Last year, I had the pleasure of watching Governor Bobby Jindal participate in a town hall meeting with John McCain, and was deeply impressed with his command of complex policy issues, and his easy fluency in communicating his views to voters. It was an exceptional performance, which I was reminded of watching the Governor’s recent interview on Meet the Press. Regrettably, those talents were not on display in his nationally televised response to President Obama’s address to Congress.
Granted, it’s not easy following Barack Obama, whose communication skills, especially his appreciation of the physicality of memorable speechmaking, have no equal in politics today. But Jindal is a better speaker than he gave evidence of last Tuesday, and much better at communicating conservative principles and policies in a winning way.
The over thought staging of his speech (he should have appeared at seated at his desk or in an armchair rather than attempt to imitate a presidential stroll into the East Room), and the curiously emphatic and singsong enunciation of certain words in his address suggest too much coaching. That said, I doubt one missed opportunity will seriously cloud this promising young politician’s future, and I still look to him as one of a few prominent Republican officeholders with the talent and vision to help lead the Party out of the political wilderness it now finds itself in.
More disappointing than Jindal’s delivery was the address itself. It failed to offer worried Americans compelling alternatives to the sweeping proposals offered by the President, which considered together, promise the greatest government growth and intrusion into areas of private responsibilities since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Instead, Jindal offered an anodyne recitation of Republican opposition to government spending and high taxes. Americans, even those who are not in danger of losing their jobs or homes, want to know their government has a feasible plan to get us out of the economic mess that has ravaged savings for their retirement and their children’s college education.
Jindal spent a considerable portion of his address decrying government incompetence, using the example of the federal government’s woeful response to Hurricane Katrina as a reason not to trust it to do anything. But in these times, Americans aren’t satisfied with an alternative that only opposes and doesn’t propose solutions to the myriad problems confronting us from ruinously expensive health care to inadequate public education to crumbling infrastructure. They are looking for leaders with ideas for making government do better what it must do. Jindal has a reputation for innovative and effective policy ideas for many of the most pressing public concerns. He should have discussed a few of those Tuesday night as alternatives to the Democrats’ insistence on spending more on government programs that have already lost the confidence of the American people.
Although it would have put considerable pressure on the Governor and his speechwriters, they should have considered drafting his remarks after they viewed an embargoed copy of the President’s remarks. A hurriedly written and less rehearsed rebuttal to some of the President’s proposals that offered and explained conservative reforms that would, for instance, make health care more affordable and accessible or offered dissatisfied parents more educational opportunities for their children or stimulated small business job creation or spent wisely on necessary infrastructure improvements would have made a greater impression on voters than another boilerplate denunciation of government’s many inadequacies.
The argument Republicans should make, and Governor Jindal is well equipped to make, against the ruinous spending and tax increasing proposals of the President and Democrats in Congress is that government can play a competent and efficient role in helping Americans decide for themselves how to pursue happiness rather than President Obama’s bold but arrogant conviction that government should determine what happiness is and who deserves more of it and who deserves less. That is a response to this new age of Obama led government activism Americans will embrace.