The speech Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered Tuesday at the Brookings Institution’s Brown centre for Education was unquestionably a speech about education policy.
But Jindal, who is widely seen as a potential front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, also used the speech to hint at his own vision for the future of the Republican Party.
Like two other likely top 2016 contenders, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who each delivered a major policy address in Washington, D.C. in recent days, Jindal discussed the importance of keeping the American Dream alive for everyone.
“The American Dream is the circumstances of your birth don’t determine your outcomes as an adult,” Jindal said. “We’ve all grown up hearing that from our parents — if you work hard enough, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. … Reality is: We believe that our children should have the opportunity to be better than their parents.”
“For that American dream to be true, however, it starts with providing every child a great education,” he added. “If we really believe that a child’s zip code, race, gender, parents [and] wealth, don’t determine how well they’re gonna do as adults … we’ve gotta make sure they get a great education, so they can compete in today’s global economy.”
The Louisiana governor also subtly distanced himself from former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s at times divisive rhetoric about “gifts” and the “47 per cent.” Jindal had already outright condemned those comments shortly after Election Day as “absolutely wrong.”
“[W]e need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education,” Jindal said at the time.
His speech on Tuesday hit a similar note.
“To oppose school choice is to oppose equal opportunity for poor and disadvantaged children in America,” Jindal told the audience.
“I believe we’ve got an economic and a moral imperative to provide school choice and a quality education to every child, every student in America. In that case, many lives will be transformed, many futures will be realised, and the results for all our country will be real and lasting.”
Where Rubio’s prescription focused on creating jobs and opportunities for the middle class and Ryan proposed a modern war on poverty, Jindal’s address consistently returned to education.
In the same way Ryan said Republicans should better articulate conservative principles to make clear the party is looking out for all Americans, Jindal called on lawmakers to put partisanship aside on issues like school choice.
“I don’t accept the notion that equal opportunity in education should be a partisan issue,” he said. “I did serve in Congress for a few years, and I realise in the run of politics, everything, at one time or another, becomes a partisan issue. Such is the nature of our competitive system of government. It’s completely legitimate to note that the parties have different views regarding education policy, and I’m sure that’ll forever be the case.”
“But partisan issues tend to never get resolved,” he said, “and America cannot afford to leave these matters unresolved. It is no overstatement to state that the future health of our nation rests on it.”
“But there are some issues, important issues, which aren’t partisan at all,” Jindal added, listing specifically “a federal highway system,” “a military that is strong enough to defend against those who would do us harm” and “[ridding] the world of bin Laden” as “consensus issues.”
“I believe that equal opportunity in education made real by school choice is a similarly nonpartisan consensus issue,” he said. “There’s always gonna be debate over the specifics, but the basics principles should really not be contentious at all. I mean, do we really even need to argue whether our current antiquated system is working?”
Jindal’s Louisiana education reforms are currently being challenged in the state’s Supreme Court. But there’s no denying that Jindal’s philosophy of education — a rejection of “the old way, the centralized government way” — also hints at his larger vision for government in general.
The governor made no attempt to hide that vision in his speech.
“We must move to a bottom up organic way of operating,” Jindal said, “and education is the tip of the spear.”