Banal in Baton Rouge
Bobby Jindal misses an opportunity to offer new ideas.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

THE RESPONSE by the loyal opposition to a sitting president's address to the nation is a prime opportunity on two fronts. It's a chance for the party to tell the country what it stands for and present concrete and innovative ideas that constructively challenge the administration in power. It's also an occasion to showcase emerging leaders. Under normal circumstances, the task is daunting. But it proved overwhelming Tuesday night for the man tapped to respond to President Obama, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Rather than offering new ideas, Mr. Jindal served up well-worn Republican mistrust of government and reliance on tax cuts.

Slamming the recently signed stimulus package, Mr. Jindal said, "Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money," Democratic leaders in Congress "passed the largest government spending bill in history." He argued that a better way to create jobs would be through income and business tax cuts, home-buyer tax credits and business incentives. Missing were Mr. Jindal's prescriptions for stemming the tsunami of housing foreclosures and unfreezing the credit markets. To bolster his argument that the stimulus package was a $1 trillion (with interest) boondoggle, Mr. Jindal criticized $140 million for volcano monitoring -- as if watching volcanoes were different from, say, monitoring hurricanes or building levees.

That brings us to Mr. Jindal's frequent invocation of Hurricane Katrina, which laid waste to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in 2005. "Some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us," he said. "Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts." It's true that when the federally built levees broke in New Orleans, Americans saw an abject failure by the federal government to come to the rescue. That doesn't mean that when disaster strikes, citizens are wrong to look to their government for help. The people of the Crescent City and the Gulf Coast have shown incredible resilience thanks to private charity -- and $140.2 billion from Washington.

That Mr. Jindal continues to eschew a role for government in extraordinary cases like Katrina (or an economic meltdown) is evidence of an acute case of ideological rigidity. Or maybe that's only when he's speaking on national television. According to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn's office, Mr. Jindal is pressing Congress for up to $6 billion in Gulf Coast recovery funding for housing assistance, case management, debris removal and other vital projects. If Mr. Jindal firmly believes that "the strength of America is not found in our government" and that "the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington," he should lead by example by forgoing the funds he seeks.

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