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GOP not pleased with Jindal's speech

The Republican Louisiana governor delivered a follow-up to Obama's address to Congress. Critics, including members of his own party, call it a disaster.

February 26, 2009|Mark Z. Barabak

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

And those were fellow Republicans reacting to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who delivered the nationally broadcast follow-up to President Obama's speech to Congress on Tuesday night. (Not surprisingly, Democrats echoed the criticism.)

Even allowing for hyperbole, it was not, by most accounts, a winning performance by Jindal. Touted as a rising GOP star, and a possible contender for the White House in 2012, the 37-year-old governor quickly learned the spotlight can singe just as easily as illuminate.

"It's a little like when a movie has a huge buildup and you expect too much," said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at UC Berkeley. "He's supposed to be the boy genius and the next political superstar. By that standard, the speech was disappointing."

Fellow conservatives criticized Jindal's mannerisms, his sing-song delivery, the backdrop for his 10-minute speech (a spiral staircase in the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge).

"You can't go on TV and counter Obama with that," said radio host Laura Ingraham.

Philip Klein of the American Spectator said Jindal seemed more like a high school student delivering his valedictory speech than a prospective new GOP leader.

Jindal, the son of immigrants, combined inspiring anecdotes from his life with a recitation of familiar Republican arguments against big government and taxes. There were few specific solutions for the nation's colossal economic mess.

"The way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians," he said. "The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything."

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, said Jindal delivered a "stale" message promoting the "insane" notion that the GOP had become too moderate. "I just think it's a disaster for the party," Brooks said on PBS' "NewsHour."

Cain and others challenged some of Jindal's assertions, most notably a suggestion that the federal government has had little to do with Louisiana's continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

"The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens," Jindal said. "We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes, and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today."

He neglected to mention that the federal government has poured tens of billions of dollars into New Orleans since the storm.

"That's going to invite a lot closer scrutiny than he may be ready for at this phase of his career," Cain said.

Jindal had his defenders, especially after some of the more searing commentary surfaced. (The governor left for a family vacation at Disney World and was unavailable for comment Wednesday.)

"What Jindal lacked in 'presence' he made up for with transparent believability," American Spectator senior editor Quin Hillyer wrote on the publication's website. Hillyer described Obama's speech as offering socialistic policies wrapped in "well-disguised Orwellian tricks of language. . . . In response, Jindal tried to give us a return to common sense."

Many pointed out the difficulty of the young governor's assignment: following one of the most gifted orators in American politics, right after he spoke in a gilded House chamber filled to the brim with the cream of Washington.

Others have faced the unenviable task of responding to a president of the opposing party -- including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- and have survived their own batch of unfavorable reviews. Though some said Jindal's prime-time debut damaged his presidential prospects, perhaps fatally, others cautioned against such a hasty conclusion.

Bill Clinton, then a young, promising Arkansas governor, famously bombed with a marathon speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. He obviously recovered, and so can Jindal, said Paul Begala, a onetime Clinton aide.

"It was a disaster," said Begala -- panning Jindal's appearance as "chirpy and childish . . . insubstantial and insincere" -- "but you can come back from disaster."

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mark.barabak@latimes.com

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