In the Arena

Bobby Jindal’s Blustery Day

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Bobby Jindal is a very smart fellow. Back when he was in Congress, I’d try to check in with him every six months or so, just to see what he was thinking about. At first, we talked about health insurance–his specialty. Then, about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina (he was appalled). He was fairly relentlessly conservative, but sometimes quite creative and always intellectually honest. 

In short, a different fellow from the one who appeared on Meet the Press today. This Jindal was relentlessly conservative, but not so intellectually honest. The Governor of Louisiana has made headlines this week by threatening to refuse the stimulus package funds headed to his state. But he’s not going to do that, really. He’s going to accept all the money heading his way–except for the funds associated with one program, a permanent change in the rules governing the provision of unemployment insurance to part-time workers. 

He spent an awful lot of time griping about the overall stimulus package–although, in the end, that was pretty much a distortion, too. When it came down to it, Jindal didn’t like the aforementioned unemployment insurance provision and the slight trims on tax breaks for small businesses. He also didn’t like some of the infrastructure spending–on high-speed rail. He also didn’t like $50 million orginially proposed for the National Endowment of the Arts. (I’m not even sure that famous $50 million made it into the final bill, although I hope it did: a country whose children have a more supple knowledge of music and art will, without question, have more sophisticated and productive workers.)

To summarize: Jindal opposes the unemployment codicil, the slimmer tax breaks for small businesses, the support for high-speed rail and the money for the arts. That leaves the overwhelming bulk of the stimulus package, which he presemably supports. A fair question would have been: Governor Jindal, if you were given a take it or leave it choice on the entire package headed for your state, would you take it or leave it? The answer, of course: he’d take it. And so would nearly every one of the Republicans who hooted and howled and grandstanded against the bill. They had the luxury of voting against it because they knew it would pass. I’d venture to say not a single Democrat who voted for the bill was 100% pleased with it. Many probably had objections as substantive, and ultimately as peripheral, as Jindal’s. But they voted for the bill because they are now the majority party and it would have been irresponsible, given the economic free-fall, not to do so. 

At one point in the interview, Jindal–who seems to be running for President–trotted out the standard Republican boilerplate about the need for a package with more tax cuts, especially in the capital gains tax. David Gregory pointed out that we’d just had eight years of that philosophy, and it hadn’t done very much to help  job creation or median incomes. Jindal resorted to the Republican fantasy playbook–to the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts, which allegedly helped boost the economy. (Actually, it was the Carter-Volcker monetary reforms that set the economy on a more stable path for growth in the early 1980s.) Needless to say, Jindal didn’t mention either the Reagan tax increases (proportionately the largest in U.S. history) or the slightly smaller Clinton increases, which led to the lowering of interest rates and the economic boom of the 1990’s. Nor did he mention the 30 years of neglect the nation’s infrastructure has suffered during the Reagan era–not just the neglect of roads and bridges and levees, but also of the sorts of high-tech and green  infrastructure programs (including mass transit and high-speed rail) that will lay the basis for a more efficient economy in the future.

In other words, Jindal–the alleged voice of the GOP future–had absolutely nothing new to say. And what he did say, about the stimulus, was purposefully misleading. I’m not sure how well the Obama stimulus, banking and budget plans will work. No one does. But I do know how the philosophy and the misleading politics that Jindal offered today has worked in the recent past.

It’s been a disaster.