Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Jindal's Missed Opportunity"

Smart piece by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute in its magazine City Journal: "Jindal's Missed Opportunity" (Hat Tip: Real Clear Politics). Excerpts:

Jindal noted that Republicans have an “honest and fundamental disagreement” with Democrats about “the proper role of government.” Regarding the public sector’s ability to rescue Americans from the economic storm, he said, “those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina—we have our doubts.” Jindal told how, in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 storm, he went to visit Sheriff Harry Lee (now deceased) and found him yelling into the phones. Lee had learned that volunteers in boats were ready to go out and help, but that “some bureaucrat” had told them they couldn’t do so without insurance and registration. The sheriff told the boaters to “ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.” From this tale, Jindal concluded, America should realize that “the strength of America is not found in our government” but in the “enterprising spirit” of regular people.

The problem with Jindal’s story—and one reason why Republicans are in so much trouble now—is that reasonable people don’t consider providing critical, life-saving support for starving and dehydrated people after an unprecedented natural disaster to be an example of scarily big government. That’s just minimally competent government, even in a country far less developed than ours. In fact, Jindal’s story illustrates the opposite of what he intended. Lee, a longtime government1 official, personified the functional, nimble government that we need. He overrode unnamed bureaucrats and told volunteers that he’d be personally responsible if they ran into any more trouble. Lee made a smart decision on the fly and saved lives. Unfortunately, other officials—at all levels, with only a few exceptions—proved shamefully negligent in their responses. Because they failed at their jobs, people died.


Americans don’t see abject government incompetence as an argument for no government. They see it as an argument for a government that is at least passably competent at fundamental tasks. Republicans do the country a disservice by not recognizing this truth. And since some Democrats seem to confuse Americans’ desire for a competent government with a desire for a government that does everything—a disastrous misstep in the opposite direction—Republicans need to provide a rational counterweight.

The banner image above comes from the City Journal website.

1To be fair to Jindal, it seemed clear from the context (a response to a POTUS speech) that by "government" he was implicitly referring to the federal government. There are some things only the Federal government can do, but it's not unreasonable for a conservative (or anyone else, for that matter) to prefer to have more responsibility and resources devolved to the state and local levels (e.g., to men like Sheriff Lee).


JK said...

Valid criticism, but commentators shouldn't avoid the real issue out of kindness. Jindal's speech sucked primarily because he was a dork. I'll bet most americans laughed as he ambled up to the camera, and flipped the channel as soon as he started speaking. Then laughed again as they viewed the multiple Kenneth the Page / Jindal comparisons on youtube.

Generally, a successful politician is (or at least can pretend to be) a gregarious, popular people-person. Jindal looked like a nerd who was uncomfortable in his own skin, a character from Napolean Dynamite. It's superficial to criticize style over substance, but those who sympathize with Jindal should be realists and acknowledge he won't get far if he keeps putting out that laughingstock image. Content can be easily upgraded, but first impressions stick.

Anonymous said...

...and the whole Katrina story was a fabrication anyway, as it turns out. What an idiot.

DaveinHackensack said...

"...and the whole Katrina story was a fabrication anyway, as it turns out."

That overstates what the site you linked to claims. This seems to be a little more balanced discussion of the controversy. It appears that Jindal embellished his anecdote by placing himself in the middle of the incident while it occurred (which was an unnecessary and stupid move on his part, albeit one that politicians often seem inclined to do), but the salient point -- that the Sheriff had to tell a federal bureaucrat to pound sand, essentially, in order to let local volunteers rescue people -- appears to be correct.

Anonymous said...

embellished:lied :: potato:potahto

DaveinHackensack said...

You claimed the whole story was a fabrication. It wasn't. The fabrication seems to be that Jindal claimed to be there when the sheriff had his conversation with the federal bureaucrat; instead it appears that the sheriff recounted that conversation to Jindal in the week following the storm. No one seems to be claiming that what the sheriff said didn't happen.