Monday, March 02, 2009

Processing Jindal

I'm still stuck on this, almost a week now after Bobby Jindal delivered the Republican rebuttal. Jindal said Americans can do anything. Then he said America's government is terrible and can't be expected to play a role in solving any of our problems. I'm having a hard time reconciling these two theses, so I thought I'd take a minute to think all this through.

Our government is comprised of — and created and renewed and refreshed by — Americans. How is it that Americans outside of government have infinite potential, but Americans inside of government are feckless and impotent? Unlike certain of his party colleagues, Jindal puts forward a fair-minded, monolithic view of Americans. He did not attempt to carve out a class of "real," make-this-country-great Americans from people who live in cities — we're all real make-this-country-great Americans, regardless of where we dwell. Presumably, then, Americans-in-government are (or rather were) just like us, before something wrenched away their talent, their courage, their can-do spirit and transformed them into a ruinous horde of buzz-killing potential-crushers.
OK. I'll buy that. But what exactly is it about government that singularly snuffs out that spark of potential — that glorious, distinctive American-ness — that resides within us? Is it power? Is there some weakness in our character (even though we're Americans) that causes us to compromise our values, to pursue destructive, short-sighted and inefficient courses of conduct in government, in order to accrue and maintain power for ourselves?

Power seems the obvious candidate, and I'll run with it, but only so far. There are all sorts of power, other than what you find in Washington. Just to take one example, there's the power that comes with the responsibility of managing the many private institutions that are (we're told) as important to our society's survival as government itself. Why aren't the all-capable Americans who run these organizations susceptible to the sort of destructive, short-sighted, and inefficient courses of conduct that rule out government as a solution to any of America's problems? These people have a great deal of power, but it's not government power, and as a result their institutions continue to flourish in that great American way — their very example is a testament to what Americans can do, if they're simply left alone to be Americans.

Since private institutions remain uncorrupted by power, but government institutions continue to put their foot on the throat of the all-powerful American people, perhaps we should isolate what it is about government power that ruins a perfectly good American. What's different — what's unique — about government power? That's Poli Sci 101, people: governments have a monopoly of force. Clearly it's this toxic ingredient — access to the monopoly of force — that turns otherwise competent and talented Americans into worthless, obstructionist Americans-in-government. I know I've hit on something here. With this I feel like I've tapped right into the mainline philosophy of Jindal and the Republicans, because, as everyone knows, the instruments of the federal government that conservatives trust the least are the two most coercive: the armed forces and the federal law enforcement agencies. It's all coming together.

It took a little work, Governor, but I got there. I finally get you guys. With that seemingly self-evident contradiction in terms, you planted a rhetorical seed. You encouraged me to wind through the logic, and now that I'm done, I've not only learned a great deal, but I'm feeling the true exhilaration that comes from unraveling a conundrum. You're a regular Socrates, Governor Jindal (but of course better, because you're American)!


Mithridates said...

But worse, because he's in government.

Unknown said...

He's an Indian Mr. Rogers...and Mr. Rogers was creepy.

Q - do you think when Jindal runs for president Fox News will call him a Hindu and point out his real name is Piyush?

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