By Ryan West
In a 25-minute-long speech billed as a “rebuttal” to President Obama’s inaugural address, Governor Bobby Jindal unleashed his plan to rebrand the GOP. While Jindal’s plan to reshape the GOP embraces “competing for every single vote” and “rejecting identity politics”, I think it’s critical to see the distinction between Jindal’s national rhetoric and his performance as Louisiana’s governor.
Across the country, pundits have embraced Jindal for his enthusiasm to “speak truth to GOP power.” The New York Times praised Jindal’s speech for recognizing “the urgent need to make the party more welcoming to a broader cross-section of Americans, particularly women, Hispanics and blacks.” Politico called it “a version of Ronald Reagan’s ‘New Federalism’ on steroids.” CNN jumped on the Jindal bandwagon by stating Jindal “further positioned himself as a forward-looking voice among the Republicans thought to have their eye on a White House bid in 2016.” However, the national praise that Jindal received does not match the reality of the disastrous effect his policies have taken on Louisiana’s families.
In his speech to the national Republicans, Jindal mocked the budget-cutting focus of the GOP. “By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.).” Yet, when you truly look at his actions, Jindal only mocks himself given his unrelenting focus on budget cuts in Louisiana.
He stated, “We must not become the party of austerity.” Meanwhile back home in Louisiana, his efforts of austerity are eliminating services for the mentally ill, cutting services for disabled children and only creating a panic in families in need of help.
One day before his big speech, Jindal was forced to reverse himself on what is one of his ugliest policy decisions: cutting Medicaid funding for hospice care. This reversal is not due to the outrage from the people of Louisiana but due to negative spotlight he received on the national level.
Yet as Jindal stated, “we as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching – even conservative number crunching – is not the answer to our nation’s problems,” other cruel budget cuts in Louisiana are set to stand – cuts to battered women’s shelter programs, to higher education, preschool programs, anti-truancy efforts and a range of other efforts to make life better for working people. Governor Jindal has demonstrated a complete disregard to access to health care by dismantling public hospitals with no plan for care for the uninsured, rejecting the expansion of Medicaid and healthcare exchanges and denying 400,000 Louisianans the ability to access quality health care through the Affordable Care Act.
In his latest effort to grab national headlines, Jindal wants to swap the state’s income and corporate tax with a more regressive sales tax. In 2011, Governor Jindal vetoed a 4 cent tax renewal on cigarettes and now in 2013 he wants to eliminate income taxes and raise the cigarette tax by a $1 and add 4 cents on sales taxes.
This “tax swap” will dramatically raise taxes for 80% of Louisianans—the people who work for a living or who are retired on a fixed income trying to maintain some quality to their lives. Meanwhile, Governor Jindal has sponsored corporate tax exemptions of over $4 billion to support big corporations.
Jindal thinks he can help his party. How do you ask? “The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them,” that’s about it. He rejects “identity politics.”
Back in the real world, Jindal is the Governor of one of the poorest states in the country where more than 32% of the population are African American. In Louisiana, Governor Jindal has made no effort to work with African American leaders, ministers or even legislators. His personal disdain and disrespect for leaders in his own state is very real. How hypocritical is it to now want to like other ethnic groups. He is only offering the GOP a novel, post-racial approach to equal opportunity- say one thing and do another.
Oh, and then there was this: “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. I’m serious; it’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.” This is far from his recent actions of demonizing teachers and state employees, while pushing through policies that would teach Louisiana’s youth that at one point in history humans relied on dinosaurs for transportation. Bobby Jindal is the Governor that supports creationism, disdains history and mocks educational leaders.
Clearly, Jindal is going to get credit for the slightest affirmation of the growing diversity of the United States, even if his actions back home don’t match the actions he is touting around the country. The acclaim for Jindal’s speech is an example of bigotry by the mainstream media: “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” to use one of George W. Bush’s few good lines.
Rather than focusing on his image to the national media, the Governor should put his presidential aspirations aside and focus on the problems citizens face every day in Louisiana.