Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal began his speech at CPAC 2014 by offering a humorous apology to Jimmy Carter for referring to him as the worst president in the modern era, since a long look at Barack Obama’s foreign policy clearly shows he deserves that title. But most of Governor Jindal’s speech was about his signature issue, school choice.
Many speakers take a shot at defining the American Dream. To Jindal, it’s the chance for every child to have a great education – the indispensable tool for making all other dreams come true. To this end, the governor has tried to put a great teacher in every classroom… a process that is only enhanced by giving parents the chance to choose classrooms for their children.
“We trust parents to make the best decisions for their children,” said Jindal. “But this Preisdent and his liberal allies don???t trust the American people to make decisions for themselves.”
He spoke proudly of the astonishing 93 percent satisfaction level of parents for Louisiana’s school choice program, relating how many parents told them it was the first time their children had worn a uniform, or brought work home from school. Strict methods for measuring and rewarding the efforts of teachers are crucial to this process, since parents must have a way to judge performance to make informed decisions about educating their children. The Governor said failing to link teacher compensation to student performance was like trying to play football without keeping score.
Of course, not everyone shares Governor Jindal’s enthusiasm for parental control over education. “Who could be against giving choices to parents?” Jindal asked. “Eric Holder and Barack Obama, that???s who.”
He charged that it was “immoral, cynical, and hypocritical for the Attorney General and the President to deny poor children these chances, and trap them in failing schools.” He was undaunted by the Holder Justice Department’s efforts to shut down Louisiana school choice programs. “We’re going to fight them every step of the way,” he vowed.
Jindal suggested that the confused state of education in America today, and some of the system’s antipathy toward his own school choice efforts, are a symptom of government grown big and stupid. He recalled attempts to excuse some of President Obama’s lapses in leadership by claiming the system is so huge that no one person can understand everything it’s doing. For Jindal, that’s a big problem, not a clever bit of spin to get Obama off the hook on Sunday shows. He noted that in a government so vast and expensive that no one can be held fully accountable for knowing its full extent, no one can be held fully responsible… which is a rather convenient bit of cover for the irresponsible.
He ticked off a list of Obama-era news stories, from the doubled national debt to Hillary Clinton shrieking “What difference does it make?” to escape responsibility for the Benghazi disaster, and said no one would have believed any of those developments possible in 2008. It seems as though our bar for accountable government is set lower, even as our hunger for Big Government grows. The more power we allow the State, the less non-negotiable liberty we claim for ourselves.
Jindal was particularly offended at the current assault on religious liberty. “This President seems to believe our First Amendment rights, our religious rights, begin and end in the pews on Sunday,” he said. Out goes the fabled wall of separation between Church and State; now the church is our only tiny refuge from the reach of the State, and even that might not last for much longer.
Jindal had a neat way of summing up how wrong-headed the view of religious freedom as a minor speed bump to statist ambitions is: “This country didn???t create religious liberty and freedom; religious liberty and freedom created this country.” He also noted that a robust embrace of free worship and expression must go beyond last-ditch objections to only the most obnoxious official speech codes; our cultural tolerance for different points of view is essential as well.
He cited his defense of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson as one aspect of a full-spectrum approach to intellectual diversity. “I stood up for their right to speak up and articulate their beliefs,” he said of the Robertson family, “because I???m tired of the Left claiming to be tolerant, except when you disagree with them.”
If education is the vital tool for achieving the American Dream, then free choice and the individual pursuit of opportunity are how that dream is made real. Jindal sees perpetually-growing activist government as an expression of distrust in the American people, and thinks it’s an insult they shouldn’t take lying down.
“This Administration is trying to redefine the American Dream so that success is defined by govt assistance. That???s not the American Dream, it???s the American nightmare,” he said. “The genius of the Founding Fathers was to trust the American people.”
He spoke of times gone by, when his father got a job by going through the Yellow Pages (they were like Google printed on flimsy paper, kids) and calling businesses until someone hired him, or setting up a payment plan for the costs of little Bobby’s birth with a handshake deal – two honorable men reaching an agreement without requiring a buzzing cloud of bureaucrats or a billion dollars of government overhead.
Jindal is on to something big when he talks about micro-regulated, hyper-litigated America as a place of diminished trust… and isn’t trust the vital component of honest commerce? People who don’t trust each other don’t work together to create prosperity. They cooperate warily, and keep a dwindling portion of the reward for their efforts. A nation vibrant with voluntary cooperation would have little need for trillion-dollar stimulus programs or million-page federal code books. That sounds like the kind of world well-educated children, guided by discriminating parents, might want to build for themselves.