If the definition of a political gaffe is when a politician accidentally says the truth, then Willard Romney is the gaffe that keeps on gaffing. The defeated candidate gave Democrats an 'extraordinary gift' this week. As Congress prepares to renegotiate the terms on our social contract, Mitt's latest recording reminded America of the GOP's disdain for the majority of the American electorate.
It was no surprise that many prominent Republicans have seized upon this moment as a political opportunity to advance their own careers. Yesterday, Louisiana Governor Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal made his opening move in the contest to become the GOP's new standard bearer. Jindal made headlines when he called on Republicans to 'end dumbed-down conservatism' and to 'stop being the stupid party.' Making news this way was not accidental. On the same day Jindal was pushing these sound-bytes in interviews at the Republican Governors Association (to steal the spotlight from competitors like New Jersey's Chris Christie and Wisconsin's Scott Walker), he published those same words in an opinion piece for CNN.com.
I recommend that fellow Kossacks take the time to read this piece, entitled How Republicans can win future elections. No, it's not going to become iconic like Mitt's Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. It does, however, provide an interesting general glimpse into the current GOP mindset and into the specific style of politics employed by Mr. Jindal.
In microcosm, this column of a couple hundred words calling for change in the GOP demonstrates precisely why the GOP will never change. The heart of his advice, which made the headlines and first lines of news coverage, is the following:
4. Stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It's time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. Enough of that.
5. Stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.
Jindal attempted here to list seven 'lessons' for the Republicans to learn from their 2012 defeat. Number 4 and 5 are almost identical. Word space is limited in a standard op-ed, but Jindal managed to waste one bullet-point paragraph by reciting the previous point in different language.
But, let's set aside the fact that two of Jindal's seven lessons are really the same thing. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he emphasized this point because he thought it was especially important. Repetition is as valid a rhetorical strategy as any. Focus on the heart of his advice: that Republicans should "articulate their plans and visions in real terms" instead of "reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag-lines."
It sounds like pretty good advice, right? Well, let's take a look at the rest of Jindal's editorial, to find out if he practices what he preached.
The remainder of his editorial consists of, depending on how you want to count it, about twenty of those "mindless slogans and tag-lines for 30-second ads" that Jindal derides. Jindal puts on an almost self-parodic clinic of rote, mindless, dumbed-down, intelligence-insulting conservative rhetoric.
America already has one liberal political party; there is no need for another one.Using the liberal label as a pejorative. Now there's a brilliant tactic I've never seen before.
Make no mistake: Despite losing an election, conservative ideals still hold true.Assert that your ideology has a monopoly on truth. Always a good play.
Government spending still does not grow our economy. American weakness on the world stage still does not lead to peace. Higher taxes still does not create prosperity for all. And, more government still does not grow jobsThat's four slogans in four sentences. Three of these merely assert conservative economic dogma as unqualified fact (and the first and last are basically, although not technically, the same thing).
The 'weakness' line stands out as a particularly weak argument. At least conservative economic theory is falsifiable. The totality of his foreign policy critique is simply the application of an adjective. This is precisely the political strategy Mitt Romney attempted in the disastrous foreign policy platform of his campaign: instead of explaining your policy, you simply label the other guy as weak and label your side as strong. Keep branding and branding until people believe it. Americans prefer strength to weakness. When you're a Republican governor without any experience or interest in foreign relations (a la Bush and Romney), this is the only card you can play: We're tough and you're a bunch of pussies.
We need to modernize, not moderate.
Stop looking backward. ... Conservative ideals are aspirational, and our country is aspirational.Personally, I'm a fan of alliteration and repetition as rhetorical strategies. There is nothing inherently wrong with this style. But make no mistake, Mr. Jindal is saying nothing of substance here and he is taking precisely the same expedient path he is advising his fellow Republicans to avoid.
We will treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups.
President Barack Obama and the Democrats can continue trying to divide America into groups of warring communities with competing interests, but we will have none of it. We are going after every vote as we try to unite all Americans.These might be the most revealing lines of all here. Jindal is essentially agreeing with the substance of Romney's "47%" and "extraordinary gift" comments that he criticized, but packaging them more politely. Republicans haven't learned that this kind of anti-Obama mudslinging insults the intelligence of American voters. When Democrats agree with the two-thirds of Americans that support a policy such as the Buffet rule or returning to the Clinton era top tax rates, it's not about division. It's a legitimate policy difference that should be debated on its own terms. You can always tell when a Republican is running out of substantive rebuttals for sensible and moderate reforms when they start yelling about class warfare and dividing America.
Quit "big." We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything.This is a classic Frank Luntz strategy. Don't say 'wealthy' and 'upper-class.' Say 'small business.' People like small businesses. This is also a strategy that just failed when Mitt Romney attempted it. Even though Romney asserted over and over again that Republican policies were designed to favor small businesses, Americans understood that he was making coded references to policies that favor the wealthy.
Focus on people, not government.There was plenty of stiff competition here, but I think this is probably Jindal's most mindless slogan of all.
We believe in organic solutions, not big government solutions.Okay, I might have to reconsider my last comment.
We need an equal opportunity society, one in which government does not see its job as picking winners and losers.
Our government must pursue a level playing field.
The core of his outline was already over, but he threw in a few more dumbed down slogans, just for kicks.
Much like Paul Ryan, Jindal is transparently attempting to brand himself as the 'smart Republican,' by talking about his intelligence rather than showing it. His ostensible message is that Republicans need to stop being the stupid party. As he defines it, empty political rhetoric insults the intelligence of voters, but explaining detailed ideas and policy proposals will be the way to move forward. Given a podium on which to make the conservative case to America, what does Jindal do? He uses three out of every four sentences to recite the same brainless conservative rhetoric that didn't work at the polls a week ago.
Hell, at least "Let Detroit Go bankrupt" was an actual substantive proposal. If you can be proven wrong, then you've actually said something.
To his credit, Mr. Jindal does conclude his piece with two vague allusions to actual government policies. One of these is a Bush-style, Palinesque word salad about energy:
Our energy policy is outdated as well, stuck in old ideological arguments which harm our ability to create a more sustainable future where energy independence can actually be achieved. We have to change that.So, something-something "energy independence," with the word "sustainable" thrown in there as an appeal for moderates. It's not a policy plan but a policy outcome. Not coincidentally, this point is stolen almost verbatim from the five-point platform that Mitt Romney lost on just a week earlier.
The closest Mr. Jindal comes to actually saying something "in real terms" as he described is the following:
For example, our education system seems to be in the Stone Age and miserably outdated. It's time to update traditional public schools, charter schools, home schools, online schools and parochial schools. Let the dollars follow the child instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars, so that every child has the opportunity to attain an education.Either Jindal was not paying attention, or he really underestimates the memory of the American electorate. He has just copied two of the five points of the rejected Romney plan (which, by the way, was a rehash of the rejected McCain plan). Come on, Bobby.
Regardless, education is as good a place as any to start. Louisiana schools rank somewhere around 47th out of 50. Mr. Jindal, you are the governor of one of the United States, clothed in immense power. Come up with a conservative solution to your state's education deficiencies. Do it by the parameters you set out for yourself. Do it without 'dividing' the people into interest groups, like 'teachers unions.' Do it without raising taxes or cutting anything that will harm the economy. Do it without the help of that big bad federal government. Do it with a 'small' and 'organic' solution, as you say. It's time for your party to show us the amazing educational success that conservative principles can produce.
I care about education. I'm willing to make the proverbial $10,000 bet. Governor, find a way to transform Louisiana schools into the model for the rest of the world, without any costs, and I'll support you for President in 2016.
Until then, the American people aren't going to be won over by your stupid, dumbed-down, mindless slogans. On the bright side for you, though, if your education system fails to improve, then some of them just might.