Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America's greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President '16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It's partly Barack Obama's war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it's important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn't the victory but the fight.
Here's how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of:
"The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war," Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. "It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance."
"This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power," he adds, according to the prepared remarks. "It is 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 speech sounds like pretty standard stuff; Jindal reiterates his support for Duck Dynasty homophobe/Jim Crow nostalgist Phil Robertson, saying, "The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves." Which is not actually true; what Jindal (and some others) seem to want is a society where conservatives can say ignorant, bigoted things and no one is allowed to criticize them for it. But what interests me is the religious war stuff.
"Our religious freedom was won over the course of centuries of persecution and blood," Jindal says, "and we should not surrender them without a fight." Maybe he explains in the actual speech about the centuries of persecution and blood—is he talking about here in America? Because I don't really remember all the Christians being tossed in jail or rounded up for massacres during the colonial period, culminating in the First Amendment, but maybe I missed something. In any case, this is a little more complex than simply appealing to social conservative voters, though it certainly is that.
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. It's one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don't share your beliefs, which is a total drag. But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says "We can do better," or the guy who thunders, "Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!"
Not that candidates haven't tried to ride the "war on Christianity" thing before, with only limited success. But Fox News does crank up the calliope of Christian resentment every December, and there's enough of a market there to keep it going. Can Bobby Jindal—slight of build, goofy of mien, dull of voice—be the Henry V of the 2016 version of this unending war? Let's just say I'm a wee bit skeptical.