Feature

Jindal: A bright GOP light dims

How badly has Bobby Jindal damaged his political future by mishandling his party's rebuttal to the president's address to a joint session of Congress?

Give Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal credit, said Gail Collins in The New York Times. When the president addresses a joint session of Congress, the opposition party’s rebuttal usually gets ignored by the public and pundits alike. But when Jindal gave the Republican reply to Barack Obama’s prime-time address last week, his speech “was so bad that people actually paid attention.” It wasn’t just the goofy delivery, “which sounded like a junior high schooler’s entry into the Chamber of Commerce ‘I Speak for Fiscal Restraint’ contest.” In a time of deepening economic despair, Jindal merely railed against government waste and sang the praises of tax cuts, while offering no alternative to Obama’s massive stimulus plan. Jindal has been considered a possible presidential contender in 2012, said The Boston Globe in an editorial. But now, even conservative fans of this 37-year-old son of Indian immigrants are calling him “cheesy,” “wooden,” and “an earnest dork.”

That’s because Jindal managed not only to discredit himself, said Stephanie Grace in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, but the very notion of smaller government. Inexplicably, Jindal focused on the government’s scandalous response to Hurricane Katrina—which he said proved that “the strength of America is not found in our government” but, rather, “in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens.” Really? The lesson that Americans of every ideological stripe took from Katrina is “not that government is bad, but that incompetent government is bad.” And everyone remembers which party was running the White House at the time. “Seldom have Americans expected their government to address as many problems on as many fronts as they do right now. They don’t want to hear that it can’t work. They want someone to make it work.”

What a “missed opportunity,” said Nicole Gelinas in City Journal. There is, in fact, a strong case to be made that the massive government expansion envisioned by Obama and congressional Democrats threatens liberty and free-market innovation. Jindal, with his reputation for pragmatism, was perhaps the ideal Republican politician to make this case. If he wanted to discuss Katrina, for instance, he could have noted that if the government had spent wisely before the storm on improving levees and floodwalls—instead of wasting billions on entitlements and other social spending—the disaster could have been averted. Democrats confuse Americans’ desire for a competent government “with a government that does everything.” Republicans need to provide “a rational counterweight,” but it seems they’re going to have to find somebody besides Jindal to do that.

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