Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the GOP’s response to Barack Obama in more ways than one. But the Louisiana governor’s highly anticipated rebuttal to the president’s congressional address Tuesday, raised more questions than it answered.
The choice of Jindal for the high-profile role was further evidence, to some, that despite his own strenuous denials, the Republican Party is grooming him for a run against Obama in 2012. But the very uneven nature of his performance seemed to seriously diminish that possibility. Instead of serving as the prime-time unveiling of a bright new political superstar, Jindal’s speech left him decidedly overshadowed.
Maybe it was nerves, or maybe he intentionally reined himself in knowing what he was up against. Either way, there was no hint of the dynamic young politician who first piqued the media’s interest when he became the nation’s youngest governor in 2007, and who later was touted as the GOP’s Obama.
At a time when the GOP is trying to present itself as a party of change—and when Americans are desperate enough to ignore party affiliation—the GOP response to the Obama speech was a chance to crack things wide open; they missed it. To be fair, having the first Indian-American governor respond to a congressional address by the first African-American president does reflect a dramatic level of change on the surface. But in the current political climate, that is not enough. Jindal could have overcome his disadvantages with a better speech that laid out some specifics on how his party would tackle the current economic and financial crises differently than Obama and the Democrats. He didn’t.
Perhaps part of the problem was that Jindal approached the rebuttal like a high-school debate. He delivered a point-by-point response to the president’s and the Democratic Party’s agenda. That made it difficult for Jindal to present his own ideas on his own terms. In the end, the choice seemed like a stunt centered around identity politics. On politics, on biography, on public-speaking, Bobby Jindal pitted himself against Barack Obama—and he just didn’t cut it.
It seems clear that what the GOP was hoping for was a transformative political moment similar to Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.