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How Bad Was Jindal?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009 8:10 AM

"Oh God."

That is what Chris Matthews was caught muttering when Bobby Jindal walked toward the cameras.

Not very professional.

But not very far off from what others--including many conservatives--are saying about the non-SOTU non-response by the governor of Louisiana.

Whatever Jindal had to say--and I'm glad his immigrant father saved enough money to pay for his delivery--he was so oddly paced and awkward that he created an indelible image--and not a flattering one for a rising Republican star.

Following a presidential address to Congress by speaking from an empty room almost guarantees that you'll fall flat. Tim Kaine was among the Democrats who belly-flopped in the Bush years. But Jindal risks becoming a punchline.

Many conservatives are cringing. Laura Ingraham, on her radio show, said Jindal gestured with only one hand and was "very off-putting . . . A wonderful human being, I like him very much, but he is a horrible speaker."

As for Matthews, Politico reported on his statement on "Hardball": "I was taken aback by that peculiar stagecraft, the walking from somewhere in the back of this narrow hall, this winding staircase looming there, the odd anti-bellum look of the scene. Was this some mimicking of a president walking along the state floor to the East Room?"

More on Obama's big speech in a moment, but let's take a look at the Bobby-bashing.

"The reviews were swift and scathing: Off-putting. Amateurish. Disastrous.

"And those were fellow Republicans reacting to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal," says the L.A. Times.

In the New Republic, Eve Fairbanks flashes back to her childhood:

"Jindal had a few funny lines, but he too often sounded like a guy trying to calm down an aggravated parrot: sing-songy, every sentence soothingly the same, the delivery totally unmatched to the content. And the mantra 'Americans can do anything,' repeated at least five times, reminded me of nothing so much as a cassette tape given to me by a child therapist I (briefly) visited when I was eight."

Ace of Spades uses the D-word:

"Awful. He walked out like an earnest dork and has a weird inflection, trying to sound upbeat and sunny when it's clearly not his natural [meter]. It sounds false, and he looks false.

"I don't care how much of a star Jindal is, America doesn't elect somewhat-off dorks as president."

At 538, Nate Silver uses an educational metaphor:

"If it sounds like Jindal is targeting his speech to a room full of fourth graders, that's because he is. They might be the next people to actually vote for Republicans again."

Time's Amy Sullivan uses the most common comparison, that the governor resembled Kenneth the intern on "30 Rock":

"How bad was Bobby Jindal? On 'Charlie Rose,' David Brooks called the Louisiana Republican's remarks the worst response to a speech ever, and added--as if that wasn't clear--'That response from the most prominent Republican competition was to me an unmitigated disaster.' Within an hour of the speech, a Google search for 'jindal kenneth 30 rock" yielded almost 75,000 hits. Jindal's fellow travelers on Fox News used words like 'sing-song' and 'childish' to describe his delivery.

"Maybe it's because I get motion-sickness on bandwagons, but I'm almost tempted to disagree. Almost. Sure, Jindal seemed to alternate between telling a creepy bedtime story about the magical gumdrop Land of Tax Cuts and a creepy bedtime story about the evil Democrats who lurk under your bed. But Democrats gave their share of creepy responses over the past eight years--I can't be the only person still scarred by Nancy Pelosi's unblinking delivery in 2004."

Salon's Joan Walshhits him on substance:

"What a clueless self-promoter. God bless him and his family for their hard work and success, but to compare his own story to Obama's was tone-deaf. Even sillier, bordering on scandalous, was his decision to use Hurricane Katrina as an example of why government can't be trusted. Bobby, Katrina is why Americans believe Republican government can't be trusted. There's a difference. He also accused Obama of wanting to impose 'government-run' healthcare, which is a lie."

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly mocks Jindal for his mockery:

"While some of the projects in the [stimulus] bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

"First, the 'Las Vegas to Disneyland' line is still ridiculous. Second, marveling at the very idea of high-speed rail, as if it were some kind of fanciful magic, does not reflect well on the governor's appreciation of infrastructure innovation. And third, since when is monitoring volcanoes a bad thing? Does Jindal think monitoring hurricanes is wasteful spending? The governor of a state ravaged by a natural disaster shouldn't mock programs that can save people from natural disasters."

Now back to the president. The pundits say he was short on specifics, but the polls say the public loved the speech. If he had jammed in plenty of programmatic statistics, the pundits would have declared the speech leaden and boring.

A home run of a State of the Union used to give Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton a boost that would last for weeks. I don't know if the same thing will happen with Barack Obama, for two reasons.

One is the speed of the news cycle. By the time you read these words, the media will be off on Obama's budget, the hunt for an HHS secretary and the latest from Octomom. Yeah, the president gave a nice speech--when was it, again?--but what's he done to save the country today?

The second reason is that the nation is in such a deep financial hole--a year ago, it would have been nuts to imagine the feds taking over Citigroup--that comparisons to Reagan or Clinton don't cut it. The pain is mounting, even the most optimistic scenario for a recovery is a year away, and a well-crafted speech doesn't change that. People want to see results, and that will take awhile.

Conservatives seem strongly opposed to Obama's vision of government while recognizing his considerable communications skills. National Review strikes a respectful but skeptical note:

"We would wager that President Obama's speech will go over well. Much of it sounded good to us. The president says that he does not believe in big government and, indeed, wants to abolish ineffective government programs. He seeks to avoid as much as possible bailing out irresponsible homeowners, bankers, and automakers. He promises to stand up against protectionism. He claims that nobody making less than $250,000 a year will pay a single dime more in taxes. He favors tax-free universal savings accounts for retirement. He is, judging from the speech, uninterested in promoting social liberalism. And even where we disagreed with what he said, he usually made a cogent, reasonable-sounding case for his position.

"He lost us, however, on 'nobody messes with Joe.' People don't mess with Joe Biden because they're busy ridiculing him. As for the centrist tenor of his remarks, we confess to being among the cynics about whom Obama has so often warned. We do not see how Obama's cap-and-trade plan to fight global warming, or his plan to tax small businesses for health-care coverage, is compatible with his tax-cut promise in any but the most technical sense.

"We think Obama's focus on high-school and college graduation rates, while popular, is precisely wrong, a distraction from the more important task of seeing to it that young people know more and gain more skills. We suspect that Obama's hope that ailing automakers survive while unwinding unwise commitments would be more likely to come true if his administration permits orderly bankruptcies. We worry that government attempts to nurture the industries of tomorrow have typically failed."

Tucker Carlson makes the comparison that Obamaites won't want to hear--to 43:

"Like George W. Bush in the runup to the Iraq war, Obama used fear to silence doubters: 'I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.' Obey, or we get a depression.

"And, like the masterful politician he is, Obama sprinkled the speech with enough sweeteners to trigger diabetes: Massive new spending and deficit reduction at the same time. Tax cuts for you, tax increases for people you've never met. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The end of cancer.

"Literally: the end of cancer.

"The list went on. How much of this can we believe? Personally, I'd like to believe all of it. Obama seems like a decent guy. More to the point, he's the president at a time when it matters. But I can't."

At Powerline, Paul Mirengoff says it's hard to separate the messenger from the message:

"I think Obama is so gifted an orator that he can sell this nonsense, at least on this night. His magical mystery tour is coming to take us away, and plenty of Americans are dying to be taken (Nancy Pelosi certainly is -- she looked to be in something like the state in which some of us used to listen to the Magical Mystery album). Many more Americans are willing to suspend their disbelief for a little while.

"Will Obama eventually be the victim of his own over-promising? Not necessarily. Most Americans won't care very much if we don't cure cancer or if the high school drop-out rate remains where it is. They will be happy enough if their 401k rebounds."

Newsweek's Howard Fineman says Obama is more than just the new Great Communicator:

"Obama is channeling Ronald Reagan in a more profound sense. Like Reagan, his promises are grand -- and his budget is wishful thinking. Like Reagan, he's betting that arithmetic matters less than inspiration."

Over at the Daily Beast, Tina Brown sees a transformative moment:

"TV is all about the optics and 80 percent of the American public bought in to the hour-long speech. You only had to watch Bobby Jindal's hopeless effort to be the new, racially inclusive face of the Republican Party--it was like watching Doogie Howser, MD follow Hugh Jackman MC.

"In short, it was a coming of age speech, the Candidate morphing into the President in a way not achieved by the formalities of the inauguration or the chatty radio talk. He managed to combine a daunting realism with a heady vision of a new America that will get things done as it used to get things done--before the greed and ideology screwed it up."

And Joan Walsh is really, really happy:

"This was the combative, feisty, populist Obama I wanted -- probably mistakenly, since he won -- to see during the presidential campaign."

All right, time for a new debate, about taxing the affluent:

"President Obama will propose further tax increases on the affluent to help pay for his promise to make health care more accessible and affordable, administration officials said on Wednesday . . .

"Mr. Obama will also propose in the budget outline he releases on Thursday to use revenues from the centerpiece of his environmental policy -- a plan under which companies will have to purchase permits to exceed pollution emission caps -- to pay for an extension of a two-year tax credit that benefits low and middle-income people," the NYT reports.

"The combined effect of the two proposals, on top of Mr. Obama's existing plan to roll back the Bush-era income tax reductions on upper-income households, would be a pronounced move to redistribute wealth and reimpose a substantially larger share of the tax burden on the most affluent taxpayers."

Which is more or less what he said he'd do during the campaign.

Now that we've got the official figure for the deficit--I can hardly believe it as I type, $1.75 trillion--it's becoming clear why the spending cuts Obama talked about may not happen.

"Top Democrats and Republicans are already shooting down President Obama's plan to cut farm subsidies, dealing a blow to one of the cost-savings promises he laid out in his congressional address Tuesday night," says the Washington Times.

"Despite vows by President Obama to curtail earmarks, all 12 members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are among dozens of lawmakers stuffing a massive spending bill full of what critics call pork-barrel projects," says the Boston Globe.

"The Bay State lawmakers have inserted provisions ranging from $30 million to improve commuter rail service to Fitchburg, to a $254,000 project for a local study of obesity, to $190,000 to renovate a Stockbridge theater, a Globe review found.

"The projects are among more than 8,500 across the country totaling $7.7 billion -- up 3 percent from last year -- that were included in the $410 billion spending bill the House approved yesterday, according to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense."

Let's face it--Washington doesn't do spending cuts very well.

Finally, if an amateur basketball player can make it to the White House, can a former professional player become mayor of Detroit?

Dave Bing, a former player for the Pistons, Bullets and Celtics, is in the runoff to succeed the crooked Kwame Kilpatrick?

Guy had a great jump shot.

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