I Was Transfixed by Bobby Jindal

Yes, truly transfixed as I watched Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal give the Republican response to President Obama’s Tuesday night speech of February 24, 2009—transfixed by one of the most god-awful spectacles in U.S. political history. Move over, Sarah Palin; in this still sexist society, move over for the male Sarah Palin. And a Sarah Palin of color too.

Jindal’s speech was atrocious, and his wooden delivery every bit as bad, if not worse. Standing there stiff as though he were a statue, it was obvious that he was reading his speech, and reading it in a singsong voice as well. His slight Southern drawl made him sound like Sheriff Andy of Mayberry. And his earnestness only emphasized the shallowness of what he had to say, as though he were a high school debater trying to make up for his lack of professionalism and polish.

And the content! Jindal tooted his own horn throughout, and emphasized his birth from nonwhite Indian immigrant parents in such a way that it made him come across as a Me-Too Obama. Then there was the constant, irritating repeat of the “Americans can do anything” cliché. A full fifteen minutes of tedium elapsed before Jindal finally got into the Republicans’ critique of Obama’s proposals, and that critique (if it can be justified as that) was nothing but another hackneyed cliché as well, the constant Republican grouse about Big Government and Government’s Chronic Inability to Ever Do It Right. On the economic stimulus bill just passed, all Jindal mustered was yet a third Republican cliché, that it was “the largest spending bill in history.” His attempt to make fun of some of the bill’s provisions fell ludicrously flat, for in our oil-and-automobile-dependent society nothing is more needed as an alternative than quality high-speed rail transportation. And his attempted mockery of allocating funds for volcano monitoring (where there are still active volcanoes in our country, both in the continental U.S and on Hawaii) really sounded grotesque from the Governor of Louisiana—where better natural disaster monitoring in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav might’ve well been appreciated by Jindal’s constituents. And speaking of Hurricane Katrina—what could’ve been more ludicrous for a Republican Governor to use as an example of government ineffectiveness than the official government response to Katrina? After all, that ineffective government response came directly from Republican President George W. Bush’s government! Yes, the government of “Brownie’s doing a heck of a job” fame.

No, both Bobby Jindal’s speech and his delivery of that speech were so bad they seemed a form of self-parody. And this from someone touted (same as Sarah Palin) as a rising young star in the Republican Party. I’m sure that already, somewhere in the wings, there’s a male Tina Fey ready, able and eager to parody Jindal on “Saturday Night Live” the same way Fey did to Palin that was not only so devastating, but also so tellingly revealing of the hapless Alaska Governor and would-be heartbeat-away from the U.S. Presidency. What a ticket to national fame, to becoming a household world!

Then there’s the matter of Bobby Jindal’s small, triangular, gnome-like face, which also doesn’t help him in a country where good looks, even if superficial, are so much de rigueur. Not that they’re important as a guide to character or intelligence, nor should be. After all, our ugliest President, Abraham Lincoln —gawky, with a decidedly unhandsome face—was also our greatest. Only FDR approaches him in stature. (We might add parenthetically that Abraham Lincoln was also our only great Republican President.) Further, one of our handsomest Presidents—Warren Harding—was also one of our worst. But, unfortunately, Jindal will stand or fall more with the voters on whether he’s perceived as looking like E.T. than on the decided lack of intelligence he showed the night of February 24.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen—the future of the Republican Party right before your eyes in the persons of Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, all the Republicans are able to dish up as fresh, young faces with fresh, young ideas. You can’t believe your eyes and ears, ladies and gentlemen? Well, neither did I last night as I watched the Bobby Jindal fiasco that followed Obama’s magnificently delivered speech (which I found long on inspiration but irritatingly short and vague on specifics). Is this spectacle that the Republicans came up with only an 1850s déjà vu? Are we witnessing the collapse of the Whig Party all over again?