Public Policy Polling, that polls for leftist causes and candidates, recently pegged Jindal’s approval rating at 37 percent, with 57 percent disapproving, Even adjusting for the poll’s inaccurate sample, his approval would probably be in the low 40s, and it certainly shows a slide in approval from a previous poll from the group that showed a year or so ago him at 58 percent. Further, another recent poll with likely a better sample showed him under 50 percent approval with slightly more respondents disapproving. Clearly, something has changed.
And that has been Jindal, with some gusto, with a reelection mandate, last year began to become much bolder in driving a stake through the idea that government always knows best when non-government options exist. This threatens exactly the populist political culture in Louisiana, based upon the notion that it is legitimate to redistribute wealth into providing jobs, goods, and services to people that to acquire without government might make them have to work harder, smarter, faster, or at all, from those who chose to work as hard, as smartly, and as quickly as they could.
This lead to a bloated state government with too many employees with a gravy train of compensation, a government-run health care system that concentrated on inputs rather than structuring health care around evaluating outputs, a failing education system that concentrated more on saving patronage, maintaining sinecures without accountability, and building kingdoms than with taking any kind of responsibility for outcomes, an overbuilt higher education system, and complemetned a state fiscal system out of whack for both economic development, in thinking that government had to serve as venture capitalist, and in funding priorities by actual level of necessity.
It would take a genuine conservative whose conservatism was built upon principle, not emotion, to bring into question the prevailing orthodoxy, and Jindal, hesitantly in his first term bur far less compromisingly so far in his second, has been the first Louisiana governor since paternalism from government first became accepted at the dawn of the 20th Century to attempt rollback. Given his hesitancy early to do so, whether because he wished to tread cautiously at first to increase the power he could bear to effect change later or because he did not have much enthusiasm for it but found it thrust upon him by a deteriorating budget environment, or bits of both, debate may rage well into the future about his motives, but the fact remains he has tried to do it. To underscore the departure he represents, all of his GOP predecessors, some even when the state was flush with cash, wanted to and did raise tax levels and made no real efforts to reduce the size of government in good times or bad. Jindal is the first to have headed in that direction, and decisively so.
And this has rankled not just full-throated liberals wedded to the idea of putting government power before empowering people, but also many who aren’t who fancy themselves as thinking they have conservative issue preferences but are too infected with populism to let them guide their thinking consistently along these parameters. For example, they may be foursquare against Obamacare, but have them learn they’ll have to work more efficiently as health care providers to continue to receive state government reimbursement, or may even have to take a job outside of government to stay in that field, and they get upset. They might say they’re all for higher standards in education, but when that demands they actually can demonstrate they live up to those in their delivery of it at the risk of what they considered lifetime employment, they complain. They could claim they want right-sized government, but when their favorite nonprofit loses funding, or some low-priority, relatively low-need program they use gets downsized or cut, or they get laid off from their government job because of downsizing, they gripe.
That Jindal faces a straitjacketed fiscal structure and the ability for the Legislature to micromanage in ways to protect pork and vested interests that makes it more difficult to flush out the fat from state government, as well as his own blind spots, only makes it more difficult to keep more approval than disapproval after he has so thoroughly challenged the culture. It is, unfortunately, a culture that has promoted laziness in everything Louisiana state government has touched, that tells you it’s all right not to achieve to the best of your ability and to make choices to get what you can in the short run, because government will help you to do this and simultaneously discourage you from taking bigger risks for greater returns and penalizing those who do it anyway.
It’s a common mistake to ignorant this schizophrenia in the state’s public, thinking that because the state has been so socially conservative that the dominant political culture in Louisiana also has shared conservatism in matters of government involvement in people’s economic lives. It never has been, and Jindal has gone, and is accelerating going, against this. And it’s going to make him less popular for the time being in Louisiana.
But Jindal never has been about the short term. Like Pres. Barack Obama at the level of national political culture, at the Louisiana level he wants to transform it. It is that he is doing it and succeeding is what infuriates those who do not understand or subscribe to conservatism uninfluenced by populist tendencies. Does anybody seriously think the state ever again will expand its public hospital system, or return to a Medicaid system built primarily on a fee-for-service rather than a money-follows-the-patient basis, or reduce the place that charter schools have in its educational system? This genie of right-sizing government with expanded citizen choice is out of the bottle, to be controlled only at the margins from now on, but never to be put back in it.
And why Jindal does not worry, he asserts, about his standing of popularity is that he knows this transformation is consistent with the larger American political culture that Obama is trying to change. Bringing Louisiana more into line with that also, as Jindal well may be considering to pursue a place upon, is going to illustrate what he can do on a much larger stage.
That is, if Obama does not succeed in importing an alien political culture through his transformative efforts at the national level. Because Jindal starts much closer to the core ideas that have created American exceptionalism which are imperfectly but grafted onto Louisiana’s political culture, having less to transform he’s more likely to succeed. The larger nation therefore may end up more appreciative of what Jindal shows he can do in the future for it than Louisiana might be for what he actually does here and now in his home state.
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