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The Case Against Bobby Jindal

In less than a week, Louisianans will vote on who is best qualified to lead our State for the next four years. We face a monumental decision. This election does not simply represent a change in leadership; it also marks the first time Louisianans have had to make a decision about their state’s leadership since the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In her new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, author Naomi Klein reveals a fascinating relationship between the nature of “shock” and the advancement of an economic agenda that believes in the destruction of government regulations and services. Klein poses an argument that should be required reading for all Louisianans. During the aftermath of Katrina, Klein writes, New Orleanians returned home to find that the government had no intention of reopening many of their public housing developments, hospitals, and public schools. The “shock” of the hurricane enabled individuals in the federal government and their friends in the State to push through a privatization plan that used our tax dollars to create new opportunities for private industry. Instead of rebuilding our existing infrastructure, public housing dollars are now, in part, “creatively” allocated to private real estate developers who hope to use our tax dollars to supplement the construction or rehabilitation of luxury apartment complexes in historically suburban areas. Many public schools have been neglected and abandoned in favor of incentives for private and charter schools. Hospitals remain shuttered. As Klein points out, these are policies that could have never been implemented without the “shock” of a disaster.

Some may claim that this is the free market at work, but when the “free market” relies on our tax dollars and government incentives, it is not “free.” Instead of spending our tax dollars to provide a safety net, education, and health care for those who cannot qualify and those who cannot afford private school or private insurance, we are told it is better to spend our tax dollars in order to provide hand-outs for rich real estate developers, private HMOs and insurance companies, and private and/or religious schools. The solvency of this agenda has never been substantiated.

Conservatives like to talk about the nature of investment, but they rarely consider their tax dollars as an investment in the future of their country. Like all businesses, in government, there is waste and room for increased efficiency. Most Americans spend nearly a third of their incomes in taxes, yet we hardly ever talk about our role as “shareholders” in this enterprise.

Collectively, the taxpayers of Louisiana own billions of dollars in infrastructure, schools, hospitals, ports, airports, stadiums, universities, and other tangible assets. Collectively, the taxpayers of Louisiana provide thousands of jobs, an education for all Louisiana children, and health care coverage for the elderly, the extreme poor, and the disabled. Together we participate in an exceptional enterprise. What do we call it when someone forcibly takes money away from one of your investments and gives it to their friends and patrons? Stealing? Corruption? Nepotism? Corporatism?

Wikipedia’s definition of corporatism:

Historically, corporatism or corporativism (Italian: corporativismo) refers to a political or economic system in which power is given to civic assemblies that represent economic, industrial, agrarian, social, cultural, and professional groups. These civic assemblies, known as corporations (not necessarily the business model known as a ‘corporation’ though such businesses are not excluded from the definition either). Corporations are unelected bodies with an internal hierarchy; their purpose is to exert control over the social and economic life of their respective areas. Thus, for example, a steel corporation would be a cartel composed of all the business leaders in the steel industry, coming together to discuss a common policy on prices and wages. When the political and economic power of a country rests in the hands of such groups, then a corporatist system is in place.

The word “corporatism” is derived from the Latin word for body, corpus. This meaning was not connected with the specific notion of a business corporation, but rather a general reference to anything collected as a body. Its usage reflects medieval European concepts of a whole society in which the various components – e.g., guilds or trade unions, universities, monasteries, the various estates, etc. – each play a part in the life of the society, just as the various parts of the body serve specific roles in the life of a body. According to various theorists, corporatism was an attempt to create a modern version of feudalism by merging the “corporate” interests with those of the state.

Political scientists may also use the term corporatism to describe a practice whereby an authoritarian state, through the process of licensing and regulating officially-incorporated social, religious, economic, or popular organizations, effectively co-opts their leadership or circumscribes their ability to challenge state authority by establishing the state as the source of their legitimacy, as well as sometimes running them, either directly or indirectly through shill corporations. This usage is particularly common in the area of East Asian studies, and is sometimes also referred to as state corporatism.

At a popular level in recent years “corporatism” has been used to mean the promotion of the interests of private corporations in government over the interests of the public.

Corporatist candidates can raise a lot of corporate money. In Representative Jindal’s case, that money has purchased an exorbitantly expensive website, advertisement in nearly all of Louisiana’s media markets, and the salaries of a slew of campaign bundlers and staffers. Yet Jindal’s message only consists of vague platitudes, promises of increased privatization, and the declaration of “war” on abstract ideas (Why does this sound familiar?). In fairness, Jindal has published a handful of “plans” on his website, but he is still running a low-information campaign. How? Because Jindal has consistently refused to debate the issues. He has skipped out on a number of candidate forums and debates. His commercials have accused his opponents of corruption without offering any proof or corroborating evidence. Stephen Sabludowsky, publisher of The Bayou Buzz, recently wrote:

His (Jindal’s) campaign’s practice of closing out people who are asking legitimate questions suggests that he is hiding something and not just playing bunker mentality to beat out the clock.

I know I am going against the grain, know that I am risking much by being so open by expressing my concerns, but I feel that it is important to do so, not just for my audience but for my own sense of worth.

I share Mr. Sabludowsky’s sentiment. Jindal is not just a candidate for governor. He is also an elected representative of the State of Louisiana, and when questions arise about his own campaign financing and ethics, he is still answerable to the people of Louisiana. His refusal to answer pointed questions or to engage in a rigorous discussion on the issues is definitely a cause for concern.

By now, we should all recognize the problem: Currently, there isn’t a consolidated opposition. Despite Jindal’s nearly universal name recognition and the millions of dollars he has spent on advertising his plans for Louisiana, he’s still polling at under 50%. Polls show nearly 30% of Louisiana voters are still “undecided,” which clearly indicates that voters are waiting for a “consolidated opposition.” But now is not the time to point fingers. There are three imminently qualified candidates who have engaged with voters, answered questions, and participated in nearly all of the statewide debates and forums. These three men have been called “clowns” by Bobby Jindal; Jindal has painted them as “corrupt,” part of an old crowd. Of course, he has not offered any proof of this systemic corruption; it is simply a rhetorical device his campaign has employed to diminish the hard work and the reputations of three exceptional Louisiana citizens.

Recently, the media has noted that Jindal’s supporters seem to be “on a mission.” Voter turn-out is expected to be low. Public interest in this election is dismal. But the Republican base, we are told, is energized. It is always good when people are inspired by the democratic process, but when that inspiration is borne out of confusion and built on a foundation of recycled platitudes about waging wars and eliminating corruption, we should question the aim of this “mission.”

The “shock doctrine” is best used when it is complemented by a campaign that declares the government to be broken, inefficient, and corrupt. It relies on the erosion of faith in our basic institutions, and its champions tell us that this “problem” can only be solved in the private sector. Louisiana has suffered through its fair share of corrupt politics on both sides of the aisle, but we should not believe the private sector to be immune to the same type of corruption. In most cases, the private sector actually drives and instructs political corruption. And the private sector is not a magical panacea that will cure all of Louisiana’s ailments. Divesting from our public institutions in order to create a convoluted web of tax incentives for the private sector is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Some people may read this and think that I am being alarmist. During this election, we have paid little attention to the notion of the “shock doctrine,” corporatism, and privatization, but I believe these are the fundamental issues. They provide the backdrop upon which everything else is staged.

By using the trauma of Katrina and Rita, corporatists have been able to push through a frightening agenda, and Representative Jindal, whose campaign coffers are filled with bundled corporate donations from individuals seeking contracts, tax breaks, and tax incentives from the government, has been faithfully preaching to the choir.

Health Care:

Yesterday, I wrote about my personal experience with Louisiana Medicaid, an experience that was roughly contemporaneous with Jindal’s tenure at the Department of Health and Hospitals. Currently, the system is no better than it was 12-15 years ago. Louisiana’s health care system is still ranked worst in the nation. Last year, the United Health Foundation ranked Louisiana as “worst in terms of overall health outcomes.” I believe in reforming our system. Obviously something needs to be done.

When reading Bobby Jindal’s health care plan, I was struck by his failure to recognize or acknowledge the real reasons that the elderly and the disabled account for the bulk of Louisiana Medicaid spending. First, the elderly and the disabled hardly ever qualify for private insurance, and even in those rare instances when they do qualify, they do not want to participate, for fear of losing their coverage based on the whims of a corporate accountant intent on “reducing risks.” Second, Louisiana Medicaid spends an exorbitant amount in nursing home care. Studies indicate that home care and hospice care programs are more effective and often less expensive alternatives, improving a patient’s quality of life and preventing the elderly from spending their final years in an institution.

Jindal’s plan does not mention nursing home or hospice care programs. However, he does mention at least one thing all four candidates can agree on: Louisiana needs more outpatient health clinics. Another reason our Medicaid spending is ranked 11th highest in the nation is because emergency rooms absorb a significant number of patients who could be better served at a less expensive health clinic. The creation of non-profit outpatient health clinics (in areas where they are needed) is a logical way of increasing preventative care.

While there are a handful of points with which Jindal and I can agree, the majority of his health care plan is concerned with incentivizing private insurance companies. Here’s the problem: Louisiana has a two-tiered health care system. There is a system for those covered by private insurance, and then there is a system for everyone else– the poor, the indigent, the elderly, and the disabled. When you divest from Medicaid funding in order to create private sector incentives, you may be leveling the playing field for some people, but you are augmenting the stratification and reducing the quality of services for those of us who are forced to rely on Medicaid. Jindal should know, based on his own experience, that private insurers will not “take on” the poor, the indigent, the elderly, and the disabled. By depleting Medicaid of funding, you are only further perpetuating this two-tiered system. Let me put this more simply: I would not have a problem with encouraging able-bodied people on Medicaid to pursue private insurance if such a program was devised to increase Medicaid coverage for those, like the disabled and the elderly, who simply do not have a viable alternative. In other words, if Jindal intends on using Medicaid dollars to subsidize private insurance coverage, then he should ensure that those who remain on Medicaid have access to the same doctors, the same hospitals, tests, expertise, and resources as those who are covered privately. There is a reason many doctors refuse Medicaid patients; Medicaid typically pays only half of what private insurers will pay.

Unfortunately, Jindal’s plan does not address this issue either, but it is critical. There is probably a reason this issue is not addressed. Under Jindal’s plan, Medicaid will lose whatever semblance of solvency it ever had. Money will be drained from the program to provide hand-outs and tax breaks for private insurance companies, and without that money, those who are left behind will be forced to participate in a bankrupted system that cannot afford quality coverage for patients who need medical care and treatment the most. It’s the reverse Robin Hood: Taking from a program that benefits the poor, the elderly, and the disabled and giving as much money as you can to rich private insurance companies.

Education:

Much like his health care plan, Jindal’s plan for improving education is informed by a corporatist logic that seeks to divest money from public education and give it to private businesses as well as private, parochial, and charter schools. It’s a dangerous recipe. While some may believe this plan sounds good on paper, we should recognize the long-term and collateral effects of implementing such a plan. I wrote about Jindal’s plan for education in a previous post, a position I clarified in a subsequent comment:

I noticed that a reader copied and pasted my essay into a Houma, Louisiana forum, and someone named “fs” responded. They wrote:

“I like the plan to reallocate money to send the brightest children to private and charter schools. I will be happy for my tax money to send someone else’s child to private school if that child is a honor student. MOST parents cannot afford that and if the child is a honor student, why should they stay in public schools, failing schools, they should be able to broaden their smarts further.

“And as for Georges putting a laptop on the desk of every student, who is going to pay for that, you? And if the schools with computers today are failing, what the hell is a laptop going to do more? NOT A DAMN THING.

“My plan:
Place all honor students in charter schools. Place all failing students at the age of 15 and above who wish and who’s parents approve, place them in alternative schools not for behavioral problems, but for alternative teaching. Instead of teaching them chemistry, trigonometry, and all that, teach them job skills, money management, resume’ writing, social skills, how to cope with difficulties in life, how to survive on minimum wage, how to raise children, and let them instead of a diploma on strict state guidelines, educate them for a GED.

“Let all other students go to public school. Let those “C” average students stay in the public schools because that is who the school system is set up for. Those are the average kids who will go many different ways when they graduate, college, army, work force, etc…”

I have many objections to this person’s response. First, a laptop on every desk is not prohibitively expensive. Georges believes he can get it done for $20 million, and considering the grant opportunities and our ability to partner, on the state-level, with a company like Apple or Dell, $20 million will go a long way. It represents an initial investment of approximately $30 per student, including Pre-K and Kindergarten students. If you were to locate an 80/20 matching grant and supplement that grant with additional partnerships, the program should not be difficult to implement. I am not sure why this person does not understand that laptops are powerful educational tools. Perhaps they are just being contrarian. But they should consider that all students, even those who are preparing for a skills-based career, need to be proficient in computers.

Obviously this person’s “plan” is fundamentally flawed. There are currently more than 21,000 public school students in the Gifted and Talented program. This does not include the tens of thousands of students who enroll in “honor’s” classes. Not all schools offer the Gifted program. There are only 370 private schools in the State of Louisiana and even fewer “charter schools.” These schools are scattered throughout the State. Let’s say we sent just those students enrolled in the Gifted program. The average private school’s enrollment would increase by nearly sixty. You do not need to be “gifted” to know that this it would be an operational and logistical nightmare.

But this person does not propose sending only Gifted and Talented students; they propose sending all “honors” students. Even if honors students represent only 10% of our student population, we’re still looking at sending over 60,000 students to “charter schools.” Louisiana currently has 57 charter schools, 15 more than our cap. This means the average “charter school,” most of which are already at full capacity, would receive over 1,000 new students.

We should be honest about our situation. Although our educational performance numbers are terrible, we still send over 14,900 students every year to Louisiana colleges and universities. We likely send thousands more to out-of-state institutions. 14,900 students represents 2% of our entire student population, grades Pre-K-12.

More importantly, 14,900 students is approximately 40% of the average 12th grade class, which means that at least two out of five graduating students are college-bound. No, we’re not Connecticut, but it is hard to make the argument that it is impossible to receive a quality education in our public school system. I know a number of public school students who scored perfectly on the ACT and/or the SAT, and many public education school students, like Bobby Jindal, later graduate from the finest universities in the nation.

When you deplete our public schools of their brightest students, you are buying into the erroneous and (frankly) insulting supposition that public schools cannot offer a quality education. They can. But by incentivizing the abandonment of public schools, we will only hurt our schools (and the students who have been marginalized by a system that associates test scores with intelligence). When we lose our bright students, we will also likely lose many of our brightest and most qualified teachers. And then, the sustained “failure” of some of our schools becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bobby Jindal’s plan is not as radical as “fs’s,” but the underlying principles are the same and the logic is equally as faulty. Bobby Jindal does call for the reallocation of public money toward private, parochial, and charter schools as a “solution” for bright children in “failing” districts. He believes Louisiana should rely on the private sector to invest in school technology (I wonder how he plans on spending the tobacco settlement). And he calls for Louisiana to increase “accountability,” even though we’re already ranked first in the nation in “accountability” (Because, my friends, standards of “school accountability” are based on the No Child Left Behind Act. We may be ranked worst in the nation in academic performance, but at least we’re first in the nation in following a failed education policy! Right?).

Conclusion:

People tell me that Bobby Jindal is a humble and intelligent man. He is obviously smart and very ambitious. But that does not mean he is the right candidate with the right plans. There are many more issues that can be addressed, but I chose to highlight education and health care for a few reasons. For one, these are issues about which I feel strongly. Also, these are the issues that have defined Jindal’s political career, and I worry about Louisiana under the direction of a man who has consistently shown antipathy toward our public institutions and services, a man who has painted everyone else as “corrupt,” while espousing an almost doctrinal belief in corporatist ideology.

I am still waiting for Jindal and his supporters to articulate a reasonable counter-argument, but thus far, all I have encountered is the same type of dismissive vitriol that made Karl Rove a household name.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. “I am still waiting for Jindal and his supporters to articulate a reasonable counter-argument, but thus far, all I have encountered is the same type of dismissive vitriol that made Karl Rove a household name.”

    Don’t hold your breath. You will get “but he is so smart” as the typical retort.

    Very good post!

    October 16, 2007
  2. This is a great post, Lamar. Thanks!

    October 17, 2007
  3. Rudolph #

    That was truly a well-reasoned and sensible post. Thanks.

    October 17, 2007

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