Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It’s not taking anyone much time to figure out exactly what Bobby Jindal was talking about in his Great Big Defining Speech at an RNC meeting last night when he said Republicans should “stop being the stupid party” and referenced “bizarre and offensive comments” being made by unnamed candidates. Slate‘s Dave Weigel is all over it:

Jindal’s Sermon on Gaffes assumes that the audience still blames Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” tape for his defeat, and blames Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment for blowing the key Senate races. Sure: Both were huge, inarticulate mistakes.
Romney’s spitballing about makers and takers was in line with contemporary Republican theories about the tax code and the entitlement state, and Jindal doesn’t back off from them, either. “Where do you go if you want a handout?” he asks. “Government. This must stop.” He doesn’t mention entitlement spending except to call for “re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington.”

Akin’s gaffe was even more explicable. He believes that life starts at conception, and he’s against abortion in cases of rape. Jindal doesn’t talk about abortion at all, except to accuse liberals of “supporting abortion on demand without apology.” But in practice, he’s signed restrictions on abortion, requiring women to see ultrasounds and hear fetal heartbeats before they terminate their pregnancies. Following a 2012 law signed by Jindal, a woman can only opt out of the ultrasound results if she affirms in writing that she was raped or the victim of incest. But Jindal doesn’t go around talking about it.

Bingo. Saying “bizarre and offensive” things can often be just a matter of poorly articulating bizarre and offensive policies. And if they are so bizarre and offensive that they can’t be made attractive, then the idea is to follow Kellyanne Conway’s advice and just refuse to talk about it, which seems to be the brave “reformer” Bobby Jindal’s guidance as well. If you can’t avoid stupid policies, then at least have the good sense to STFU about them.

I do differ with Dave Weigel on one thing, however: he suggests Jindal was being vague and evasive on the subject of entitlement programs. That’s true in terms of the specifics that Bobby said GOPers need to embrace to avoid “dumbing down” their message. But Jindal did very clearly say that in terms of domestic programs Republicans should favor either abolishing or turning over to the states via block grants (typically meaning limited money with only the broadest limitations on how it is used) everything it does. If the Boy Genius is saying what he means, that is very, very radical, my friends.

And that brings me to another good observation, by Jamelle Bouie writing at WaPo’s Plum Line:

[The speech] positioned Jindal as a reform-minded outsider: “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” Jindal said. “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

But there’s just little in the way of “reform” here — after all, he has no interest in actually moderating the party’s conservatism. This highlights a larger problem: There aren’t any real “reformers” in the GOP.

Jindal himself embodies the same right-wing policies that sank Mitt Romney and damaged the GOP’s appeal to middle and working-class Americans….

The fact of the matter is there are no real reformers among the leadership class of the Republican Party. Not Bobby Jindal. Not Marco Rubio (who, despite his feints in the direction of immigration reform, is hewing to the NRA line on guns). And not Paul Ryan (who will soon be submitting a budget that supposedly wipes away the deficit in 10 years, with no new revenues, which would require savage and deep cuts to government programs that help the poor and elderly). At most, these leaders offer a whitewash: Underneath all the new rhetoric of change and inclusiveness lurk the same unpopular policies and priorities skewed in favor of the rich and against the middle class and poor.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.