I keep wanting to be excited about Bobby Jindal’s bid for the presidency. I really do. But that speech in Charlotte the other day was pretty weak beer. Daniel Larison ably points out some of the contradictions and emptiness in the address, which he sees as more of the same old Republican crap. I agree, and want to add a couple of things.

It was a nice speech when it was first delivered by Ronald Reagan in 1980. But it’s gotten pretty stale and moldy by now.

Jindal bangs on and on about how government is the problem, and the Democrats are the party of government. It is incredible to see nationally prominent Republican politicians, in the year of Our Lord 2013, stand there with a straight face and condemn statism in these terms — as if the federal government didn’t continue growing under Ronald Reagan, and as if George W. Bush and the GOP Congress didn’t preside over the most explosive growth in government spending since LBJ. As is standard with contemporary GOP pols, the Bush Administration never happened. All down the memory hole.

This is why I don’t trust a single one of these Republican contenders, not in 2012, and not, so far, for 2016: not a single one of them give the slightest evidence of being able to confront the party’s massive failures.

Jindal said:

We do not need to change what we believe as conservatives – our principles are timeless.

No, of course not. Conservatism, which was received by Reagan on Sinai, cannot fail; it can only be failed. We weren’t wrong about anything. Don’t worry about that.

But we do need to re-orient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives – in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway.

And this is the point at which you leave the room and go to the bar, because you’ve heard this line a hundred thousand times, and it means absolutely nothing. Cant. Cliché.

Jindal again:

If you take nothing else away from what I say today, please understand this – We must not become the party of austerity. We must become the party of growth. Of course we know that government is out of control. The public knows that too. And yet we just lost an election.

How is it that the government is spending way too much money, but austerity is bad? I don’t get it. Does he want to cut government spending, or doesn’t he? And does the public really know that “government is out of control”? If that’s true, where in this speech is the part where Jindal confronts the public on the fact that Medicare and Social Security, two hugely popular government welfare programs, are going to bankrupt our country in short order absent very serious and painful reform? The closest he came to this was this bit:

This means re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington. Very few of them work in my view, and frankly, the one-size fits all crowd has had its chance.

So Medicare and Social Security don’t work? OK, let’s hear your diagnosis why, what you would do to change it, and the straight talk the GOP has to have with itself and the country about how it plans to address this crisis.

Where is the part of the speech in which Jindal faces the facts about the massive defense budget that we can no longer afford. Where is the fiscal realism on defense? Nothing but a couple of words about how the Democrats are for “weakness abroad.”

And there’s this:

Today’s conservatism is in love with zeroes.

We think if we can just unite behind a proposal to cut the deficit and debt…if we can just put together a spreadsheet and a power point and a TV ad….all will be well.

This obsession with zeroes has everyone in our party focused on what? Government.

But then a few moments later:

When then-Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling, he said he was doing so because the national debt was at an outrageous 8 trillion dollars…and he clarified for effect, saying that is “trillion with a T.”

Now President Obama has our national debt over 16 trillion dollars and climbing…larger than our entire economy. And he’s not worried about it in the least.

So: the Republican Party is wrong to worry about managing government and fixing the fiscal mess … but Obama is a disaster because he’s not worried about fixing the fiscal mess. Really?

Jindal wrapped his speech up with these lines, which have been widely quoted:

We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. … We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.

Mote, beam. Rhetorician, heal thyself.

The damnedest thing about all of this is that Jindal is a really smart man. He had some good things to say in the speech — for example, I like his nod towards economic populism. But he took an opportunity to lay out a credible critique of Republican failings in that area, and ways the party could reform itself to be less beholden to Wall Street and more responsive to Main Street, and  blew it on endless eructations of anti-government gaseousness.

He’s right that statism and centralization is a problem for the entire country. But he’s ignoring the fact that the Republicans have done little real work to roll back the state, and he’s also ignoring the fact that the state sometimes has to intervene to protect people from depredations of the private sector. How did rolling back banking regulations in the late 1990s — a project led by the Clinton Administration, and joined by the GOP — do for the economy? How did that help Main Street?

Where’s the intelligence, where’s the vision, where’s the boldness and leadership? Or is the case that the Republican Party still can’t face reality? He’s right that statism is a serious problem, though it would have been useful to hear a conservative talk about how the capture of government by powerful financial interests is bad for the common good. Why is this so hard?

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer never had a snowball’s chance in hell at winning the GOP nomination last year, but when you hear vapid nonsense like what Jindal said the other day, you really do long for a conservative who has guts enough to say things like Roemer did in his interview with Conor Friedersdorf. For example:

In five years I’ve built a bank that is two-thirds or three-quarters of a billion dollars in size. Very profitable. Clean. Didn’t foreclose on a single mortgage. Didn’t put a single small business under, I’m really proud of that, of the way we honored a long tradition of banking. But I watched banking reform. And I guess that was the straw that broke my reluctant back. I watched banking reform where too big to fail did not disappear. Where Glass-Steagall was not reintroduced. I had gone to Washington in 1998 and 1999 to testify against the elimination of the Franklin Roosevelt Glass-Steagall bill that separated investment banks from banks. I thought they would become too big. Too greedy. Too risk-taking. And I said in 1999 that it will lead to an economic collapse.

I was laughed at.

Then I saw bank reform after the collapse didn’t contain Glass-Steagall. It didn’t eliminate too big to fail. It didn’t increase capital ratios for banks. And then within a month of signing the bill President Obama went to Wall Street, had a fundraiser at $35,800 a ticket sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Well you know, I’m not a Rhodes Scholar. I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m a proud and practical man.

But I call it corruption.

Can you elaborate?

When you sign an inadequate bank reform bill, and you go celebrate with the people who brought the system down — none of them went to jail. None of them had been called on the carpet. And you act like it’s business as usual. It is a disgrace, Conor. I mean, I could add health reform. I believe President Obama on health reform. We need it in this country. I’m a diabetic. I’ve been a diabetic for more than 40 years. I know that the quality of our health care, the expense of it.

And yet in the health care reform bill, insurance companies were not put under Sherman antitrust, costs go unabated, pharmaceutical companies were protected from price discounting and from fair competition and imports from Canada. There was no tort reform. There were no incentives for health care providers to lower their costs and maintain their quality. It’s a disgrace.

These are the largest givers to politicians: insurance companies, tort lawyers, pharmaceutical companies. I mean, the chief of the pharmaceutical association bragged to me about how Obama had called him and begged him not to spend money against the bill. And to sign off on the bill. It was the power of money. It wasn’t about what’s right, or what works. Or what can help people too poor to get health care. It was never mentioned. It was about the little inside baseball that they hope the average voter never understands, Conor. They know I’m dangerous.

I’m free to talk about it. And It’s a corrupt system, no matter how you define the word corruption.

Daniel Larison is right: the GOP could be in the wilderness for a long, long time — and if Jindal’s speech is any indication of the kind of thinking going on at the top of the party, it deserves to be. Larison:

The problem for the GOP, as it is for all defeated, flailing parties, is that its leaders are sometimes oblivious to the party’s most serious weaknesses, or else they mistake those weaknesses for strengths. Hard-line foreign policy is one example of a clear liability for the party that its leaders believe to be one of their great advantages, which is one reason why it never even occurs to them that they are losing current and possible future supporters by hanging on to failed policy ideas. (Another is that they can’t or won’t acknowledge that the policies failed.) Far more politically damaging for Republicans are the national party’s lack of any relevant economic policy agenda and its cynical, selective interest in fiscal responsibility. This is the “pro-growth” party that presided over wage stagnation and anemic job growth in the 2000s, and this is the party supposedly horrified by deficit spending while being historically far worse at running up deficits when in power.

The weaknesses don’t stop there. The GOP wants to be perceived as the party of limited, constitutional government, but it just went through the better part of a decade expanding the size and intrusiveness of government, and it supported practices of illegal detention and illegal surveillance to boot. With depressingly few exceptions, the party hasn’t repudiated any of the latter, and there appears to be no urgency in reversing or undoing any of the damage done by these things. Having trashed almost everything that their party was supposed to represent, many Republican leaders act as if the worst thing that ever happened during the Bush years was a profusion of earmarks. Until they stop kidding or lying to themselves about what happened the last time there was unified Republican government, it’s doubtful that the public will be willing to entrust them with that much power.

Yes, exactly. The GOP is still deep in its Mondale-Dukakis paralysis. I don’t know who the Republican Bill Clinton is going to be, but it’s becoming clear who he’s not going to be.