As the conservative movement endures its first election cycle without a clear leader, pretenders to the Reagan mantle rise and fall with alarming speed. Mike Huckabee shocks the nation with a victory in Iowa thanks to the evangelical vote, only to lose to a resurgent John McCain bringing his own surge to the campaign, who then yields to Mitt Romney, unable to match his economic message and business bona fides. The limits of one candidate’s appeal to one faction of the movement is readily evident, especially in light of the sometimes vitriolic disdain the other factions will voice in response. Huckabee is denounced as a closet liberal, McCain a neocon maverick, and Romney a Clintonesque chameleon. Even worse, a rising Democratic Party is proceeding with an orderly (for them) nomination of historic proportions – for the first time a woman or African American will lead a major national ticket (who knows, maybe on the same ticket).
For all the dread in anticipation of liberal ascendancy, a sojourn in the political wilderness will serve the movement well. To recall, it was sixteen years after Barry Goldwater’s catastrophic run before Ronald Reagan led the conservative crusade to victory and then another twelve years before conservatives solidly captured Congress. To succeed, we must suffer. Conservative verities of limited government and traditional values united in defense of the American constitutional creed at home and its continued advance around the globe are enduring. Our failing is not a dearth of principles, but a dearth of leaders.
While Jindal’s arrival does not mean a pretender to the Reagan throne will win the White House in 2008, it does confirm conservatism’s vitality going into the future.
Jindal stands proudly on Reaganite conservatism, having announced an attractive agenda of fiscal discipline, pro-growth policies, and limited government for a state long accustomed to the opposite. A convert to Christianity from Hinduism since his childhood, he invoked the Almighty at the opening of his inaugural address. Jindal is a steadfast and thoughtful opponent of abortion. He is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. And for those who worry the Bush Administration’s foundering in Iraq has soured the next generation of conservatives on a moralistic worldview and the importance of a pro-democratic foreign policy, recall his leading the GOP freshman class in enthusiastically raising purple inked fingers at the 2006 State of the Union in solidarity with Iraqi voters in the December 2005 elections. Finally, as the current crop of candidates for the Republican nomination have wrestled with the nettlesome issue of immigration, conservatives can remind themselves Jindal, as the son of Punjabi immigrants, is living proof of this nation’s ability to transform newcomers from around the world into successful American citizens – on the basis of merit and not grievances.
In defiance of commentators asserting the Democratic candidates have an edge on history making this year, we can point to Jindal’s own astonishing superlatives – a former Rhodes scholar and the youngest governor in the country. And his youngish thirty-seven years belies a formidable resume of accomplishments easily exceeding that of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Clinton and Obama have proposed extensive health care reform plans – Jindal was the principal adviser to the secretary of health and human services at age 30 after having served as the executive director of the Medicare reform commission. Prior to that, Jindal (at age 24!) was Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals, an agency then representing about 40 percent of the state's budget. During his tenure, Louisiana's Medicaid program went from bankruptcy with a $400 million deficit into three years of surpluses totaling $220 million. Should he succeed with reform in backwards Louisiana, Jindal may finally present a true conservative contrast to the calls for socialized medicine perennially emanating from the liberal establishment.
More importantly, Jindal represents a stark contrast to the despicable accusations of liberals who have contended Republican conservatism captured southern voters affection through coded appeals to racism and a cynical “southern strategy.” As the first non-white governor in Louisiana since Reconstruction and the first Indian-American governor in the nation’s history, Jindal signals the emptiness of this charge and the hypocrisy of identity politics.
Jindal, of course, is not perfect. He lost his first bid for the governorship in 2003, losing narrowly to Blanco. However, like Reagan in 1976, the pause in his rise was critical. Just as America had to endure the fiasco of what was the Carter presidency, Louisiana had to witness Blanco’s ineptitude during Hurricane Katrina in order to truly appreciate what could have been possible if the previous election outcome had been different. In the aftermath of disastrous relief efforts and inexplicable fraud, Louisiana voters delivered the governorship to Jindal by a solid majority to avoid a runoff.
How did Jindal respond did the voters’ mandate? Within hours of taking the oath, he issued four executive orders and convened a Cabinet meeting. In February, he will call a special legislative session to pass ethics reform. In contrast to the empty and stale protestations of change in this campaign, Jindal is implementing it in vigorous fashion.
Bobby Jindal will be a leader to watch.