Searching for Bobby Jindal
03-03-2009
I mentioned yesterday that I was not planning on spending a lot of time going back over the political developments I missed while away from the website last week. Most of them have already been thoroughly parsed on the web and cable news shows by others. That was until I saw this article in today’s paper, in which Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal defends his televised rebuttal to President Obama’s speech on policy grounds. Now I can’t resist the urge to comment further.
 
To his credit, Jindal readily concedes the stylistic deficiencies for which he has been so roundly mocked by commentators and comedians, alike. But he also urges critics not to overlook the importance of policy content and substantive ideas in his speech. While I too thought his delivery was weak, I have to say I was actually more disappointed with the speech’s lack of innovative content. As a result, I think Jindal’s comments yesterday in defense of his performance show a surprising lack of self-awareness.
 
It is precisely because of his reputation as a very smart policy wonk that I expected something more from him than a stale, retro caricature of the ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats. And his attempt to critique the efficacy of all federal governance with a belabored anecdote about Hurricane Katrina fell royally flat. Finally, the meat of his policy discussion on the economy, health care, and education didn’t go beyond anything we heard from John McCain during last fall’s presidential campaign. You can go back over the transcript yourself and see whether you discover any innovative policy ideas tucked away in the speech, but what you will mainly find is standard Republican boilerplate about cutting taxes and keeping government out of the way of the private sector.
 
Perhaps Governor Jindal had an off night. He was much stronger in his Q&A session the previous Sunday on Meet the Press. It is also true that the coveted opportunity to deliver a short, no-audience rebuttal to the president is in reality a somewhat thankless job that is fraught with a rather significant downside (as the governor is now discovering). From everything else I have seen, Jindal seems like a pretty sharp politician, so I would have expected him to move on from last Tuesday night as quickly as possible.


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