Bobby Jindal once gave a speech inspiring TV entertainer-commentator Jon Stewart to respond with satiric torture, which is to say, the speech wasn’t just a little awful, but laughably awful. The other day, I saw Jindal give a speech inspiring a massive audience to a standing ovation, which is to say, it is untrue he’s all substance and no show. He has the oratorical oomph to get to the Oval Office.
To be sure, that’s a perilous, always uncertain journey. If the Louisiana governor gets as far as the 2016 primary season, a host of fellow Republicans will be standing in the way, and, if he swerves past them, he might then face a former first lady, senator and secretary of state some think of as Hillary The Inevitable.
But his was a possibility-revealing performance at Denver’s intriguing Western Conservative Summit, sponsored by two entities with which I am associated – Colorado Christian University and Centennial Institute.
Here was a three-day conference that mixed the best of traditional conservatism (patriotism, an allegiance to liberty, constitutional reverence, an appreciation of limits) with some excesses (Sarah Palin’s call for President Barack Obama’s impeachment) and a profound sense of outreach (calls for attendees to involve themselves with the needy, the presence of eager young people, a happy embrace of racial inclusiveness).
I’d argue the summit was mainly about compassion. Among the impressive voices was that of Robert Woodson, an African-American activist who points the poor to ways of helping themselves and sees many government programs as impoverishment aids.
And Jindal? I’d say forget his overly preened, widely ridiculed, supposedly career-stunting 2009 nationally televised response to a State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama. Instead, understand that he’s back on the rhetorical track — which is important in a leader — and focus on what he has done and could do.
This son of immigrants from Punjab, India, was, for starters, a wunderkind who, in high school, initiated a computer software business, and who, in college, was academic whiz enough to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
All of that’s merely preamble to how, at the age of 24, he took over Louisiana’s health department, performed a transplant operation in which a $400 million Medicaid deficit was replaced by a $220 million surplus, and, at 28, was president of the University of Louisiana System. He served in Congress and then became a governor who has been putting together programs so outstanding in their services to citizens that the Obama administration has reacted with rare dispatch to dismantle them.
In his summit speech, Jindal mentioned how one of those programs gave poor kids in failing public schools vouchers enabling them to thrive elsewhere. Attorney General Eric Holder took legal action threatening to maintain the suffering while teaching the rest of us a lesson: that we should see through liberal professions of caring when their control of our lives keeps making things worse.
As a concrete illustration of conservative perspectives that matter, Jindal understood how tax reductions of the right kind could bring his state’s unemployment rate down to becoming one of the lowest in the nation.
Jindal wasn’t the only interesting presidential prospect at the summit who spoke of what a self-reliant people can accomplish when government abets instead of thwarts their efforts and unites instead of divides them over matters of gender, race and income. He has an awful lot to offer, and I am glad he is in a position to be taken seriously as a possible candidate, just as I am glad conservatives seem to be moving in positive directions.
Jay Ambrose is a McClatchy-Tribune columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.