In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal granted an interview with a nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who gave a speech later that day in Baton Rouge.
“I had a wonderful interview with your governor,” Thomas told the crowd. “Forty-five minutes, one question.”
The ensuing years of experience with Jindal effusions have, however, not been merely exercises in long-windedness. Rather, one of the lessons we have learned in Louisiana is that the governor may say a great deal, but commit himself to very little.
In the governor’s recent statements on the predicament of the Republican Party, one might ask: Where’s the beef?
Jindal gained headlines with an interview with Politico.com by using some provocative phrases, including the suggestion that the GOP should not allow itself to be stigmatized as “the stupid party.” And he kicked a little sand in the face of his recent nominee Mitt Romney. The party should “compete for every single vote, the 47 percent and the 53 percent,” Jindal said.
He elaborated in a column for CNN.com that was about not changing course but of reiterating the fundamental truths of the party’s message — that lost on Nov. 6.
“In the aftermath of the presidential election, Republicans have been inundated with advice to moderate, equivocate, and even abandon their core principles as a necessary prerequisite for winning future elections,” Jindal said. “That is absurd.”
So on CNN, the declaration of “conservative ideals still hold true” gives us a Jindal without a specific commitment to policy changes for the GOP.
He certainly did not suggest any softening of the anti-immigrant tone that has driven Hispanics from the GOP in droves. “Identity politics is corrosive to the great American melting pot and we reject it,” Jindal said. “We will treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups.”
What he suggested that may be considered different from the Romney campaign was a riff against “bigness.”
“We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything,” Jindal said. “We must not be the party that simply protects the well-off so they can keep their toys.”
Again, provocative language that, if it points in any particular policy direction, might suggest a populist party line. Indeed, progressive Louis Brandeis exactly a century ago might have said much the same thing.
But in policy terms, what can the GOP do about this? To the extent there seems an idea here, it is a policy prescription already staked out — well ahead of this year’s election — by Jindal’s in-state “frenemy,” U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
Vitter has crusaded for higher capital requirements for the “too big to fail” banks. Agree or not, and it’s a complicated subject, Vitter’s view is one way in which to give policy credibility to slogans like “big banks” and “Wall Street bailouts.”
There is time for Jindal to be engaged in a more meaningful discussion of policy changes that might give the GOP a better shot at the presidency in 2016. His first efforts along these lines, aside from a little borrowing from Vitter, remind those of us in Louisiana of the Jindal whose rhetoric is that of an all-you-can-eat special at the Platitudes Buffet.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.