Political Horizons: Governor takes stab at ‘transformative’ motivation

“Transformative” is the vogue descriptor among the political set these days.

From the old church Latin noun of action associated with communion, “transformative” picked up its current accepted definition — a new work that alters and supersedes the original — in a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court opinion on copyright infringement.

A review of old clips show that the word was frequently applied to President Ronald Reagan, particularly during efforts beginning in the late 1990s to put his image on the $50 bill, replacing that of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Conservative writers George Will and Charles Krauthammer liberally sprinkle the term in their columns to describe everything from microchips to Walker Percy, but mostly they use it to mock what they say President Barack Obama failed to accomplish.

Most recently, the “transformative” theme has seen use as a descriptor for what’s necessary to win the presidency in 2016. Frank Donatelli, for instance, wrote in RealClear Politics: “Republicans will need a transformative message if we’re to complete the job and elect a Republican president.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s team used “transformative” at least 143 times in news releases that described various policies and actions. It’s now a theme in the talks he gives to out-of-state audiences.

And it’s playing well, at least among the conservative Christian and Republican crowds. Once a Jindal speech featured the governor’s bowed head as he read from a notebook or he rigidly recited statistics at high speed.

That was then. Jindal these days assumes the relaxed style of a motivational speaker.

Last week, he opened the Colorado Christian University Centennial Institute Western Conservative Summit. Rather than remain deposited behind the Plexiglas podium, flanked with see-through teleprompters, Jindal roamed the stage, hands casually in pockets until needed to punctuate a point.

The homilies are familiar to Louisiana listeners: He was a pre-existing condition because his parents were not insured when he was born. He delivered his third child at home. Obama is divisive and ineffectual.

He gives a glowing, if exaggerated, review of his revamp of education in Louisiana, ending by asking who could oppose a program such as this. The answer comes from the friendly audience. He points and smiles: “Teachers’ unions, that’s exactly right.”

The important point, Jindal says, is that “teachers’ unions say parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their kids.”

That’s not quite what Michael Walker-Jones said. He recently resigned as executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators. During Jindal’s 2012 blitzkrieg to revamp public school education — the bills went from filing to signing at the breakneck speed of about six weeks — the governor’s forces argued that parents should choose the style and place of education.

What Walker-Jones actually said: “If I’m a parent in poverty, I have no clue because I’m trying to struggle and live day to day. The idea of parents making decisions simply based on choice is the abandonment of public schools.” It was clumsily phrased, but he was saying busy parents don’t have access to enough information about the individual schools to make informed decisions.

Jindal called for Walker-Jones’ resignation, but that part of the tale is not included in his speeches.

Jindal then segues into his defense of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who was briefly suspended after likening homosexuality to bestiality and said blacks were happier before the civil rights era. Some denominations call homosexuality a sin.

This is how Jindal pivots into his “war on religious liberty” riff, which he described to California voters and at Liberty University as being “pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

The so-called war is a popular narrative by wannabe Republican presidential candidates. It’s being repeated by Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, to name two. Jindal, Cruz and Huckabee will be speaking during the weekend of Aug. 9 at the Family Leadership Summit. The gathering’s main organizer is The Family Leader, a conservative Christian lobbying group that, like Louisiana Family Forum, is linked to the national Family Research Council.

The American Prospect put it best: “Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.