Jindal’s Response and What is Says About the Conservative Movement

education, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

After President Obama’s address, the latest “rising star” of the Republican Party took the stage to present the party response.  Bobby Jindal’s speech has been pretty widely panned with pundits commenting unfavorably on his delivery, diction, stage presence, etc, but in terms of respresenting current Conservative thought, it was right on the money.  Skip all the window dressing and look at the meat of his address. Here is what I take away about Conservative views on government, taxes, education, science and defense.

Role of government

Governor Jindal starts with this story:

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: “Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!” I asked him: “Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?” He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go, when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, “Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.” And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: “Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!” Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.

There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens.

The point here: Government is an obstacle to be overcome.  This particular story is pretty ironic.  My father was one of the late sheriff Lee’s deputies in the mid eighties and if there is one thing that is beyond doubt is that Lee was a politician through and through, the most influential politician in Jefferson Parish from the 80’s until his recent death.  Jindal praises Lee’s work organizing relief while at the same time implying that government is the problem.  The Governor envisions a world where the government is too small to help so that the “compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens” can shine through.

Philosophy on Taxes

To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything.

That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

He makes two conservative points here.  First, Washington politicians have too much power and use it irresponsibly.  OK, hard to argue that some of the things that come out of Washington make you scratch your head.  But in an era when every project can be projected around the Internet and ridiculed, we tend to lose sight of the fact that silly pork spending (compared to legitimate pork spending on local projects of value) represents a minuscule portion of the federal budget.  Republicans have received a lot of votes running on the “Washington is evil” platform, but other than a few anecdotal stories, it’s hard to make that stick in real life.

Second point: Taxes are too high and they are crushing “working families” and “small businesses”.  Economists can debate this all day long, but there is as much if not more evidence to say that taxes are too low to optimize economic performance.  Let’s look at the two extremes of taxes.  At a 100% tax rate, you have communism.  I think there is plenty of evidence to show that is a failure.  At a 0% tax rate, you have complete anarchy with no central government, no police force, no road system, etc.  Both of these extremes are terrible for economic growth.  Somewhere between those two extremes is a place where economic growth reaches a maximum, a place where government supported systems like law enforcement, education, infrastructure support, regulation, etc provide optimum conditions for the growth of private industry,  growth that more than compensatesfor the drag from taxes.  The Conservative position is that taxes are too high and that if the government spent efficiently, there would be plenty of money available.  You can argue about the efficiency point, but it’s hard to argue that the federal and state governments have sufficient money.  We have bridges falling and levees failing, destroying key infrastructure necessary for businesses to survive.  In a time of great technological advancement, we have school systems cutting workers, increasing class sizes and reduced support for public universities.  When we build levees on the cheap to withstand a 50 or 100 year flood compared to European standards of 500, 750 or 1000 years, are we surprised when billions are wiped out by floods?  It might have been cheaper in the short term, but it’s a lot more expensive at the end of the day.  Another tax comment:

In Louisiana, we took a different approach. Since I became governor, we cut more than 250 earmarks from our state budget. To create jobs for our citizens, we cut taxes six times — including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state. We passed those tax cuts with bipartisan majorities. Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences — we worked together to make sure our people could keep more of what they earn. If it can be done in Baton Rouge, surely it can be done in Washington, D.C.

Please look around Governor!   Your state is collapsing!  Education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.  Your people need you and you’ve sold them down the river to buy their votes with tax cuts!  Louisiana has long used its extensive natural resources to buffer its citizens from taxes, but clearly the state is broken and you are giving away the tools necessary to fix it.


A quote from my friend still living in Metairie (outside New Orleans) on why her children are not attending our alma mater: “I’d never send my children to public schools these days.”  Governor, what about all those children who can’t afford a private school in your state?  I know, this is your solution:

To strengthen our economy, we also need to make sure every child in America gets the best possible education. After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system, opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice. We believe that, with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it shouldn’t take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.

This particular position has been high on the Conservative agenda for a couple of decades.  People will happily pay for better education for their children if they can.  School bond resolutions are typically the easiest local issues to get the electorate to buy into.  On the other hand, people don’t like to pay for other people’s children to be educated.  This seems counter intuitive since an educated population is one of the biggest economic drivers in terms of productivity and job creation, but there is a significant wing of the Conservative movement that is convinced that public schooling is bad for their children.  They want to take their children and their dollars an go to their own schools or home school.  Unfortunately, pulling down public education leaves a lot of children in the cold.  Jindal’s voucher program pulls over $6,000 per student out of the public system and puts it into the fractured, private sytem leaving the public schools to handle those who can’t get to private schools or can’t afford the additional costs.  We need all our children in the future to run our factories, create new businesses and run our government.  Gutting our public education system doesn’t seem like the way to get there.

Science is optional

While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a “magnetic levitation” line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

Someone who’s state has been repeatedly ravaged by Mother Nature should be a little more encouraging of environmental monitoring and Nate Silver wrote a fine article on the demonstrated benefits of such monitoring, but I see these comments as more indicitive of a Conservative backlash against basic science.  “Magnetic levitation?  Sounds pretty hokey to me!  What value is there to monitoring a volcano?  PORK SPENDING!!”  The Bush administration always subortinated science to politics, making data seem more like something to debate rather a place to start debate.  Monitoring things like CO2 emmisions or global temperature change might lead to conclusions that might go against Conservative beliefs, so let’s not look.  Jindal himself is a poster child for those battling evolution.  This seems like a dangerous position in a world where the rate of technological change is ever accelerating.

Strong Defense

Jindal reiterated the standard Conservative position on the military saying:

As we take these steps, we must remember for all our troubles at home, dangerous enemies still seek our destruction. Now is no time to dismantle the defenses that have protected this country for hundreds of years, or make deep cuts in funding for our troops. America’s fighting men and women can do anything. If we give them the resources they need, they will stay on the offensive, defeat our enemies, and protect us from harm.

I don’t have much to disagree with here.  A strong military is generally a deterent to war provided that those at the helm aren’t instigating wars themselves.  I think there is a valid debate coming concernig the size of our military, but that’s for another day.  One question though: are you willing to raise taxes to support our troops Governor?  The military is not free.  The war in Iraq is not free.  Giving away the money needed for their body armor is not what I consider supporting the troops.

The Governor may not have had the best delivery, but he made his points and he represented his constituency.  Now we have to evaluate those positions and the impact they’ve had on our country.  Conservatives now complain that President Bush was not conservative enough in his Presidency, but in fact, we was right in line with most of their positions… and the results were not pleasant.  Governor Jindal has shown us that we can expect more of the same from conservatives in the coming years.  We have to decide if we want that.

Update:  It turns out that Jindal wants some of the $8 billion for high speed rail lines for himself.  Here’s a report from New Orleans on Jindal’s proposed rail line from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.  I think it’s a really good idea, but I thought the Governor was against such pork.



  1. engineer  •  Feb 28, 2009 @9:15 pm

    Update Jindal made up his story about Sheriff Lee.

  2. Dave Williams  •  Mar 7, 2009 @3:07 pm

    Will someone please expain to me why it’s so difficult to understand that government is like everything else? There are a few great workers, a few really lousy ones, but most are just trying to get from starting time to quitting time. If you have never experienced the Federal Government at work after a major hurricane or other disaster, you shouldn’t be critical of those who have and voice their opinion. I have been there. I was only a 2 hour drive from New Orleans when Katrina came through. The problem we usually encounter is the Federal workers come in and want to play ” big dog” and take over everything without bothering to consult with local government to see what is needed. They seem to think they are the only ones who could possibly have any answers. After Katrina much needed supplies were turned away from New Orleans by federal officials who refused to get the facts before taking such serious actions. People’s lives depended on those supplies. Here’s a simple question we should all ask ourselves: have we ever, and I do mean ever, seen the government do something in the most cost effective, efficient method available? I haven’t and I’ve been exposed to government business a lot more than I wish I had. It’s really disheartening, to say nothing of wasteful, to see politics overrule common sense. I keep trying to have a positive attitude when thinking about the government of this country – I do. But when I see some of these political leaders stand up in congress and by the bills they introduce say that you and I, John Q. Public don’t have enough sense to know what’s best for us.. I just write them off as idiots. We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, have do so much with so little for so long, we can do practically anything with almost nothing at all. After this redistribution of wealth congress has going now… and the blatent installation of socialist policies, we had most certainly better be able to do anything with nothing… since that’s exactly what the average working stiff is going to have,.. NOTHING!!!!

  3. engineer  •  Mar 10, 2009 @5:18 am

    Have we ever seen the government do something in the most cost effective, efficient method available? That can be debated, but I’d nominate supplying our troops in Iraq, Social Security and Medicare as areas where the government is doing the job at lower cost than what private industry can do.

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