Louisian Governor gets Poor Reviews on Speech
Thursday, February 26th, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Bobby Jindal had an uphill fight to begin with this past Tuesday evening when he was the Republican pick to give a response to the President’s State of the Union speech. He was thrown into the lion’s den to give reaction to comments of a popular president, just coming into office, with a major segment of the American public pulling for him and giving him high marks. No matter what Jindal might have said, he really could not, and did not gain any traction or score any substantive points.
Jindal was called on to mouth the national party line, and right now, that line is a big stumbling block for the GOP. They are dealing with a President whose popularity ratings stay above 60% in every major recent poll. Tuesday night, MSNBC tracked the reaction of both Obama voters and McCain voters in several focus groups around the country. Both sides were consistently and solidly positive throughout Obama’s speech. In fact, when the President talked about unfreezing credit markets and ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, McCain voters were stronger for the President that the Obama group. The Republicans are trying to mould an alternative to a President who, so far, seems to be right on with an acceptable message to a solid majority of the country, leaving Jindal little wiggle room to respond.
In the focus groups, McCain voters were consistent in liking most of what Jindal had to say. But he lost support even among Republicans when he attacked “National Democrats” and “Democratic leaders in Washington.” In one of the focus groups reporting, with balanced Democratic and Republican voters, three out of thirty two gave Jindal high marks, preferring Obama’s governing over Jindal.
Jindal had several problems to deal with. First, he had just heard the President’s message minutes earlier before he was called on to respond. So he was preparing a rebuttal to programs and comments by the President that Jindal could only “assume” would be discussed.
Second, as part of the offer by the Republican congressional leadership to even have the opportunity of giving the high profile response, Jindal was obligated to include a litany of GOP talking points. And that became a problem for him. He was obligated to rehash the standard Republican line that tax cuts are the only answer to everything ailing the economy. His proposals for creating jobs were “lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses and strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers and stabilizing home values by creating a tax credit for homebuyers.”
But there’s a problem with Jindal’s (or the GOP’s speech writers’) reasoning. Credit markets are frozen, particularly in Louisiana. It’s really tough to borrow money. So businesses are not investing, small businesses are not hiring and people are losing their jobs are unable to find new ones. Many people are hurting and looking for answers. Jindal and the GOP just failed to put any real hope on the table. In short, there was a silence of substance.
The governor also tried to personalize his identity with a background narrative of his rise from a family of Indian immigrants. This was OK. But hard here to make any political headway. It’s kind of like saying: “You folks elected someone with a ‘poor black guy story.’ Well, I have a poor brown guy story.”
If you follow the thousand of responses to Jindal’s rebuttal on the internet, many who listened felt he was talking down to them and compared him to Mr. Rogers. Yes, he could have been more forceful and engaging. But don’t sell Mr. Rogers short. You may not know it, but the wimpy little guy on PBS was a Navy Seal, combat proven in Vietnam with supposedly over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. And that long sleeve sweater? I’m told it was to cover a number of tattoos on his forearm and biceps. If only many of these GOP verbal attackers who never served a day in the military could get so macho.
The GOP missed a real opportunity in staging Jindal’s rebuttal by not having him deliver his comments before a live audience. Style and image are important in staged events like this. The “talking head” format does not serve Jindal nearly as well as his more engaging manner talking to a crowd. The GOP could have easily arranged a large crowd to listen and cheer in the glow as TV cameras and flashbulbs. Obama fed off the energy of some 40 standing ovations with numerous rounds of applause. Jindal seemed condescending and a bit patronizing when talking directly into a camera with no supporters around. He missed an opportunity to use his ability as an orator to both evoke and then wield the energy of a live audience.
No strike outs or home runs here. Jindal raised his name recognition, but also opened himself up for continuing scrutiny. He is taking a lot of heat form political heads back home in Louisiana. Being a problem solving Governor should be his focus in the months to come. If he can show more results and less rhetoric, he will have much more to crow about in the future on a national stage.
“Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.”
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.
Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com.
Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.