Puncturing Bobby Jindal’s bubble.

The notion that the Republican Party only turned rotten last week, and that it used to be a haven of enlightened, principled Jeffersonians is a curious one. You’d have to reach back to Robert Taft (d. 1953) even to find a prominent Republican who matched the description, but still this delusion persists. The latest prominent public man to voice this popular notion is Bobby Jindal, current darling of the libertarian right, who last month put it this way: “The country didn’t stop being conservative; the Republican Party stopped being conservative. We need to go back to our roots.”

Since the Republican Party’s “roots” are as an insurgent party of the 1850s formed to oppose the extension of slavery, one can be forgiven for suspecting that Jindal’s concept of the party’s “roots” comes close to being sheer romantic fantasy. What principles have the Republican Party’s bosses ever stood for? Opposition to big government? The GOP in fact let all of Roosevelt’s New Deal slide through virtually unopposed (including its single worst act, the unconstitutional National Industrial Recovery Act), and let it stand ever since as a sort of permanent whipping boy. (1) Opposition to intrusive government? This is the same party that in the 1980s, in Walter Karp’s words, “made government more intrusive than ever,” launching the War on Drugs and compiling lists of “improper” persons, limning the sinister agenda they foisted full-force on the country in 2001. Opposition to foreign entanglements? It was a Republican President (McKinley, the most devious of them all) who gave us our first truly imperial war and launched us on the road to global empire in 1898. True, for about half a century they preferred to let the Democrats start their wars for them. But the eagerness with which they plunged into war under a suitably obliging president just how phony much of their professed “isolationism” was during the 1990s, when it served as a suitable tool with which to bash Clinton. (Clinton himself brandished his unabashed-liberal image as a means to distract voters from his actual policies, which crossed the line from “centrist” to outright right-wing before the decade was half dead.)

Despite all this, I confess that I find the idea of conservatism much more attractive than the idea of liberalism. As most commentators note at some time or another, the basic tenets of conservatism — opposition to excessive government, opposition to excessive taxes, opposition to excessive spending, opposition to excessive foreign entanglements — are immensely attractive because they’re based on opposing things most of us hate. The problem with defining conservatism this broadly, however, is that it leaves open the question why any decent person would believe anything else. Who would be a liberal if it meant nothing but calling for excessive government and high taxes?

Jonah Goldberg simplified the matter considerably by suggesting that all liberals were, whether they knew it or not, followers of the despotic and self-righteous Woodrow Wilson, the uberliberal of our age. Which leaves open the possibility that Wilson’s most hated enemy, Senator Robert La Follette, scourge of crooked machines and faux progressives, was himself a sort of conservative, defending the Constitution and Lincolnian government from its Tammany foes. I’d have no problem believing that, except that La Follette’s issues — with the possible exception of avoiding foreign entanglements — are most decidedly not those of contemporary Republicans. Contemporary Republicans rarely talk about genuine republican issues at all. To hear them talk about education, for example, you’d think the only issue at stake was the size of the workforce in 2019.

Anyway, it’s hard to see what’s “conservative” — in the elevated sense — about Jindal himself. As a Congressman, he voted to make the PATRIOT Act permanent, voted to make flag burning illegal, voted for the REAL ID Act. He voted for Bush’s single worst legislative coup, the Military Commissions Act — the single worst assault on habeas corpus rights in our history. He voted for the invasive Federal Marriage Amendment. The National Right to Life Committee gave him a 100 percent pro-life voting record. (2) Not one iota of this have we heard from a media rushing to crown Jindal as “the GOP’s Obama.”

It might be argued, I suppose, that Jindal represents an advance over the demagoguery of most Republicans of the last decade. If we are to judge politicians by their actions, and not merely their words — and certainly not their public images, or the effectiveness with which they deliver speeches — Jindal seems little different from the other Republicans who have been eagerly defiling the Constitution and popular government (often, distressingly, in the name of the Constitution itself) for decades. I understand why conservatives want him to be different. There’s never been a more opportune time for a truly conservative figure to emerge and reject the empty blather of the GOP’s platform as so much demagoguery and bluster. Such a figure could transform the way we think about politics altogether. But if conservatism means nothing more than opposing high taxes, the word is so degraded as to become meaningless.

1. I should probably come clean and confess that I think most of the Second New Deal, from 1935 to 1937 — Social Security, etc. — was fine and dandy. I have no patience with historians — “historians,” I should perhaps say — who think Roosevelt was a fascist, or that only a “laissez faire” approach a la Coolidge could have ended the Depression.

2. I recognize that it’s possible to oppose Roe v. Wade on federalist grounds, and prefer that abortion policies be left up to the states. But someone with a 100 percent pro-life record wants abortion banned, not left up to the states.

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One Response to “Puncturing Bobby Jindal’s bubble.”

  1. Weekend Reading « The Arizona Desert Lamp Says:

    […] the Civic Spirit, Justyn Dillingham takes down the myth of Bobby Jindal after his SOTU-response, not realizing that a malevolent ex-staffer […]

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