Last weekend, National Review magazine sponsored a “conservative summit” in Washington. They should have held it elsewhere.
Prior to speaking at that event, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal addressed the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C., where he proposed a new strategy for Republicans and conservatives that begins, not in Washington, but at the state level.
Jindal said the Republican Party loses when it plays on the liberal Democrats’ turf, allowing them to set the agenda.
“America is not the federal government,” he said. He maintained Republicans have wasted too much time trying to manage bloated government and too little time growing the private sector. The media and Democrats, he added, treat any serious proposal to restrain government growth as “not serious” when the truth is, “... nothing serious is deemed serious in Washington.”
Then in a face-slapping moment, Jindal added, “If this election taught us anything — it is that we will not win elections by simply pointing out the failures of the other side. We must boldly paint the picture of what America can be, of just how incredibly bright America’s future can be.”
The real action is occurring away from Washington. Republican governors, a majority of state chief executives, are lowering or eliminating state incomes taxes, cutting wasteful spending, balancing budgets, or creating surpluses, and in the case of Indiana, sending rebate checks to taxpayers.
Here are three Jindalisms the public can understand: “Government spending still does not grow our economy. ... American weakness on the world stage still does not lead to peace. ... Higher taxes still do not create prosperity for all.”
Poverty should not be the final verdict on any life. Republicans need to have “testimony time” during which people once addicted to government tell how they broke free and are now earning a paycheck because they embraced conservative principles. Republicans should be seen as friends of the poor instead of friends of the wealthy, who President Obama has said, are doing fine.
Republicans should also partner with churches. Stop arguing about the evils of welfare dependency and start helping people live a life of self-sufficiency. That begins with a change in attitude and a transformation of outlook. What better institution to address these internal qualities than the church?
If Republicans want to do something about the future, they should back a growing movement to pull children out of underperforming public schools where often their views, values, understanding of history and even faith are undermined. Home-schooling is an option. The public school system, seemingly a “hot house” for growing new generations of secular liberals, is a failure on many levels. It makes no sense to me to put one’s children in a school system that will likely transform their minds and souls into something quite different from those of their parents. Private school is also an option. Many of them offer scholarships to children whose parents can’t afford tuition. A solid education is the first step out of poverty.
Negativity doesn’t inspire. Criticizing Democrats might make the base feel good, but it solves nothing. Republicans should adopt the optimism and vision of Ronald Reagan, whose main gift to this country was to persuade Americans to believe in themselves. His optimism became our optimism. In the end, “we, the people” must realize they have the power, not Washington.
Governor Jindal stated his vision in Charlotte: “...free individuals, taking risks, building businesses, inventing things from thin air, and passing immutable values from one generation to the next ... that is the root of America’s greatness.”
Are party members listening and willing to change, not their principles, but their approach to promoting those principles? We will know soon enough, but predictions of the party’s demise are as premature as they were for Democrats during the Reagan-Bush electoral successes of 1980, ’84 and ’88.
Republicans aren’t dead yet, but changes are essential for the GOP to get off life support. They can start by reading Gov. Jindal’s speech.
Cal Thomas is the country’s most widely syndicated columnist.