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Wednesday, February 25

The Ghost of Reagan Wept

I watched President Obama's speech before the two houses of Congress last night. He was forthright, inspiring and touched on the problems we're having as well as the opportunities we face to make things better. He refuted the talking points that had the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as being bad for everyone, and he reminded Americans that the deficit and economic morass were inherited.

He seemed a touch irritated by all the applause, at least to my perception. His rhetoric soared, he spoke in complete sentences and he didn't condescend or talk down to people.

Shortly thereafter, the Republican Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, stepped out from behind his state flag to give a possible rebuttal. He seemed rather stiff and wooden, and he ... well, here's a transcript of his speech below, with some comments from me in boldface. Judge what he had to say on its own merits:

Tonight, we witnessed a great moment in the history of our Republic. In the very chamber where Congress once voted to abolish slavery, our first African-American president stepped forward to address the state of our union. With his speech tonight, the president completed a redemptive journey that took our nation from Independence Hall to Gettysburg to the lunch counter and now, finally, the Oval Office.

Yes. Get on with it.

Regardless of party, all Americans are moved by the president's personal story -- the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, who grew up to become leader of the free world. Like the president's father, my own parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4-½-months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a "pre-existing condition." To find work, my dad picked up the yellow pages and started calling local businesses. Even after landing a job, he could still not afford to pay for my delivery, so he worked out an installment plan with the doctor. Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment.

A distant land - just come out and say it, Bobby - India. You know, the country that houses all those call centers?

As I grew up, my mom and dad taught me the values that attracted them to this country, and they instilled in me an immigrant's wonder at the greatness of America. As a child, I remember going to the grocery store with my dad. Growing up in India, he had seen extreme poverty. And as we walked through the aisles, looking at the endless variety on the shelves, he would tell me: "Bobby, Americans can do anything." I still believe that to this day: Americans can do anything. When we pull together, there is no challenge we can't overcome.

As the president made clear this evening, we are now in a time of challenge. Many of you listening tonight have lost jobs. Others have seen your college and retirement savings dwindle. Many of you are worried about losing your health care and your homes. And you are looking to your elected leaders in Washington for solutions.

Republicans are ready to work with the new president to provide those solutions. Here in my state of Louisiana, we don't care what party you belong to, if you have good ideas to make life better for our people. We need more of that attitude from both Democrats and Republicans in our nation's capital. All of us want our economy to recover and our nation to prosper. So where we agree, Republicans must be the president's strongest partners. And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward.

So you offer the same "better ideas" that got us into this mess in the first place?

Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us.

Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina -- we have our doubts.

Let me tell you a story.

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: "Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!" I asked him: "Sheriff, what's got you so mad?" He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go, when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, "Sheriff, that's ridiculous." And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: "Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!" Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.

Um, Bobby, I don't think you help your case by citing the greatest domestic disaster of the Bush (i.e., Republican) administration.

There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens. We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.

Last time I checked, the government of the United States was made up of American people, not the Lizard People of Vitvodle IX.

To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything.

That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

Ahh, tax cuts. The only way to solve our problem is to continue to hamstring and stunt government. Will we hold bake sales for any new Air Force jets? And it's rather odd that the GOP talks big noise about small businesses when the Bush tax policies favored the people who make obscene amounts of money.

But Democratic leaders in Congress -- they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

Outright lie on the trains for the loss, Bobby. The $8 billion is for nationwide high speed rail development. And you may feel that Louisiana doesn't need volcano monitoring, but people who live in certain parts of Wyoming, California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii might argue with you.

Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children.

In Louisiana, we took a different approach. Since I became governor, we cut more than 250 earmarks from our state budget. To create jobs for our citizens, we cut taxes six times -- including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state. We passed those tax cuts with bipartisan majorities. Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences -- we worked together to make sure our people could keep more of what they earn. If it can be done in Baton Rouge, surely it can be done in Washington, D.C.

And how are things going for those areas ravaged by Katrina? Has the state population rebounded and poverty gone away?

To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home. We believe that Americans can do anything and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.

"Drill, baby, drill!" Oh, and never mind the fact that it'll take ten years to have all that oil hit the pumps and only lower gas prices by pennies. Just think of all those rainbow-colored waves and the great view from the tar-spattered beaches!

To strengthen our economy, we also need to address the crisis in health care. Republicans believe in a simple principle: No American should have to worry about losing their health coverage -- period. We stand for universal access to affordable health care coverage. What we oppose is universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by government bureaucrats. We believe Americans can do anything, and if we put aside partisan politics and work together, we can make our system of private medicine affordable and accessible for every one of our citizens.

Gov. Jindal wants health care decisions made by insurance-industry and medical-industry bureaucrats, in keeping with the Victorian free-market values of the conservative wing of the GOP.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to make sure every child in America gets the best possible education. After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system, opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice. We believe that, with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it shouldn't take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.

No, it shouldn't, and I'm pleased you didn't mention school vouchers. Of course, you did masquerade it as a scholarship program, but I suppose that's in the spirit of Mardi Gras.

To strengthen our economy, we must promote confidence in America by ensuring ours is the most ethical and transparent system in the world. In my home state, there used to be saying: At any given time, half of Louisiana was said to be half under water, and the other half is under indictment. No one says that anymore. Last year, we passed some of the strongest ethics laws in the nation and today, Louisiana has turned her back on the corruption of the past. We need to bring transparency to Washington, D.C., so we can rid our Capitol of corruption and ensure we never see the passage of another trillion dollar spending bill that Congress has not even read and the American people haven't even seen.

I couldn't stop chuckling at that. Louisiana's politics are corrupt, and I'm not certain it can be so easily stopped. As Rep. Jefferson, Rep. Cao and Senator Vitter about that.

As we take these steps, we must remember for all our troubles at home, dangerous enemies still seek our destruction. Now is no time to dismantle the defenses that have protected this country for hundreds of years, or make deep cuts in funding for our troops. America's fighting men and women can do anything. If we give them the resources they need, they will stay on the offensive, defeat our enemies, and protect us from harm.

I don't recall seeing or hearing anything about that - apart from getting rid of overpriced shit that we needed for fighting the last war or for refighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union (which no longer exists). And where was the GOP when American troops were dying from inadequate armor? Jindal makes a glancing case for the Perpetual War so beloved by the neocons.

In all these areas, Republicans want to work with President Obama. We appreciate his message of hope, but sometimes it seems we look for hope in different places. Democratic leaders in Washington -- they place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you, the American people. In the end, it comes down to an honest and fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government. We oppose the National Democratic view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government. We believe the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington, to empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and to create jobs.

How is giving money to the states increasing dependence on the Federal government? It's our money.

In recent years, these distinctions in philosophy became less clear -- our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust -- and rightly so.

And you want us to go back to the GOP's philosophy. I think we decided that direction back in November.

Tonight, on behalf of our leaders in Congress and my fellow Republican governors, I say this: Our party is determined to regain your trust. We will do so by standing up for the principles that we share, the principles you elected us to fight for, the principles that built this into the greatest, most prosperous country on earth.

With GOP leaders like Bunning, Brownback, Cantor, Steele, Good luck with that.

You know, a few weeks ago, the president warned that our nation is facing a crisis that he said "we may not be able to reverse." Our troubles are real, to be sure. But don't let anyone tell you that we cannot recover. Don't let anyone tell you that America's best days are behind her. This is the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the Great Depression, prevailed in two World Wars, won the struggle for civil rights, defeated the Soviet menace, and responded with determined courage to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The American spirit has triumphed over almost every form of adversity known to man, and the American spirit will triumph again.

He said September 11th! Take a drink! Obama laid out the truth, and some people can't take that. While he might have painted a somewhat lighter image, he corrected that in his address.

We can have confidence in our future, because, amid all of today's challenges, we also count many blessings: We have the most innovative citizens, the most abundant resources, the most resilient economy, the most powerful military, and the freest political system in the history of the world. My fellow citizens, never forget: We are Americans. And like my dad said years ago, Americans can do anything.

Thank you for listening. God bless you. God bless Louisiana. And God bless America.

And with the waving of the flag and standard boilerplate at the finish, Governor Jindal fades from view. Somewhere in some quiet lacuna in Hell, the ghost of Ronald Reagan weeps as he realizes that the rhetorical torch has passed to the Democrats and the GOP may not have much to offer except obstruction for the foreseeable future.


It's rather interesting that an MSNBC snap poll stated that Gov. Jindal's speech was not well received, with 79% saying that he didn't offer any real alternatives and, in one commenter's words, "talked to us like we were three-year-olds."

As a Republican, I am thrilled to see the GOP sink further, and wish Obama all the best.

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