Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gov. Bobby Jindal's speech: You call that a comeback?

This is a post from a Facebook friend (my first guest post!). I had very similar thoughts after last night's lame double talk of a rebuttal by the impish Bobby Jindal, but I've been so obsessed with Twitter, I've neglected my blog. Luckily, the piece below is spot on. But don't feel too sorry for Jindal, he's got another four years to work on his game.

My Response to Governor Jindal's Response to President Obama's Speech. by Jonathan Keith

We Americans love the underdog. We identify with them; it’s a fundamental component of our character as a nation. Despite the grim realities of our economy, the cynical malfeasance and misfeasance of our government and financial institutions, the piling of our debt, the crumbling of our infrastructure, and the shattering of our dreams, we will always believe in Horatio Alger. If we try hard, have faith, and hope for the best, anything is still possible. After all, we just elected a black man president and made “Slumdog Millionaire” the year’s Best Picture.

Clearly Barack Obama’s unlikely American story is already inspiring another would-be presidential hopeful, Governor Bobby Jindal, Republican of Louisiana. Jindal, an oft-mentioned candidate to commandeer the GOP’s rudderless boat and run for the White House in 2012, was tapped to give the Republican Response to President Obama’s Congressional Address last night. Jindal has been making some waves lately for denouncing the president’s economic stimulus plan, defiantly pledging to refuse billions of dollars in aid to his constituents. His LOUISIANA constituents!

Like Obama’s, no one is denying that Jindal’s story is sweet. The first generation American son of Indian immigrants goes on to be a U.S. governor at 36. Impressive. So out he strode shortly after President Obama’s speech was over, appearing before a TV audience of millions, of which many were seeing him for the first time. I can forgive the fact that he can’t read a teleprompter, but Jindal’s speech was so full of personal sentimentality, trite pro-America rah-rah, and, most especially, transparent self-promotion that it all quickly turned into wimpy, irrelevant noise. And I thought the Democrats were supposed to be the wimps! Jindal makes Dennis Kucinich look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Where was the critical analysis of Obama’s speech? The well-argued alternative ideas? Where was the substance? Instead, we got gauzy anecdotes about his childhood. This guy looked like he was running for president NOW! I kept yelling at the screen (we all do this), “Hey dude, we just picked a president a few months ago!” His recent coy denials of chief executive ambitions (the latest coming this past Sunday on ‘Meet The Press’: “I wanna run for re-election to be Governor of Louisiana in 2011.”) are now about as credible as an A-Rod press conference, but Jindal has a better chance of winning ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ than ever getting elected president of this country.

For one, he’s just not ... ahem ... telegenic. I’m sorry, but Americans want their presidents to look a certain way and they make their attributions about candidates almost immediately. Usually they want them to look like a guy at a barbecue, but a guy who looks like he might also be able to handle the grill. Obama’s sweeping victory last November may have changed that some, but his grace and charisma will present challenges for certain candidates, especially “different looking” ones, in the future. So now you either have to look like the guy at the barbecue or be really good looking. Jindal looks like he belongs at a Star Wars convention.

But the fundamental problem with Jindal’s message - and most of the Republicans’ - is that, mysteriously, he continues to cling to an ideology that is completely bankrupt and has finally been exposed as fraud, demonstrably refuted by the country. But I guess they didn’t hear the clarion call for “change.” Just why the Republicans think that anyone, save for the most extreme fringe of their party, should listen to anything they have to offer is a real puzzle. Maybe it’s history repeating. The GOP did the exact same thing in an eerily-similar situation in our history. Their reckless, laissez faire approach to the markets led to the crash of 1929, which took us into the Great Depression. FDR recognized that, with no demand anywhere, massive government spending was required to resuscitate the economy. The Republicans fought this policy and took the role of tone deaf obstructionists. They were trounced in the next election.

Maybe the Republicans are just completely out-of-touch with anything that happens outside the beltway or the political news media. Or maybe they think that we’re really stupid; we did elect W. twice. But they stole one election and scared us in the other one. Well, this time we’re really scared. We’re scared about our own future. We’re scared about our children's future. But we’ve been scared smart. We’ve learned from 30 years of history that the Reaganomics they continue to preach have been an abject failure and the deregulation seeds that he began sowing in 1980 led us to this place we are today. We want change, because we know the world has changed. We have changed. We have different priorities now, among them peace, tolerance throughout the world, conservation, and innovation. But one thing will never change, no matter how dark our days become. We still believe that the underdog can win again.


Darlene Roker said...

I agree with much of your appraisal of Jindal's self-centered response. It will be an extremely long time before I accept that the Republicans, as a party, have any clue as to the nexus between them and the current disaster. However, I take exception to one last statement of yours. The Republicans are now the underdogs. Let those underdogs never rise to win, and destroy, our country again.

Tristan said...

Jindal is a moron, undoubtedly. He's the epitome of everything that's shameful about the modern conservative movement. But do we really need to dwell on how non-telegenic he is? That's irrelevant.

I also don't like the way in which this author goes to great lengths to once again associate Asian Americans with geekdom. Jeez, give it a rest already.

Raymond Leon Roker said...

Tristan--Telegenic is entirely relevant. That's just the harsh klieg light reality of modern politics. Thinking or declaring anything else is wish/wistful thinking. That said, it's also an unfortunate reality.

As for Jindal and the Asian geek qualifiers, I hear you. Good point. I can't defend the author, but I can say that there are plenty of geeky speakers to go around. In fact, the author compares Jindal to Kucinich, not somebody identified as Asian. Admittedly, there is the stereotype, and I agree that it's easy to slip into it (like calling black ruffians "thuggish" far more than white ruffians). We do erroneously sometimes attach race to characteristics and this needs to be self-policed better.

Thankfully, Jindal remains squirmingly bad on camera.

Prophetik Soul said...

It did appear very wooden and new to the teleprompter. Its just the way they are looking at the camera. It is a very self conscious 'look at me!' look. I was very interested in what Jindal had to say thinking that some new ideas would pop up. But all he did was criticize and offer nothing new.

Do you think Obama's election will mute the race issue so much that if another person of color runs for president in the next election (Jindal), people will bypass it?

Raymond Leon Roker said...

Prophetik--Re: the door being open: The quick answer is, yes. But I think it also comes down to Obama being an extraordinary human and a once-a-generation candidate. With just the right dose of swagger and genius. Just as there aren't a thousand of him, there won't be a thousand persons of color that can make this majority white country feel comfortable with them at the helm. But Pandora's box is cracked open, for sure.

Tristan said...

@Prophetik Soul,

It's my sincerest hope that the issue of race will never be mute ... not so long as race is still salient in discussing social inequality.

Obama is a transformative figure, and he bears the unenviable task of proving the white establishment wrong not just in the instance of black Americans, but for all people of color.

As long as racial inequality is an institutional reality, then race will always be a hurdle to overcome in political discourse..

jonathan said...

Unfortunately, Darlene, we're all underdogs now. The previous administration and its modern-day robber barons have raped and pillaged our economy, our foreign and domestic policy, our environment, and our futures. We will feel the effects of their destruction and avarice for years to come. But the really sad thing is that they also dealt a wounding low blow to our confidence in America itself, the idea that you can be whatever you want to be, which is the birthright of all our citizens. I hear the disillusionment from people everyday. A great many now fear that corruption and cronyism is too firmly entrenched and America will become a social caste system, much like Great Britain. But, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, a big part of America’s character is that we're also survivors. We have been through much worse as a nation. And this time we finally got together and gave the top job to someone really special. Now that all the historic euphoria over the election and inauguration has faded and the bitterness of the Bush years is abating some, it’s comforting to know Obama is there, taking charge of this mess.

I agree, Tristan, that being non-telegenic is irrelevant in an ideal world, but this is a hypermedia age and throughout history Americans have always sized up political candidates by their appearance first. A good, if obvious, example is the 1960 presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Television was still a developing medium and it would have a huge impact on that election and the way politics was covered forever. The firm consensus of people who listened to the debate on the radio was that Nixon won, but the TV broadcast painted a very different picture. Nixon refused to wear makeup and, as a result, looked unshaven, tired, and sweaty. Kennedy, on the other hand, did wear makeup and appeared cool, well-groomed and refreshed. The overwhelming majority of the TV audience believed Kennedy won easily. And we all know how that election turned out. Of course, temperament, experience, policy ideas, and message are all way more important criteria, but it’s only human nature to make attributions - not necessarily character judgments - based on personal appearance.

As for your point about race, I think you’re stretching. It’s a fair argument to say that my cutting attempt at humor about Jindal’s geeky appearance was irrelevant or even gauche, but race had absolutely nothing to do with it. The only “great lengths” I went to were to paint him, the apparent standard bearer for the GOP, as sophomoric and bereft of any original or constructive ideas for the country. You’re absolutely right that institutional racism is a shameful reality that demands to be heard. But knee-jerk reactions with regard to racial discussion underscore an important point that new Attorney General Eric Holder made recently, a point that was, regrettably, robbed of context and exploited in the soundbite-hungry 24 hour news media; we have to start having an honest, constructive dialog with each other about race. We cannot be “cowards,” in his words.

America has so much potential to be a really great society. As Bill Clinton would often say, our differences as people should really enrich us, but they continue to divide us. Obama’s transcendent story is obviously a giant step toward closing that gap. We are going to need it. We are in a crisis, and it’s going to take all of us coming together to fix it. --Jonathan Keith

Tristan said...


A thoughtful response.

You'll forgive me if I seem "reactionary," but don't mistake my previous criticisms for racial reflex.

Now that you've explained it, I certainly don't have any problem with your assessment of Jindal. But the image of the impotent, Asian nerd is textbook racial imagery. Like those who were upset over the latest New York Post flap, I think I was rightfully concerned over a somewhat off-color (pardon the pun) expression of Jindal's ineffectiveness.

I'm a person of color first and foremost.

And to your point about racial sensitivity, I agree. In discussing race, all parties must be forthright. Obama's election has introduced the insidious notion of a somehow colorblind society. As I have been frank, so too have you, and both of us are the better for it.