth economic happy talk. On the other hand, he suggests the outlines of a vision for wholesale, limited-government reform—one that not only asks how to make government work, but what government is actually for. It's not a vision of "populist libertarianism" so much as a vision of populism and a vision of something kinda sorta friendly to libertarianism competing for dominance. Jindal doesn't get these two ideas to harmonize, but he does suggest that as the GOP reconsiders its mission and purpose, they'll be duking it out for a while to come. 

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  1. Jindal seems like the typical neo-con. Jindal in a nutshell:
    “We can’t ever joke about birth control because women are stupid, we need to appeal to stupid people.”
    “We lost Hispanics because of immigration, we can appeal to them if only we solve this issue. This issue is the only thing they care about.”
    “The American people support our war-mongering, even though they say they don’t.”

    1. I’m guessing Jindal said none of these things the way you stated it. Give links or STFU.

      1. Gee, what an idiot.

      2. and the media narrative is Jindal calling the Repubs the stupid party. If it’s paraphrasing, that would be journalistic malpractice. If it’s accurate, he has no place on the national stage because any politician at that level has to know to not say something that, well, stupid.

    2. Jindal has consistently been awarded some of the of the highest scores in CATO’s governor report. As governor of Louisiana, the path he’s taken is far from the path of least resistance and is quite far from the “typical neo-con”.

      1. He’s supported neo-con wars. He authored a “academic freedom” creationism bill. And he supports amnesty for illegals.

        1. Daddy, your pee-pee makes me feel bad. I don’t like it! Stop putting in my tushie! Daddy, it hurts! STOP!

        2. A solid 99% of the population has supported “neo-con” wars. Doesn’t make ’em neo-cons, and what effect does a governor have on foreign policy?

          Assuming the “academic freedom” bill in question is of an objectionable sort, creationism has nothing to do with the neo-conservative movement, which is largely comprised of former Bolsheviks and urban liberal who could care less about that sort of thing.

          Plenty of the Reason staff supports amnesty for illegals as well, as did Milton Friedman.

          1. “A solid 99% of the population has supported “neo-con” wars. ”
            Sarcasm much?
            “creationism has nothing to do with the neo-conservative movement”
            No, but it’s still objectionable. The political Christinity movement and the let’s start a war movement have both been hand in hand.
            “Plenty of the Reason staff supports amnesty for illegals as well”
            I find it sad as well.

            1. Daddy…your stuff tastes yucky! It makes me choke all the time! Can you stop putting your thing in my mouth, Daddy? Please? I don’t like it.

            2. Some 74% of the population supported OIF at the outset; a much higher percentage supported OEF. A similar proportion has supported most of our other wars. When you consider that a good proportion of those opposed to OIF did so out of partisan spite, then that leaves a motley crew of libertarians and other outcasts who didn’t support these wars.

              And there isn’t a damn thing that creationism has to do with neo-conservatism.

            3. Also – please look up the difference between sarcasm and hyperbole. If you really mean “sarcasm,” your comment makes no sense.

    3. You know, as much as I hate to admit it, the last election seems to validate the first two, and its hard to say that the third one is wrong, either.

      1. I suppose the first one is largely true. But the libs are always gonna find some boggeyman in the right. A representative, a party chair, a talk show host is always gonna speak his mind sometimes. And why shouldn’t they? Why should Rush Limbaugh (not that I like him) refuse to speak his mind just so his seasonally favored candidate can win?

        1. Daddy there’s too much blood. I don’t like it! Stop touching me! STOP IT! DADDY!

      2. Ya I agree. The next republican to mention birth control, rape, or abortion in general needs to be beaten with a stick. Democrats have proven that they will always control the narrative vis a vis those topics.

    4. Daddy, please stop it! Your thing is too big! It hurts! I don’t like it! STOP! DADDY STOP!

      1. I thank you.

      2. Wow, I’ve got my own troll. How many of you have trolls?

        1. Daddy, why do you always cry about mommy when you make me hold your pee-pee? What is the yucky stuff that comes out?

  2. This seems like a good sign.

  3. Its possible to interpret the “obession with bookkeeping” stuff as a way to say not “we shouldn’t care about balancing the budget”, but rather “there are ways to advance a free society that aren’t related to the federal budget”. It’s not a call for new federal spending or looser finances, but maybe a call to focus on ways of doing stuff that don’t involve the federal government.

    1. I think this is what Jindal is getting at — and if you think about the most popular libertarian or libertarian-leaning politicians out there, they are not talking about the budget, by and large. Ron and Rand Paul did not emphasize SS or Medicare/Medicaid reform, for example — they both support it, but they didn’t emphasize it.

      Budgetary issues are important and it is frustrating to see politicians side-step the real solutions, but I think that Jindal is right that taking on the regulatory state and its redundancies is a much easier way to achieve libertarian goals in the short term than running on entitlement reform. Why not build up trust in the population that libertarians/conservatives can effectively manage a government and get rid of burdens, then use that trust to propose budgetary measures that are otherwise hard to swallow?

      1. I can see it, when you talk to the average person about how stupid Washington is they will mostly agree. Everyone has dealt with the bureaucracy at some point and most don’t come away with a good feeling from it. But when you start talking about specific programs, medicare, or social security for example, they will get very defensive about them.

        Most people can’t seem to see the forest threw the trees.

        1. the forest threw the trees.

          Ents play at the caber toss?

          1. +1 True Scotsman

  4. We really need a way to flag comments on here.

    1. Eh, we just tend to ignore you – no need to call attention to yourself.

    2. I already added them to my troll list on reasonable.

    3. Careful what you wish for.

  5. Piyush Jingle 2016!

    A nice bumpersticker for sure.

  6. Is that Jindal staring down a White Walker? He doesn’t really look like he’s dressed for north of the Wall.

    1. Summer Islanders rarely prepare themselves adequately for the Westeros climates.

  7. I’ve lived in Louisiana my whole life. I know who Jindal is and I know who these republicans are. A bunch of bible beating bastards. Literally, they are the American Taliban down here. Fuck you Jindal and fuck you republican party.

    1. You won’t fit in well here. Team Red owns this place.

      1. that explains you and tony. You have anyone who is NOT Team Blue pegged as Team Red. How many folks here were cheerleading for Romney?

        1. No, no, dummy. Shreek is the only real libertarian here. That’s how he knows everyone else isn’t.

      2. You’re right PB. We all know Romney fanboy Tulpa is the most admired person in these parts

      3. I bet that’s what you said the day you looked closely at your new namesake (buttplug) and tried for that first insertion.

    2. then you have lived there long enough to know it is a crooked as IL and was primarily Team Blue-driven. The whole reason the last governor was voted out, the Blue Blanco, was here monumental incompetence during Katrina.

  8. You just got Jindal’d, baby! w00t!

  9. lol that dude cracks me up man!

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