So much for the Jindal breakthrough

SO MUCH FOR THE JINDAL BREAKTHROUGH…. Expectations were high for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last night, delivering the Republican response to the president’s address to Congress. Practically every feature on the young governor includes the words “rising star” and “2012,” and this was going to be his chance to shine on the national stage.

Instead, we’re left with five simple words: “not ready for prime time.”

To be sure, it’s a tough — and risky — gig. These response speeches are very difficult to pull off, and very few manage to appear impressive. (Jim Webb was great a few years ago, but he was more the exception than the rule.) Jindal not only was given a tough assignment, he had to try to follow President Obama, who had just set a very high bar by delivering a terrific national address.

But context notwithstanding, Jindal was something of a disaster. The delivery was awkward and sing-song (comparisons to Kenneth from “30 Rock” are ubiquitous). The arguments were tone-deaf and tiresome. The anecdotes were long and pointless. Jindal hadn’t quite practiced enough with a teleprompter. He not only seemed like a guy selling a bad product in an infomercial, Jindal seemed like he was new at it.

It was painful to watch, both because the speech was bad and because it was hard not to feel bad for the guy embarrassing himself on national television.

On one of the cable networks, viewers were told that Jindal was “almost childish,” and this “was not Bobby Jindal’s greatest oratorical moment.” The network? Fox News.

I was under the impression that the whole point of inviting Jindal to offer the Republican response was to present the public with something new and different. But as bad as Jindal’s performance was, his ideas were even worse — tax cuts, drilling, school vouchers, spending bad, government bad. Why bother picking a fresh face if all the party has to offer is stale ideas? Why ask a young governor with a reputation for innovation to present the same old agenda that the GOP has pitched for a generation?

Consider David Brooks’ take from last night on PBS:

“You know, I think Bobby Jindal is a very promising politician, and I oppose the stimulus because I thought it was poorly drafted. But to come up at this moment in history with a stale ‘government is the problem,’ ‘we can’t trust the federal government’ — it’s just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we’re just gonna — that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that — in a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say ‘government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,’ it’s just a form of nihilism. It’s just not where the country is, it’s not where the future of the country is. There’s an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and so he’s making that case. I think it’s insane, and I just think it’s a disaster for the party.”

My friend Tom Schaller added, “Someday, when scholars are trying to fingerpoint the nadir of the post-Bush Republican Party, they may arrive at Jindal’s speech tonight. Though it was a tough moment for any Republican to give the opposition response, his speech came across as unserious in content and condescending in its tone.”

Politicians can recover from awful speeches, but it’ll be a while until Jindal lives this one down. A few years from now, when Jindal gets ready to run for president, conservatives will express excitement — and then hesitate when they remember just how bad he was in late February, 2009.

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