Bobby Jindal at CPAC 2013: We must become the party of growth, not austerity

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warmed up his audience at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference with a few jokes, riffing off his own legendary misfire when giving the response to President Obama’s first State of the Union speech in 2009, the media’s cozy relationship with the current Administration, Dennis Rodman’s antics in North Korea, and the hideous prospect of attending every political speech given at CPAC – an ordeal he compared unfavorably to waterboarding.


His best joke was a hearty welcome to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, famed for falsely claiming to be of American Indian descent for decades.  “My staff tells me we have a lot in common,” said Jindal.  “From one Indian politician to another I want to wish her the best in the United States Senate.”  His jab at former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, attempting to relaunch his career in Republican politics after a devastating scandal, was almost as good.

Jindal’s serious material was very interesting, and quite a bit different from the approach taken by many other CPAC speakers.  Jindal is a great believer in the strategy of growing our way out of fiscal crisis, rather than imposing severe spending cuts.   “Today’s conservatism is too wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal government,” the Governor judged.  “Our objective is to grow the private sector… We must not become the party of austerity, we must become the party of growth.”

The debate between controlling government to rein it in, or make it even larger, is a debate Jindal sees Republicans trying to fight on the Democrats’ terms.  It is a “very small and short-sighted debate,” he said.  “If our vision isn’t greater than that, we don’t deserve to win.”

Jindal cited the “fiscal cliff,” budget crisis, gun control, and sequestration as examples of conservatives falling into a “sideshow trap” and allowing Washington to take center stage over the rest of American life.  He doesn’t see this “obsession with zeroes” and focus on spreadsheet politics as a winner for Republicans, especially since “any budget based on fiscal sanity will be deemed ‘not serious’ by the media,” not to mention doomed beneath intransigent Senate Democrats, or Barack Obama’s veto pen.

“The truth is this: nothing serious is deemed serious in Washington, D.C.,” Jindal said.  He encouraged Republicans to focus their efforts on ensuring America could once again become a land of opportunity, while seeming to advise that efforts at fiscal restraint should be directed at the most egregious examples of government waste, noting that Obama would never be able to give enough tax money to his green-energy cronies to create prosperity.  “As conservatives, we must dedicate our energies and efforts to growing America,” Jindal said.

He portrayed this goal as more realistic than a bitter struggle for control of Washington, given the results of recent elections, and the booby prize awarded to the victors of such a struggle.  “If our end goal is to simply better manage the disaster that is the federal government, you can count me out.  I’m not signing up for that.  Who here wants to sign up for managing the decline of America?”

He said he was content to allow the Democrats to remain the party of government expansion and economic contraction – the engineers of a machine that drains money from taxpayers, grinds it to powder, and returns the degenerate results through the government subsidy pipeline, in the laughable belief it can be fuel for growth.

He hinted that his growth strategy might involve shifting Republican political efforts back to state governments instead of Washington, to build the prosperity he spoke of one community at a time.  This would build the political capital and general popularity necessary to take another shot at winning Washington, coupled with a realistic chance of building a sustainable federal government after electoral victory.

He spoke strongly in favor of returning power and money from D.C. to state capitals.  “If it’s worth doing, then block-grant it to the states,” said Jindal.  “And if the states can’t be trusted to do it, then, well, maybe Washington shouldn’t be doing it at all.”  He also wants to radically simplify our complicated tax code, going so far as to suggest “blowing it up,” although he didn’t specify what he would replace it with, beyond promising that it would contain fewer weird exemptions and deductions arranged by lobbyists.

It would require us to “recalibrate the compass of conservatism.”  Jindal was relatively unique among CPAC speakers in saying this re-calibration would come in economic, rather than social areas.  Most others have been suggesting conservatives move to the left on some social topics, but Jindal would have none of that, because “America already has one liberal party.”

“I’m not calling for a period of introspection and navel-gazing,” the Governor promised.  “Far from it.  I’m calling for us to get busy winning the argument.  There is much work to be done… and then, after that, we must go out and win the next election, so that we can preserve for our children and grandchildren all that makes us the greatest country in the history of the world.”

Winning by engineering growth and the state and local level, building momentum toward a 2016 showdown in Washington, is an interesting strategy.  It would be a pity if the titanic engine of government destruction – which Jindal thinks other Republicans are too worried about shutting down – stepped in to quash his plans.  What “grows” beneath the tread of such a machine?