Bobby Jindal Criticizes Obama On Race, As Republicans Lambast President's Legacy At Freedom Summit
President Barack Obama came under fire Saturday, as Republican presidential hopefuls descended on Greenville, South Carolina, for the South Carolina Freedom Summit. The gathering of grassroots activists was part of a series of events that conservative candidates will attend throughout the year, having assembled in New Hampshire and Iowa in consecutive weekends previously. As the candidates vied to boost their chances, Obama’s foreign policy came in for criticism from various quarters while Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal attacked Obama’s domestic legacy, stating that the president “continues to divide us” on matters of race.
Jindal, who has yet to declare his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, made the comments while responding to questions about the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, according to The Guardian. “We’re not just talking about Baltimore or some of the incidents recently, but I’ve said I think for quite some time the president continues to divide us,” Jindal told reporters. “He tries to divide us by gender, by age, by geography, by race — and I think that’s wrong. Part of his job is to unite us and bring us together.”
Jindal went on to critique the idea of “hyphenated Americans,” a term he uses to refer (with disapproval) to the grouping of citizens under titles such as “African American” or “Indian American.” He went on to clarify his statements on police treatment of black Americans. “Obviously any time somebody’s treated differently because of the color of their skin, whether it’s done by government or in the private sector or individuals, that’s sinful, it’s wrong,” he said. Earlier in the week, Jindal told Fox News that he would decide soon whether to embark on a presidential campaign.
Jindal also found the time (and the goodwill, after launching a litany of criticisms) to pay a compliment to Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton during his news conference. Having criticized the former secretary of state’s understanding of the first amendment, The New York Times reports that Jindal was pressed — and prodded, with a reminder of Mother’s Day approaching — to say something nice about the Democratic candidate. Jindal circumvented the political sphere entirely to locate a suitably kind appraisal, eventually stating:
I will say this: She and her husband, former President Clinton, raised their daughter, Chelsea, under the glare of the media spotlight. … As we get closer to Mother’s Day, I respect the fact they worked very hard to shield their daughter from the politics, from the media scrutiny, and by all accounts, she’s turned out to be a very accomplished adult in her own right.
But Jindal’s comments were only a drop in the ocean of Republican sentiments pooled during Saturday’s event, organized by political action group Citizens United and drawing together 20 conservative speakers. The GOP’s presidential hopefuls showed up in full force, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, real estate mogul Donald Trump, and former New York Gov. George Pataki all joining Jindal.
With such a crowded field, the candidates were hard-pressed to stand out — a situation that led to plenty of high-powered Republicans coming up with impassioned speeches they no doubt hoped would be disseminated as memorable sound bites. Rubio, for one, has arguably achieved success with this strategy, by using the 2008 Liam Neeson film Taken to explain his hawkish approach to foreign policy. “We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you,” Rubio said, stealing a Neeson line and applying it to his position on terrorists. The line, according to Bloomberg, earned the declared 2016 candidate "thunderous applause".
Walker, too, focused on foreign policy issues, vehemently attacking the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, its efficacy on terrorism, and its deteriorating relationship with Israel. Walker, whose own foreign policy expertise has been called into doubt by Obama, said:
We need a commander in chief who will once and for all call it what it is, and that is radical Islamic terrorism… We need a president who will affirm that Israel is our ally and start acting like it. We need a leader who will have the courage to look the American people in the eye, and to tell them what might not be easy to say, and that is this will not take a day, it might not take a week, it might not take a month or even a year … but it’s not a question of it another attempt is made on our soil, it’s a question of when.
Around 2,000 grassroots activists gathered hear what the candidates in the crowded GOP field had to say Saturday, and, according to The Guardian, they showed a particularly warm response to the speeches touching on foreign policy — which many candidates represented as woefully mismanaged under Obama. “Heck, I would just be happy if the president would be able to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies,” Santorum said. “Let me give the current president a little primer. Iran: enemy. Israel: friend.”
Santorum also criticized Obama’s approach to ISIS, terming America’s bombing campaign a “publicity stunt.” The U.S. military has carried out thousands of strikes on the group in Syria and Iraq since August last year, and this week said that 28 more had been carried out between Friday and Saturday. But Santorum considers this insufficient. “If these people want to bring back a 7th-century version of Islam … then let’s load our bombers up and bomb them back to the 7th-century,” he said.
With polls showing that Obama receives bad marks on foreign policy — and with supposedly deteriorating U.S. race relations, especially regarding police conduct, so much in the news — the GOP candidates strove to hit Obama where it might really hurt. Whether that approach (with little variation across the board) will allow any of them to race ahead among their own ranks remains to be seen.
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