"Ready for dinner"
It’s rare that I think my colleague Alex Pareene isn’t tough enough on a Republican. Actually, it’s never happened. But while his column on Bobby Jindal’s plan to remake the GOP by liking people captured its saccharine emptiness, I think it’s crucial to contrast Jindal’s rhetorical faux boldness with his same-old-GOP policies as Louisiana’s governor.
The man hailed by the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza for his readiness to “speak truth to GOP power” in a tedious speech to the Republican National Committee Thursday night is anything but a rebel or renegade. One night before his big 2016 star turn, Jindal was forced by national outrage to reverse himself on what is one of the ugliest GOP policy decisions in an ugly decade: cutting Medicaid funding for hospice care. His health secretary actually announced the decision Wednesday night as hospice backers gathered for a mournful candlelight vigil.
Good timing; continued attention to Jindal’s hospice cruelty might have made it tough for him to be the new public face of what he hopes will be the diversity-friendly GOP.
Yet Jindal’s other cruel cuts 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 low-income people. Meanwhile Jindal wants to replace the state’s income tax with more regressive sales taxes.
His speech pretended to mock the budget-cutting focus of the national 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 Jindal’s program cuts show that on budget-cutting issues, he’s a typical Republican.
An Indian-American, Jindal thinks he can help his party avoid demographic extinction as the official white party in a country that will soon be mostly non-white. What’s his strategy? “The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them,” Jindal says. Really, that’s about it. He rejects “identity politics,” but he also seems to reject policies that might win over voters who aren’t white, whether it involves fighting voter suppression, immigration reform or genuine help for those left out to join the middle class. He is offering the GOP a novel, post-racial approach to equal opportunity: screw the poor, whatever their color.
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.” What does that even mean?
I understand why Jindal’s address was big news to desperate Republicans (the Washington Examiner’s Byron York live-tweeted it). Yet it also was treated as a major world event not just by the Post but Politico, which called it “a version of Ronald Reagan’s ‘New Federalism’ on steroids.” Honestly, that might be unfair to Reagan. The New York Times hailed Jindal’s speech as recognizing “the urgent need to make the party more welcoming to a broader cross-section of Americans, particularly women, Hispanics and blacks.” CNN said Jindal “further positioned himself as a forward-looking voice among the Republicans thought to have their eye on a White House bid in 2016.”
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.
Clearly, Republicans are going to get extraordinary credit for the slightest nod toward reckoning with their political troubles, and Republicans who aren’t white, or who say nice things about voters who aren’t white, will get extra credit for merely acknowledging diversity, even if they do nothing different from the old white men who run their party.
It’s going to be a long four years.
(An earlier version of this post identified Byron York as a National Review writer, but he’s moved on to the Washington Examiner.)
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."More Joan Walsh.