Jindal says D.C. is no place for GOP
By now, Gov. Bobby Jindal should hope he has given his last rebuttal speech. Like his first one, in February 2009, his latest, to the Republican National Committee last week in Charlotte, N.C., followed the party's dashed hopes in another national election. For Jindal, at least, his was a better-received performance than the guffaws and ridicule that greeted the singsong delivery of his national debut. This time, instead of unnaturally slowing his rhythm, he let it rip in his customary rapid-fire fashion, even blowing through pauses for applause.
The governor doesn't need a speech coach. He needs a speech editor. The recent rebuttal, at 25 minutes, ran one and a half times longer than President Barack Obama's second inaugural. Had he slowed to the cadence of the president's address, he might still be talking.
In content, Jindal spent more time rebutting the Republicans than the president. As he did in comments after the election, and again in a Washington speech on Sunday, he dished out the tough love, urging the GOP to stop being the "stupid party," to reach for all voters instead of a percentage, and to quit insulting the intelligence of voters with dumbed-down slogans in 30-second commercials.
It's sound advice for both parties, in a civics-textbook way, and his remarks reduced well to sound bites on the national news. In the heat of the next election battle, however, his call for thoughtful, high-minded discourse is more likely to be ignored than for either side to abandon voter targeting and repetitious, negative TV spots.
But such is not the real point Jindal is driving home in these speeches. His more radical, compelling and, yes, self-serving message to Republicans is to turn away from Washington and the debate over who should control the federal government. He said: "It's a terrible debate. It's a debate fought entirely on our opponents' terms. A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate."
And since it is also a debate the Democrats have just won, Jindal is telling the party to shift its focus and make its next stand beyond the Beltway, where, he said, "We believe in planting the seeds of growth in the fertile soil of your economy … not in the barren concrete of Washington."
To those unfortunate Republicans elected to serve in this dismal enterprise called the federal government, he consigned the necessary but grim rearguard duty of containing this president's worst excesses.
The subtle corollary to Jindal's message is that among the party's newly irrelevant are its Washington officials, particularly potential 2016 presidential rivals Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, among others.
It's unclear how much his sentiments were shared by his audiences of party activists, who have spent the last two years engaged in the very competition he now terms "small and shortsighted" and who would love nothing better than to take back, block by block, that precious "barren concrete" of D.C.
But the path back to power, Jindal is saying, now goes through the state capitals, where there are no debates about levels of deficit spending, because state constitutions don't allow it. Instead, Republicans can claim to be the drivers of economic development by repealing state income taxes and enacting growth policies friendly to high-earners and businesses, which this governor and two others are calling on their legislatures to do. As the head of the Republican Governors Association, which numbers 30, Jindal is well positioned to point the way. And who better to lead it?
Though his is a promising strategy, Jindal may find it easier to advocate than to achieve, as is proving to be the case with his own agenda back home. He has signed sweeping voucher and tenure legislation and a new state employee pension plan, only to have Republican judges strike them down in whole or in part. His differences with the judiciary, if not satisfied on appeal, could be the substance of another speech.
For now, the Republicans' new life coach no doubt will continue on the theme that the real problem with this country lies in Washington, while its greatest hope rests with the states—the red ones, that is, like his.
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