David Frum

12.06.12

Bobby Jindal Dives the Shark

Rhodes Scholar Gov. Bobby Jindal attempts his best "Awww, shucks, the Washington DC cocktail circuit is out of touch" rhetoric while parading a vague balanced budget amendment in an opinion piece for POLITICO:

A federal balanced budget amendment. States have balanced budget laws, small businesses have to balance their budgets, and families have to do the same. This is an idea that is supported by virtually every American who does not live in the 202 area code. It’s common sense. It is also laughed at in Washington. When you mention the BBA as a solution, they roll their eyes and write you off as a non-serious person. But the American public is dead serious about it, and they should be.

A balanced budget amendment?* It's one thing to talk about how a family should handle their household budget, but household finance is different than national fiscal policy, so we should avoid the comparison.

It would be wonderful to hear Gov. Jindal identify the specific cuts he would have made during the nadir of the recession, when revenues as a share of GDP were around 15%, the lowest since the Second World War. At that point, cutting PBS and foreign aid won't get you to 15%.  At 15%, you have to slash entitlements (can't do that!) and the Department of Defense (good luck getting southern senators on board with that!).

Yes, Washington is too bloated. Yes, Washington is trying to do too many things it should leave to private citizens and state governments. Yes, Washington should be aiming to leave the federal government's share of GDP near the historical norm of 18-20 percent. And yes, I too am concerned by Ezra Klein's warning that 18 percent won't be able to pay for our existing and future obligations. We have to address these problems, and as conservatives, we must work to restrain the federal government from consuming an ever larger share of the gross domestic product.

But you don't win elections by promising to cut benefits, retard growth, and paralyze government when it is needed most -- during the depths of recessions. That's a terrible electoral strategy, but it's also horrible leadership from a party elite. Gov. Jindal can unload all the populist rhetoric he'd like, but he's as elite as anyone in Washington, DC, and that role comes with obligations.

Endorsing a balanced budget amendment, laughing off the uncertainty of messing with the debt ceiling, and deriding efforts to keep our nation functioning is an abdication of those responsibilities. I hope we see better in the future from Gov. Jindal.

*I too initially loved a balanced budget amendment, but then I read about what it would entail and was horrified by the thought.