Gov. Bobby Jindal may be a long shot for president, but his new campaign commercial is a supremely savvy political move. It also has the virtue of expressing a vitally important truth.
The ad continues Jindal’s resolute focus on issues of religious liberty. It’s the right message — and if it’s still possible for him to vault into the top tier of presidential contenders (yes, it is, but not likely, especially if he is denied debate access) — this is the right message and the right method for the attempt.
The new ad by the pro-Jindal outfit known as the American Future Project features Jindal making an impassioned case for religious liberty in front of a large crowd at the religious right-aligned Liberty University. Then, from a different podium, comes the key line: “The United States of America did not create religious liberty; Religious liberty created the United States of America.”
He’s right. Profoundly so. The Eastern Seaboard of North America was settled by people whose primary reason for leaving Europe was a desire for religious liberty. The ideals they consistently espoused traced back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 — both specifically documents written to church leaders, both resting their appeals to liberty on an assertion that their rights came not from men or institutions but from God.
And when the United States of America was founded, the foremost theorists of the revolution and the new government, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, advocated freedom of religion (or of “conscience”) to be the first, and the source, of all other liberties. In his magisterial book “The Theme is Freedom,” the seminal conservative writer M. Stanton Evans (who died March 3) tracked, in indisputable detail, how Western, and later specifically American, notions of liberty grew directly from, and specifically because of, the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Evans showed it is that specific tradition, and only that tradition among major world cultures, that emphasizes “the intrinsic worth of the individual, the respect that is owing to all human beings, the need to limit the compulsions that can be used by one person against another.”
This is not to say that our government has a role in religion. This is to say that respect for the rights of individual religious conscience is necessary both for our freedom and for the stability of our government.
The bicoastal media herd doesn’t even begin to understand this, and neither do the Wall Street suits or Silicon Valley hipsters. Not only are they dangerously misguided, but they are also clueless about the growing backlash against governmental intrusions on religious liberty. It’s a backlash that, as National Review’s David French noted in a speech for Hillsdale College, is not merely relegated to what media elites feverishly suppose are toothless hordes of witch-burning Bible-thumpers.
Instead, French said, “the conservative grassroots and conservative public intellectuals are united,” with “no wavering among America’s most influential conservative writers and thinkers.”
In short, the battle to protect religious liberty will be a plenipotent rallying cry for Republican primary/caucus voters in 2016. Jindal and his team have recognized that the candidate who best plays Galahad jousting for those principles will have a good chance to emerge from the dense Republican pack.
Many Louisianans might not have noticed, but Jindal right now is winning that battle, with encomiums flowing his way from numerous thought leaders on the right, especially in the crucial opening caucus state of Iowa. Now the Jindal camp is the first one out with an ad — a well-produced one — on this topic. Smartly played.
None of this, by the way, excuses Jindal for virtually abandoning his responsibilities in Louisiana, for which he ought to suspend his Oval Office dreams and call a special session to address the state’s long-term needs. But for his own ambitions, Jindal’s repeated, disciplined, and well-warranted attention to the subject gives him a fighting chance for the Republican nomination.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.