WASHINGTON — Starting and finishing with the American dream, Gov. Bobby Jindal mixed laugh lines and applause lines in a relatively easygoing keynote speech to a religious-right conference Saturday night that had heard earlier from other Republicans with their eyes on the prize: national office in 2016.
Although Jindal threw plenty of darts at some of the right’s favorite targets — President Barack Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with Obamacare, Benghazi and IRS targeting — his tone was more light than hot in his latest out-of-state appearance that could be a test of his oratorical approach to 2016 campaign.
“I can sense right now a rebellion brewing among these United States, where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American dream for our children and grandchildren,” Jindal said in winding up his remarks before several hundred people in a hotel dining room.
That tied his “we-have-a-dream” theme to the policy area he emphasized the most: education and, specifically, educational choice. He told his listeners about the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans and rising test scores there.
“The dollar should follow the child, instead of making the child follow the dollar.”
He also brought in a topic fresh from the headlines in his home state: the Common Core standards.
“As long as I’m governor, I’m going to do everything I can to keep Common Core out of Louisiana and keep Louisiana out of the Common Core,” he said.
He pointed to the program as another example of federal government overreach, although it was developed by the states and bankrolled by the Gates Foundation.
Jindal’s speech was the final-night keynote for the three-day “Road to Majority” conference sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition. The coalition is led by Ralph Reed, who was a senior adviser to the national Bush-Cheney campaigns in both 2000 and 2004 and is a former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. He may be best known for his work as executive director from 1989 to 1997 of the Christian Coalition, which amplified the voice of the religious right in politics — a goal his current coalition shares.
In his speech, Jindal cited his immigrant parents’ up-from-the-bottom saga as an illustration of the American dream in action — and, he said, “The thing that worries me the most are this president’s efforts and policies and rhetoric to redefine the American dream.”
His reminiscing drew laughs when he repeated the well-worn parental bromides his father was fond of. But the loudest laugh came when he wrapped Clinton, her statements on Benghazi and White House bungling in one package: Asking if Obama is the most liberal president ever or rather the most incompetent, he said, “Here’s the only answer I’m going to come up with, and I’m going to quote Secretary Clinton: ‘What difference does it make?’ ”
The three-day conference aimed to water the evangelical grass-roots to promote “strong pro-family policies.” On Friday, other Republicans who potentially harbor national ambitions for 2016 — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania — addressed the conference.
Jindal, 43, spoke to a like-minded audience last month at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, 180 miles southwest of the capital, where he explained his spiritual journey from Hindu child to Protestant teen to his current identity as what he calls an evangelical Catholic.
In another use of his favorite rhetorical device Saturday, he said, “America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created America.”
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