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Louisiana governor: Time to 'recalibrate' conservative vision

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is among prominent GOP politcians thought to be possible candidates for a White House bid in 2016. AP

CHARLOTTE — To move forward, the Republican Party needs to stop arguing about government and make conservatism relevant in the daily lives of Americans, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday.

To counter President Obama's liberal vision, the party must address more than cutting spending and other austerity issues, Jindal told about 300 people at a keynote speech during the Republican National Committee's Winter Meeting.

“We have to recalibrate the compass of conservatism,” Jindal said. “We do not need to change what we believe as conservatives — our principles are timeless — but we do need to reorient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives: in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway.”

Jindal, who heads the Republican Governors Association, believes the GOP must radically change to win control of the White House and Senate.

“We must quit ‘big,' ” he said. “We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything. We must not be the party that simply protects the well-off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive.

“... We are a populist party and need to make that clear. We must focus on real people outside of Washington, not the lobbyists and government inside Washington. We must stop competing with Democrats for the job of ‘Government Manager.' ”

His words struck home with GOP committeeman Henry Barbour of Mississippi, nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and one of five members evaluating the party to improve its chances in elections. The newly formed Growth and Opportunity Project on which Barbour serves is expected to put forth recommendations in 60 days.

Jindal is “a proven reformer in his state who has not been afraid to take on the status quo,” Barbour said, and his populist theme could be the way forward.

“No question this is appealing for all stripes of not just Republicans but ... the entire country,” he said.

Jindal's populist libertarian perspective starts with the presumption that “the Republican Party must make an optimistic case for their ideas for reform, that their policies will help the middle class and help more people join the middle class,” said Ben Domenech, a research fellow with the Heartland Institute and former GOP speechwriter.

“It's a unique perspective ... and one that deserves appreciation from Republicans in Washington,” he said.

As the country's first Indian-American governor and member of Congress, Jindal “recognizes the need to draw upon the changing demographics of the nation for the party to thrive,” said Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in LaPlume, Pa., northwest of Scranton.

Jindal can effectively articulate that because “he has proven that the GOP does have a message and values than can resonate with women, Latinos and other minority groups,” Brauer said.

Jindal, 41, won a second term as Louisiana's governor in 2011. Generally conservative, he supports gun rights and teaching creationism and opposes abortion and gay marriage. His first foray onto the national stage made little splash in 2009, when he offered a somewhat unremarkable rebuttal to Obama's budget. But since last fall, Jindal has been an outspoken voice for a new direction for the GOP.

“We don't believe old, top-down, industrial-age government becomes a good idea just because it agrees with us or because we are running it,” he told the 168 RNC members and their guests. “We must focus on the empowerment of citizens making relevant and different decisions in their communities while Democrats sell factory-style government that cranks out one dumbed-down answer for the whole country.

“This means re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington. Very few of them work in my view, and frankly, the one-size-fits-all crowd has had its chance.”

If leaders were creating American government today, “we would not dream of taking money out of people's pockets, sending it all the way to Washington, handing it over to politicians and bureaucrats to staple thousands of pages of artificial and political instructions to it, then wear that money out by grinding it through the engine of bureaucratic friction,” Jindal said.

Solving problems closer to home should be the first option, not the last, he said.

“Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” he said. “As Republicans, it's time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

Lawmakers in Washington have become near-sighted by arguing about ways to change government, Jindal said. As a result, they can't recognize serious problems that impact Americans' daily lives and “any serious proposal to restrain government growth is immediately deemed ‘not-serious' in Washington.”

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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