Oh My Jindal
These responses to State of the Unions are very, very hard to make work. The President talks from a rostrum in front of a live and raucous audience, basking in the glory of every politician in Washington, and then out trots the responder, in a state house or some crappy looking set, in a canned environment, with no drama at all. It's like watching The Dark Knight and downshifting into Antiques Roadshow. Democrat after Democrat tried them and failed miserably (Kathleen Sebelius, Harry Reid, Gary Locke, Tim Kaine), and Jim Webb's success is a testament to his oratorical skills.
So that's the preamble. All that said, Bobby Jindal just ended his career for national office tonight. And not just because of the necessary downshift in rhetoric - although yes, the Kenneth from 30 Rock jokes are completely accurate - but because of the terrible, terrible content. I agree with Ezra Klein:
On MSNBC, Matthews said that "the only space Obama has left open in America is on the far-right." And Jindal's speech is proving it: It's like a time capsule. "Dangerous enemies still seek our destruction." "The strength of America is not found in our government." "Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you."
Beyond that, it's a speech that Boehner could have given in 2007 and that Frist could have given in 2005 and that Lott could have given in 1998 and that Gingrich could have given in 1993. Jindal made a mistake accepting the GOP's invitation to give this response. Yesterday, he seemed like a different kind of Republican. Today, he doesn't.
It's almost too easy for Obama to compete against these guys. For example, did Jindal really invoke Hurricane Katrina as an example of governmental mismanagement? I know we've collectively as Americans have decided to forget George Bush, but does Jindal really not think we have a long-term memory? Worse, the second half of his Katrina story - yes, a Republican REPEATEDLY brought up Katrina, is actually a brazen lie:
Let me tell you a story.
During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go - when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.
There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens.
Read the whole story at the link. He completely made this up. He also lied about the mythical "Las Vegas to Disneyland" HSR line. He lied about how the public "has never even seen" the stimulus bill, when it's up on a public website. He lied about how Democrats want to "dismantle our defenses." He criticized "something called volcano monitoring," which consists of, you know, monitoring volcanoes, which is a simple action to try to prevent natural disasters. And he tried to cast Obama as a pessimist moments after he gave one of the most optimistic, opportunity-in-chaos speeches I've seen in at least 20 years. This guy is a Rhodes scholar and by all accounts a policy wonk. To appeal to conservatives, he has determined that his only chance is to sound like a lying, blithering idiot.
In short, he offered the same tired conservative tropes which were almost unanimously rejected at the polls last November and have been even more rejected in the weeks and months since. And key conservatives know this. David Brooks read Jindal the riot act tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Now that, of course, was Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, making the Republican response. David, how well do you think he did?
DAVID BROOKS: Uh, not so well. 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. I just think it's unfortunate right now.
Put it this way - when Fox News is slamming your performance, and you're a Republican, you've laid an egg.
...question: did the Washington Post go ahead and remove this Michael Gerson mash note to Jindal from their morning edition, out of embarrassment?