At one point, the banging of the drums and the screeching of the horns could be heard two hotel ballrooms away. The band warming up down the hall was loud enough Thursday night that it distracted some in the audience, but not Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who, at hyperspeed, laid out his vision for the Republican Party and the nation.
"We have to stop looking backwards," Jindal said in his headlining speech at the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. "We've got to boldly show what the future can look like with the free market policies we believe in."
There were not many applause lines for the Louisiana governor, but that was not because these GOP party leaders from across the country disagreed with him. Rather, his quick-paced delivery did not encourage it.
It seemed like as soon as Jindal took the stage in the Charlotte ballroom, he was gone, pressing the flesh with the influential Republicans who descended upon the Queen City to talk political strategy and assess the past election that can only politely be described as disappointing.
While the Louisiana governor was quick in his remarks, he hit all of the political pressure points he needed. He took direct aim at Washington's Industrial Complex and those who fuel it, sparing the rod for no one, not even his fellow Republicans. It was a speech that, if condensed and delivered at 5 mph, would play well with grass-roots activists who might take time off from work to see the governor stand on a hastily constructed stage in an Iowa cornfield or a New Hampshire farm.
To Jindal, G-O-V-E-R-N-M-E-N-T is a four-letter word, and he slammed the GOP for enabling Democrats to use it to their political advantage. The sharp delivery of Jindal's Republican scolding was conveyed as sternly as a 19th-century school teacher would rap a child's knuckles for daring to curse aloud.
"At present, we have one party that wants to be in charge of the federal government so they can expand it and one party that wants to be in charge of the federal government so they can get it under control," Jindal said. "It's a terrible debate. It's a debate fought entirely on our opponents' terms. A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate. If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win."
If Vice President Joe Biden's high-fiving, hand-shaking, wide-grinning, zig-zagging jog down the inaugural parade route Monday was viewed as the kickoff to the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, then Jindal's loud call to rescue conservatism was the beginning of the battle on the other side.
Surrounded by reporters in a semicircle that quickly became whole after his speech, Jindal dismissed a question about whether he was eyeing a run for the White House in 2016, saying that any Republican thinking that far ahead "needs to get his head examined."
The title of the news release advancing the governor's speech: "Gov. Jindal to Refute President Obama's Liberal Vision for America."
Jindal laid down his markers: distancing himself from Big Government Washington, eviscerating Obama's policy positions and criticizing the GOP candidates whose offensive comments in the 2012 election not only caused them to lose their races, they hurt the party.
"We must stop being the stupid party," Jindal said. "I'm serious. 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. It's no secret, we had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say, we've had enough of that."
On his main theme of the night, the Louisiana governor is an interesting critic to attack government, given that his adult life has been spent working in it, including a stint as a congressman. But Jindal now lives nearly 1,200 miles away from the nation's capital, he speaks in a strong Louisiana drawl, and he offers something the Republican Party desperately seeks: diversity.
If you are not a regular consumer of politics, a resident of Louisiana or a member of the governor's extended family, or if you just arrived from the planet Neptune, you should know that Jindal is not your stereotypical Republican. He is the son of immigrants from India.
The GOP is now coming to terms with one of its greatest weaknesses: searching for a way to appeal to minorities, after watching African-American, Asian and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly support Obama in November. Losing the black vote made sense, as African-Americans have traditionally been a Democratic voting bloc and Obama, of course, is the first black president. But witnessing Democrats win huge margins among Asian and Hispanic voters was distressing to the GOP, and this week in Charlotte, the Republicans began the public discussion about how to rebuild and rebrand the party.
Jindal will continue to play a prominent role in this discussion, as will Sen. Marco Rubio, a Hispanic from Florida whose every move is now being watched and measured in political terms. Jindal planted a flag in Charlotte. We wait to see what Rubio does next, as well as the handful of other Republicans said to be eyeing the White House.
The Louisiana governor may have publicly dismissed any immediate interest in a White House run, but given the wide-open field and the amount of money it will cost to campaign, any serious candidate not taking steps now needs to get his or her head examined. Jindal doesn't need to get his head examined.