Bobby Jindal, the newest progressive hero

T.A. Barnhart

Bobby Jindal's train-wreck of a "response" Tuesday night may have had the (very) unintended effect of focusing Americans on the positive and necessary role of government. In trying to argue for less government by inexplicably referring to Katrina, he made the point that is a basic tenet of liberal politics: There are times when government is exactly what we need.

Jindal-obama One of the more ruinous myths within the American story is that private enterprise, the great domain of the individual entrepreneur, is where we find our nation's greatest innovators, achievers and success stories; government, on the other hand, is composed of scoundrels, carpetbaggers, fools and sycophants. For almost thirty years, we've lived with Reagan's big lie, that "government is the problem." Yet it was Reagan who grew the national government's reach and cost to unprecedented size while simultaneously leaving fewer and fewer Americans under that government's care and protection — or able to pursue the American Dream. And even as quickly as we are seeking to forget Bush, let us understand that he outdid Reagan's lies, growth of government, and abandonment of citizens by huge margins.  And let us remember as well that he, like the Gipper, was a conservative, no matter how vociferously conservatives seek to deny him.

Today, as the nation collapses in virtually every way possible, from the economy to the environment to baseball, true-believing wingnuts like Jindal, Governors Mark Sanford and Haley Barbour, and Republican members of Congress like John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Oregon's own Greg Walden, all insist that government should be doing less. Fortunately, the American people have given their support, not to these flat-earthers but to a leader who has inspired them to once again trust their government — or at least have the hope they can learn to trust again.  Once again, as they've done for presidents from FDR to LBJ, Americans are looking to President Obama to lead a government that serves, protects, helps, guides and makes a positive difference in the lives of the majority of Americans and not the rich and powerful.

Government can and must play a vital role in every aspect of American life. Anyone who has paid the least attention to American Government 101, or Economics 101 for that matter, understands that government, whether liberal or conservative, has a role to play that no one else can. In brief, that role is to do what individuals and/or the private sector cannot or will not. The usual examples are highways, national defense and such. These are endeavors that the private sector cannot or will not attempt because they are too massive, too expensive and used by too many who won't pony up for the costs.

The government fills that role. No one else can.

I understood this more clearly last night as I sat in the initial meeting of Commissioner Amanda Fritz's Healthy Rivers Committee. Forty citizens from a broad range of interest groups attended, including managers and staff from a variety of governmental offices. In the introductions and discussions of the two-hour meeting, the necessity and vitality of government was made clear. Here are some aspects of government's role that came to my mind as I listened to people speak (and a fair amount from Commissioner Fritz herself, who I did not support in the election but who I hope has great success with her collaborative approach).  The following is not technical; it's just some of the more obvious advantages that government has and why we need and are benefitted by government's role in civic affairs.

  • Local governments are key. They are personal, have access to specific knowledge, can meet directly and work with local interest groups. Local government is made up of local citizens; their personal interest are often in strong alignment with their roles as officials and staffers — and in alignment with the community's interests.  State and federal government will rarely possess the intimacy with the issues and people that local government has.  Local government lives "here", too.

  • Outside of government are a huge and unwieldy assortment of groups. Pick any issue — in this case, healthy rivers — and you have groups representing neighborhoods, lifestyle interests (fishing, boating), business and development, the environment, labor, education, religion and ethics, politics and more. Government can serve as the mechanism to bring them together and transform them from individual entities into community partners. There are other ways to accomplish this, but none have the built-in advantages of a government agency, office or official.  The fact that a new City Commissioner was hosting the event immediately gave the event, and the committee, a cachet no existing non-governmental group could match.

  • State and federal governments (the latter especially) have the resources and clout to move mountains — or clean rivers. If the Feds decide to do something big, they can do something Big. When the something big is also expensive and vital, often only the federal government has the ability to even make the attempt.  Who else but the national government could have pulled off the Apollo program?  The national highway program?  Ensuring that every person over the age of 65 has basic medical care?  That bank savings are protected — from banks? 

  • Government can serve as a clearinghouse for ideas, data, people (connections, networks). An effective private group can serve a similar role, but, again, rarely can a non-governmental agency have the same level of recognition and resources.  It takes a lot of work for a non-governmental entity to accomplish what a mid-level manager in a single agency can set in motion.  Additionaly, government is who people turn to for answers that cannot be found elsewhere or prove difficult to find.  When people need help, when they want an answer about something going on in their community, when they wanted something fixed or changed, the one entity most people turn to for answers and help is government.  People may say they don't like or trust government, but it rarely stops them from availing themselves of government's resources, information and assistance.

  • Public and private organizations hold diverse values, making conflict inevitable.  Government, while not fully agnostic, can play that role more than almost any other actor in society, mitigating conflict when others cannot.  While many in government can and do bring their own agenda to the table, not only is that agenda usually well-known by those outside of government, the role of government actors is proscribed to a large degree by law.  Thus while non-profits and corporations can seek their own goals as they choose, governmental entities usually are forced to attend to a set of goals and objectives set for them by legislators, office-holders and ranking administrators.
  • Ultimately, what marks the difference between government and the private sector is the purposes of each. Business's goal is to maximize profit. Interest groups have a mission: save the river, get new boating facilities built, improve fishing, increase tourism. Government's role is to do what is right for all citizens, to the greatest extent possible. Businesses and non-profits use the power of excuses all the time: things beyond their control. Government does not have that luxury. It must succeed or fail regardless.  A business that fails can carry on via bankruptcy and other means.  A failed government gets tossed out on its ass.

Jindal's idiot explanation of why government is bad is, in fact, the perfect example of why government is necessary. Where were the businesses seeking to build and strengthen the levies? When those levies broke, what 800 number did citizens call for a private boat to come rescue them? After the flood subsided, where were the private entrepreneurs with their innovate plans to rebuild the levies and neighborhoods? Where were the brilliant children of conservatism when they were needed so desperately?  From the moment it was clear Katrina would strike the Gulf Coast to this very day, the necessity of government to take care of everyone and everything has remained unchallenged, even by a dimwit like Jindal who still eagerly sucks at the Federal teat.

Only government has the resources and the will to take on tasks such as protecting the nation, educating all children (not just those of privilege), eliminating poverty, providing infrastructure, fixing health care.  When a private company provides a major public good — Bechtel is a good example, although it could be argued that much of what they do isn't that good — they tend to do so only because the government gives them billions to do so. There are no businesses putting together financing packages to build a new bridge over the Columbia, but there are damn sure plenty of businesses and private groups ready to get rich off the government's expenditure of $4 billion (which will end up being far more if the 12-lane behemoth is ever approved).

The individual and the corporation have a place in this nation's progress, strength and health. But they have a vital partner who makes their success possible in the first place: government. Perhaps no other fact puts the lie to the conservative myth about government than this: the most vocal conservative critics of government ... work in government. From Ronald Reagan to Bobby Jindal, they all found their voice and their role, not in the private sector, but in government.

So, this is one progressive who thanks Bobby Jindal for speaking up and setting the record straight:  The conservative lie that "government is the problem" is now the emperor wearing no clothes.  Barack Obama's call to Americans inside and out of government to unite in common cause is our "post-partisan" credo.  As he said, sometimes government is the solution we need, the only solution we have.  And thanks to our hero, Bobby "let my people go ... into  misery" Jindal, we can a last stop looking over our shoulder at the ghost of Ronald Reagan.  Government is not every answer, but it's also not the demon nightmare from hell.

That would be another Jindal speech on national tv.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I loved the Daly Show's portrayal of Jindal. Jindal makes his entrance and starts into the Repug talking points of the last 30 years. Jon Daly gets that horrible cringing looks on his face and says, "WTF was that?"

    And Jindal,bright the Rhodes Scholar, gives as his example of how government can't do it right, Katrina! Katrina! The showcase of Republican failure, betrayal, and incompetence. Here's Jindal, Sanford, and Barbour, the Republican governors who can't find their way to accept money for the unemployed, who are first in line on the public dole for federal money of every other sort, while they take their orders and talking points from Rush Limbaugh on how evil and awful any kind of government is.

  • tedg (unverified)

    Neither government nor the private sector is the answer. When politicians are motivated by self interest or to please contributors or party dogma rather than their conscience, it seldom turns out beneficial for all. Or when the private sector is driven by greed and self serving it rarely has a positive result. Government does good things but can also create very burdensome regulations that stifle productivity and personal freedom. And can make decisions on a grand scale that many times prove to be dead wrong. Neither government nor the private sector is the answer to our personal and collective well being unless their decisions are motivated by intelligence and ethics that cares for the planet and all its inhabitants.

  • Scott J (unverified)

    Please don't wash Gov't of the current problems.

    If Gov't agencies Fannie Mae and Freddic Mac weren't empowered to buy all of those zero down mtges, and the Federal Gov't weren't pushing banks to lend to bad credits, this curren real estate turned stock market melt down wouldn't be so deep.

    We do have business cycles. Up-turns and down-turns are OK and natural. The problems really mount up when you try and regulate/legislate away the business cycle.

    Gov't attempts to flatten out the cycle by throwing money at the system. This just rewards those that made poor choices and will embolden people to make poor decisions in the future which makes this worse.

    This isn't a Republican or Democrat thing. This is how Gov't of either party tries to solve what it can't solve.

    Let the business cycle work. When things are too fat, they quit functioning well. At some point, things get too lean. It is part of the cleansing process, a business eco-system...if you will allow the thought.

    Have any of you noticed that everytime, and I mean everytime, President Obama announces some new Gov't bailout/handout/welfare payment to business or individuals the markets dive?

    On the floor of the NYSE there are both Liberals and Conservatives and they are ALL selling on his words. That is a fact not an opinion. The fact is the closing price of the Dow Jones, off 19%, since the year started. Investors don't trust the Gov't will make things better.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    Hurricane Katrina was a complete failure, as the city, county, state and federal governments all dropped the ball at the same time, leaving vulnerable residents completely helpless. Think back to what happened 200 years ago. When there was a natural disaster, citizens collectively rolled up their sleeves, cleaned up and rebuilt. But since then, we've created all these agencies for the specific purpose of dealing with emergencies, and none of them did what they were supposed to when it mattered the most. Would anybody here argue that Katrina was a triumph of big government? Of course not. But the true issue was never a lack of permanent government entities to solve the problem--it was the fact that people were conditioned to depend on government programs that then failed to deliver. That, to me, is the true tragedy of all this.

  • Beau Parrot (unverified)

    We were thinking about getting the tone right. Your pics show they are nicely matched, don't you think? This...substance thing happening...we don't have a clue what that's about!

    Remember, all politics is local. When it becomes theater, on the national stage, it's the region that's playing the fool. Down here you look at him contra David Duke. Katrina proved the situation really is the third world, as was commonly regarded but flatly denied. This country has never dealt with the Lousiana Semi-Autonomous Region any better than China has dealt with Tibet. It speaks equally to our level of democracy and human rights as well.

    It's not surprising that being confronted with that, after hearing BO- the Prez, not the blog- that one would ask the questions being asked. What is "glad I was sitting down" surprising is that people were listening. That would speak to the depth of anxiety in the country, imhe.

  • Jason (unverified)


    Your comments remind me of why I'm conservative. Blaming Reagan and Bush (and all Republicans) is so typical of liberals.

    "The individual and the corporation have a place in this nation's progress, strength and health. But they have a vital partner who makes their success possible in the first place: government."

    Yes, I agree with you. The difference is how much of a role government plays. You have outlined perfectly the differences between a liberal and conservative view of government. You want more, I want less.

    I guess I'm a liar, too, because I wholeheartedly agree that Government is the problem, more than it is the answer.

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    tedg: Neither government nor the private sector is the answer to our personal and collective well being unless their decisions are motivated by intelligence and ethics that cares for the planet and all its inhabitants.

    I completely agree. In fact, I hate the phrase "the government". What government?

    There is no single government. Nazi Germany was a government. So was Stalin's Soviet Union. Nobody thinks those were good. This kind of simplistic thinking about "[government/corporations] are [good/bad]" is absurd on its face. And anybody with even the slightest bit of logic to their thought processes will acknowledge it.

    Unfortunately, we seem to live in a nation of emotional reasoners who clearly don't care to use common sense. So we end up with lots of idiots employing blanket condemnation, which of course means that no discernment between good and bad actors happens. And this lack of accountability - not just punishment for bad actors but reward for the good ones - leads to an overall degradation of society.

    Why be a good corporation/good government worker, when you're going to catch nothing but trouble from all the petty immature members of the public no matter what you do?

    That's one of the reasons why, despite my having occasional disagreements with President Obama's policies, I think he is the best for the country. The man is, well, adult. And it's about damned time somebody was.

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    The funny thing was that his Katrina reference said that it showed government was bad, while saying the person who did good was .... a government official - a sheriff.

    FEMA worked properly in the past. That wasn't the problem. The problem was putting it under Homeland Security and then running it with people who knew nothing about natural disasters.

    I've been through hurricanes. As a former resident of the Gulf Coast, I watched what happened to communities that were hit by big ones. They got the help and rebuilt faster than they did with either Ike or Katrina. To this day, things are still bad along the Gulf Coast, from Galveston Island across to Mississippi. As a matter of fact, I hope to visit the Galveston area soon so I can post some pics about how bad things still are. It's unlikely I'll be able to get onto Bolivar Peninsula, the worst hit area from Ike, since the bridges and ferries are still gone.

    The problem isn't government. It's about how it is run and who is running it.

  • (Show?)

    And this lack of accountability - not just punishment for bad actors but reward for the good ones - leads to an overall degradation of society.

    Bingo T A!! This is the central point that determines whether actors in any field (private/public, wealthy/poor, emloyee/employer) behave in the interests of the funders/taxpayers.

    There are CEOs on Wall Street and administrators at the US Postal Service and the Federal Reserve Bank that have an unrealistic view of their own importance and reward themselves accordingly, with no regard for the shareholders or taxpayers.

    Oversight, Baby. Whether you're driving 125 mph on the I-5 or giving yourself an expensive self-congratulatory raise, there have to be cops in place, protecting the rest of us from your selfishness, 'cause there will always be bad actors out there in the wide world.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Wow, the wingnuts and rewriters of history are out in force here.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat!!

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Have any of you noticed that everytime, and I mean everytime, President Obama announces some new Gov't bailout/handout/welfare payment to business or individuals the markets dive?

    Uh, yeah, that's because they see the bailouts as insufficient to their parochial interests. Too much recent talk of coupling government intervention with re-regulation, say. The Masters of the Universe do not want their shenanigans with credit-default swaps etc. hindered by oversight. They want to have their bonuses and stock options and their houses in the Hamptons, preferably serviced by folks who will have been recently unemployed and willing to grovel for crumbs from the tables of the wealthy.

    Wall Street is also in the interesting habit of showing distress when certain other economic indicators look (to the naive, such as yours truly) too good. For example, whenever unemployment is "too low"--whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean--the Masters of the Universe have a conniption.

  • (Show?)

    I find it interesting that there are comments here bemoaning the government response to Katrina--as if somehow government itself is the problem. On the contrary, the George W Bush government was the problem. It's inept and disastrous inability to do anything of substance for the American people was the problem.

    After Bush 41's absolutely terrible response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Bill Clinton hired a professional manager to run FEMA in the form of James Lee Witt.

    The Bush 43 Administration essentially allowed FEMA to fall apart for ideological reasons:

    If you believe that government is a failure, surely putting people in government who believe the same will ensure it.

  • (Show?)


    Exactly. James Lee Witt did a really good job with FEMA. I had the opportunity to work with FEMA while I was in Texas and he was still in charge. One of those times was when Galveston was hit hard by a Tropical Storm, doing a lot of damage along the island the Peninsula. FEMA was quick to react and get in what help was needed. The Congressman I worked for was on the ground with FEMA looking at the damage.

    Have any of you noticed that everytime, and I mean everytime, President Obama announces some new Gov't bailout/handout/welfare payment to business or individuals the markets dive?

    Maybe because who Wall Street wants the funds to go to and who actually needs the funds are different? Wall Street would want funds to go to big business, towards raising stock prices, etc. They don't see immediate results from schools keeping their doors open, bridges and roads being built, people keeping their homes, etc. But I can assure you that millions of people across the country will see the difference. And once they do, they can spend more, which then stimulates the economy.

    As much as I'd like our stock portfolio to look better, I know that we have to shore up the bottom of our economy first (people, small businesses, etc.) before it can improve enough for my stock to improve.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    I have to take exception to this argument that somehow George Bush didn't believe in government. Bush and his family clearly believe in government as a tool with which to enrich their cronies. They just didn't believe in using it to help the average person. That's why I think that Bush's presidency is the greatest failure ever if you approach it from the standpoint that he became president to serve we the citizens. But his goal really was to pillage the treasury to the benefit of his inner circle. In that respect, his presidency was a smashing success. Now you know what he meant by "Mission Accomplished." If George Bush had actually shrunk the federal government or done anything to empower state governments and created the disater that he did, I could understand the comments about his belief in the failure of government. But that doesn't mesh with any of what actually happened during his horrendous presidency.
    And to somehow suggest that big business is against schools is absurd. Who do you suppose will be running those businesses in the future? The children currently in school, and those businesses know that.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    Piyush Jindal may be a smart man but he has a scary looking face. Hide the children.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    You really have to love it when Republicans use Republican governance as an example of why government is the problem. Why not just hire a comedy writer and have done with it? Reports had Jindal writing his response, then the RNC and Congressional Rs stepped up for credit, before, obviously, the delivery happened. So, either Jindal is an idiot (Rhodes or otherwise) or the Republican Party as a group is an idiot (few Rhodes there).

    One commenter was all in a lather about how govt can be a problem this and can be a problem that - no examples - just what ifs. Anything can turn into a problem, recent evidence seems to show a bunch of them. Now there is always the option to let things just shake themselves out, but you are putting a whole bunch of people in the position where they might just decide to take you "haves" stuff, not ask, not tax, just burn you out of house and home. There is a reason civilization tries to move beyond the rule of force and some things are required to keep that going. You may not like the fact that you are essentially bribing the 'have nots' to not come take your shit, but you like a system that produces them and that's one of the costs of that production. I might not mind a lot watching the reality costs of your philosophy being extracted from you, but the costs of that chaos on those not nearly as stupid is prohibitive.

    You get the feeling I don't like you much?

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    One thing you R cheerleaders seem to forget is that your ideological ranting party in Congress is so effectively neutered that they have no need to take responsibility for the well-being of the nation, they can say and do any damn thing they please because the Democrats are going to have to fix it anyway, or fail. Not your bunch, not at all and they've proved it. Don't even bother with your BS about we tried, 40% of the stimulus bill is tax breaks, just not for the rich and that's the problem. You couldn't tell a straight story if it was composed of no more than a noun, a verb, and a noun.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    You couldn't tell a straight story if it was composed of no more than a noun, a verb, and a noun.

    No one can. A noun is a construct and can never be real or true. It posits an 'as if'.

    As to what you meant, that trait is considered the sine qua non for ALL positions of responsibility in corporate and government life.

  • John Lloyd Scharf (unverified)

    "Today, as the nation collapses in virtually every way possible, from the economy to the environment to baseball, true-believing wingnuts like Jindal, Governors Mark Sanford and Haley Barbour, and Republican members of Congress like John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Oregon's own Greg Walden, all insist that government should be doing less."

    Wing-nuts? I wonder if anyone but a "wing-nut" uses name-calling?

  • Jiang (unverified)

    Wing-nuts? I wonder if anyone but a "wing-nut" uses name-calling?

    Both parties do nothing but. Look through the various posts on BO. The more substantive the post, the less the response. What response there is, is 50% name calling. "Talk radio" functions more to update the thesaurus than to inform about issues. There's one troll on here that literally hears a new phrase on talk radio and has to be first on the topic, no matter the subject, to use it (WunderBlunder. Mos whatever, etc.).

    That is exactly what happens in this country's political life.


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