You have to be mindful of your first impression. It could be your last.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal got a prime spot Tuesday night, giving the GOP rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s speech. By now, we all know how that turned out.
Obama gave a tough, but hopeful speech that was critically praised by many. The biggest criticism I could find from the opposition party was that it was more big government talk (so sez The Hammer: “The most irresponsible, hypocritical speech I have ever witnessed!“), but that was about it. When you’re good, you’re good.
Then it was Jindal’s turn.
A lot of people would have killed for Jindal’s spot. Namely former Mass. Gov. Mitt “Mittens” Romney (who ran for president and failed) or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (who ran for veep and failed). The Republicans have been trotting out lots of shiny new potentials, all hoping one will capture our imaginations as the next big something or other. Who would get to glisten like a diamond after Our Fair Hopey brought down the house with his usual rousing oratorical?
Granted, speaking after the State of the Union is a tough gig. For every politico who has a good go of it (Sen. Jim Webb, for example), there is that vast wasteland of rebuttal-makers no one remembers because they committed the sin of being boring. In the defense of the dull, it’s hard to capture the attention of your audience when you’re following someone who just gave a speech in one of the grandest halls in our political system. But it’s the sort of horrible, thankless task people fight to the death over and Jindal won the battle of GOP’s version of “Republican Idol.”
And the verdict is in. He blew it.
Upon first watch, I was mostly stupefied that he was not laying into the president’s speech, tearing it apart while pleasantly explaining to me how the Republicans had just the right elixir to get the economy chugging again. You know? Some substance. Some “Hey Big Spender!” jazz hands. A little Jimmy Stewart with a little “Demo-Ratz Sux” gangsta rap remix.
You know? Something for everyone.
Instead he strolled awkwardly up to a mike with jacket unbuttoned and began telling me “gee, shucks, golly gosh” stories about his life, peppered with bringing up Katrina (Which for me is like a Clinton-era Democrat bringing up Monica Lewinsky unprompted. Er … why?) and politely shoving the entire party “lovingly” into the turbines with the whole “the Republican Party screwed the pooch” bit, but went right back to discussing the awesomeness that is being Bobby Jindal.
Doing what I thought was a bad version of “Cajun” Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, I was disturbed that he referred to “India” as a “far away land,” like he was discussing Krypton instead of the second most populous place on earth. And I was concerned about the weird sing-songy cadence of his Southern drawl mixed with the fact that he was talking about me like I was a nine year old with a mild learning disability.
And I don’t watch “30 Rock,” so The Internet had to teach me that in fact what I was watching Jindal become Kenneth the Page and there’s nothing worse than when something should have just bored people turns into a full-blown comic bit, bound to give Lorne Michaels another excuse to have yet another actor dabble in brownface, if only for the hope lightning will hit twice. (And I’m pretty sure Michaels is still writing thank you notes to Sarah Palin and Tina Fey.)
For more on this phenomenon, Gawker does a nice little round up of all the incriminating evidence. While I’m largely anti-brownface, if actor-comic Jack McBrayer channels his inner-Slumdog-by-the-way-of-Baton-Rouge I wouldn’t be shocked. For one, like it did for “Feylin,” the publicity will probably help keep “30 Rock” (The popular show no one watches!) on the air.
And maybe that was the goal all along. A one man Republican stimulus package to save Saturday Night Live, which since the election ended, has been trapped in a never ending cycle of “let’s all laugh at two straight dudes pretending to be gay.”
But I doubt that was what Jindal, a man who obviously wants to move up and farther than Louisiana, intended. He reached for greatness. He aspired for magic. He has everything the current president has (semi-“exotic”/fascinating heritage/storyline, brains, nice looking wife, etc.), only in a slightly less polished package. Maybe it was TelePrompter disease? Maybe he was frightened or nervous? I don’t know. I wanna give the fellow the benefit of the doubt since everyone is piling on. But it was bad. And everyone agreed it was bad (save, like Rush, who hearts Jindal almost as hard as Pat Buchanan hearts Palin and Pat LURVES him some Palin).
The “chattering class” conservatives were not impressed, but they hate pretty much everything the GOP puts out nowadays. Therefore I have to endure things like an exasperated David Brooks bemoaning how this is the latest WORST. THING. EVER. to happen to the Republicans.
LEHRER: Now that, of course, was Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, making the Republican response. David, how well do you think he did?
DAVID BROOKS: Uh, not so well…I oppose the stimulus package because I thought it was poorly drafted but to come up at this moment in history with a stale ‘government is the problem, we can’t trust the federal government,’ it’s just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill. But the idea that we’re just going to… That government will have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that in a moment when only the federal government is big enough to actually do stuff- to just ignore all that and just say ‘government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,’ it’s just a form of nihilism. It’s just not where country is it’s not where the future of the country is. There’s an intra-Republican debate: some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate, some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate. And so he’s making that case. I think it’s insane. I just think it’s a disaster for the [Republican] Party. I just think it’s unfortunate right now.
(Source: Crooks and Liars)
Brooks and his sooo frustrated, political-nerds-without-a-home seem to think the party went off the deep end and needs to dial it back about 11 or 12 notches so they don’t have to endure the indignity of becoming “Independents” or “Libertarians” or something. (You can hate the two party system all you want, but the bar is always open and free at all the Donkephant soirees. Everyone else is BYOB. Surely you can’t expect Peggy Noonan to get tipsy with the likes of Ron Paul on the Chiraz she bought with her own doubloons!)
But this is the world they’re living in right now. Where Rachel Maddow talks about the entire conservative movement like they’re trapped on the Island on ABC’s “Lost.” And if they are “Lost,” is Charles Widmore the reason why their leader Ben — and I’m assuming “Ben” is really a slender, impish Karl Rove — is off the island, not there to guide them through this most difficult time? Leaving them with no one but Cajun Mr. Rodgers, the Palinator, Mike Tyson’s former brother-in-law and my fair Mittens? If so, damn you, Whitmore. Damn you to hell!
My opinion? They could stand to dial it back 12 notches because, you know, they’ve had this nasty habit of alienating people rather than convincing folks of their wonderfulness. They’re losing in the North, East and West. They still have the South, which is great, but … um, no matter what Hannity sez, that last election didn’t work out because the Obama used his “secret Muslim powers” to hypnotize the electorate and make him King of the World n’ shizz.
Jindal, who looks great on paper, should have been appealing to someone like me who has grown up under the impression that the Republican Party didn’t even see me as “pander worthy.” I enjoy a good pander like all voters. You should at least WANT my vote enough to woo me. But in the end, his whole cheery “Screw government, please!” even when the problems are so huge that, quite honestly, the only entity that can actually do anything IS the government is a little off the button of where a lot of people are right now. And by now I mean horribly broke and under-employed. Then using, of all things, Katrina as an example of “Government is the problem” when that government was tethered to a Republican Administration many people have blamed for the nightmare that was Katrina was beyond strange.
I gotta agree with that screaming mimi David Brooks. Jindal really seemed a little out-of-touch with my present, underemployed reality where I work two part-time jobs, blog, hustle T-shirts and freelance and still can’t afford health care. I hit a car last week and because I drive a tiny piece of crap and hit a gigantic SUV at a slow speed, I’m driving around with a mangled hood and punctured front bumper because I can’t afford to pay any more on my car insurance.
Oh yeah. I’m livin’ it up in a Past-time Paradise. But please, continue to not give me an alternative to this shitty situation other than “let it ride.”
Sigh. While I know many people think this will be the death of Jindal (bad first impression with America! Frowny faces all around), he will survive this. There’s still no clear leader of the GOP. Rush is still threatening to chop some heads on his behalf. I don’t know if that helps or hurts or not. It’s kind of like having Pat Buchanan as your PR guy. Use at your own risk. But everything is very fluid and while American’s love a good take down they also love a good comeback story. He could get someone to help him polish that speech. They can rebuild him. They can make him better, faster, less like Kenneth the Page.
And he’s got four years to do it. He just has to hope this whole Kenneth thing doesn’t stick. Gerald Ford only had to fall down that one flight of stairs once.