Ever since John McCain was named the Republican nominee for 2008, and well before he selected little-qualified Sarah Palin to be his token running mate, the name Bobby Jindal had been circulated heavily amongst Republican insiders as the potential, next great leader of the Republican Party.
I confess, I did not know much about Jindal except that he was a Rhodes Scholar, held numerous high-level positions within the Bush Administration, had just been elected Governor of Louisiana, and…and, was still relatively young (under 40) and a minority.
I had a great wonderment about the potential of this Jindal; on paper, and as how he was both covered in the media and lauded by the Republicans, he seemed like a natural, a shoe-in for party leadership at some point, some point soon. Many had even speculated about an Obama V Jindal 2012 presidential election contest.
I had a secret nervousness about this Jindal. Perhaps the Republicans were on to something. Perhaps they were right and Jindal was the “next Obama,” their Obama.
And then Jindal’s big moment happened a week ago. Bobby Jindal got his first opportunity to take a free shot at President Obama by delivering the Republican response to Obama’s “state of the union-like” speech.
And Jindal absolutely blew it. In a response to President Obama that took Jindal some fifteen minutes to deliver, he managed to make himself look, even according to conservative commentator Juan Williams, “amateurish.”
After watching Jindal’s “performance” for only four short minutes, I found myself laughing at the “next great savior of the Republican Party.” I was shaking my head, thinking what my Republican friends must be thinking and doing. I suspect they were thinking something like, “oh dear god…” and were doing something like shaking their heads, just like I was.
Jindal absolutely made himself look, and sound, like a complete amateur. And I don’t just mean uncomfortable in front of the cameras. He came off looking like he was a newly-minted, baby-faced kindergarten teacher trying to grab his class’ attention for story time right after milk and cookies. His sing-songish, puerile rhythm of speech turned me off after thirty seconds. How does anybody watching take this guy seriously when he talks to us like we’re five years old and he’s Dr. Seuss?
No sir, Mr. Jindal.
I won’t listen to a word you say,
I won’t listen tomorrow or today,
I will not listen to you in a box,
I will not listen to you with a fox.
Not in a plane, not on a train,
Not in a house, not with a mouse.
Additionally, it’s not just the weird, mousy lilt with which he spoke. Jindal offered anecdotal examples that were anemic and nearly unintelligible to the larger context he wished to present. He recalled a story of himself as a youth, with his father walking through an American grocery store. He said, “Growing up in India, [my dad] had seen extreme poverty. And as we walked through the aisles, looking at the endless variety on the shelves, he would tell me: ‘Bobby, Americans can do anything.’”
I’m not sure how a myriad of canned goods equate to American ingenuity and that spirit of grand accomplishment. What wonderment is there in the canned soup aisle of a grocery store? Is the ghost of Walt Whitman running naked, rummaging through cucumbers and veggie soup?
Or perhaps Jindal’s dad first discovered green eggs and ham in a can. Green eggs? Boy, what can’t these Americans do?
His other anecdote about Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat, was equally disabled and ineffective. But look at the words and sentence construction Jindal employed when he recounted the story:
“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!’”
Do people really talk like this? Does Jindal actually ask, with those specific words—sheriff, what’s got you so mad—a couple of days after Katrina? Is it actually realistic for Jindal to not know what might be upsetting the sheriff? The entire passage reads like some doctored representation of the events as they happened, only it reads like an account designed for, and aimed at, third graders.
Speaking of “designed,” how bad does it look when two days after the response is given, it’s proven that Jindal wasn’t even in the same building as Lee; in fact, Jindal wasn’t anywhere near that Katrina relief effort. That’s a straight lie. As further embarrassment, it turns out that Sheriff Lee had died a year later, so he was no longer alive. I wonder if Jindal would have concocted that fish story and told it had Lee been alive to rebut? What does that say about Jindal’s character and values when he’s willing to lie because he knows a dead man can’t refute?
Perhaps the worst part of Jindal’s speech, a flaw that shows exactly how out of touch he—and the Republican Party—is out of touch with every day Americans, is when Jindal tries to make a feeble joke out of the story of his birth. In an attempt to connect with “working class folk,” Jindal recalls his parents’ immigrant status, and how penniless they were. He says that when his parents arrived in Louisiana, “my mother was already 4-½-months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a “pre-existing condition.”
The hapless choice to make a joke out of “pre-existing condition” as some kind of plain-folksy, blue-collar connection to the working class is just dim witted. Insurance companies callously use the phrase “pre-existing condition” as a way to purge Main-Street-Americans from coverage and benefit. In the age of millions of Americans not being able to afford health care, Jindal chooses to joke about the most exploitative aspect of Big Insurance.
That is just, plain-out deficient.
If the Republicans are looking for Jindal to be their poster boy, they’ve got their heads deeper in the sand than I had imagined. Jindal is simply not ready for prime time, and given his propensity to condescend, and patronize people the way Barbara Bush dismissed the plight of Katrina sufferers—whether intentionally or not—he is a long way off from being Barack Obama.
No, this man is not “the hope” of the Republican Party.