On Tuesday, I may have watched the worst political speech of my short life. And I couldn’t have been more elated.
For months, even years, pundits have built up Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, as the second coming — which in today’s political terms means another Barack Obama. Here was another son of recent immigrants who through sheer intellect and willpower earned an Ivy League education and forged a meteoric and unlikely political career as a young minority in a powerful seat of government.
As an Obama maniac, this all has been deeply disconcerting. What if Jindal really were a thoughtful pragmatist who would bring the Republican Party back from the grave? What if he out-Obama’ed Obama? Or worse, what if I liked him? But in the 12 painfully long minutes of the Republican response to Obama’s first address to Congress, Jindal put all my fears to rest.
After watching Jindal’s condescending grin and gratingly cheerful tone, the only conclusion I could reach was that he spent the last eight years watching George W. Bush ’68 and thought to himself, “Ya know, Bush just assumes Americans are too smart.” Like W., Jindal pulled off the impressive feat of seeming both bumbling and arrogant.
Clearly Jindal was trying to channel Ronald Reagan’s optimism, but let’s not forget that conservatives adore the 40th president not only for his sunny smile but also for his steely resolve. Jindal looked and sounded like he was trying to sell a Snickers to a 6-year-old. In the midst of financial disaster and two wars, the Louisiana governor showed less gravitas that my kindergarten teacher.
But I figured maybe I had let Jindal’s ridiculous style cloud the substance of the speech, so I decided to read the text. The written words were no better. Jindal’s jumbled analogies and inane stories make Thomas Friedman sound like Vladamir Nabakov. Take the first personal story Jindal told, which took place at a grocery store during his childhood. “As we walked through the aisles,” Jindal said, “looking at the endless variety on the shelves, [my father] would tell me, ‘Bobby, Americans can do anything.’ ”
He’s right: Americans can do anything. But how exactly do produce and cereal fit in? Is that really what comes to mind when Jindal thinks of American ingenuity? Not saving capitalism during the Great Depression, beating back the Germans at Normandy or putting a man on the moon, but Wal-Mart? That Jindal believes grocery stores to be the ultimate mark of American greatness is bizarre at best, and perversely superficial at worst.
The second story Jindal told reached new levels of absurdity. Back in the days following Hurricane Katrina, when Governor Bobby was Congressman Bobby, and much of his district sat under 3 feet of floodwaters, Jindal ran into Sheriff Harry Lee, who complained to him that bureaucratic red tape was slowing his rescue efforts. “There’s a lesson in this experience,” Jindal explained. “The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens.”
Let me get this straight. Jindal served as a congressman from suburban New Orleans during and after Katrina, and the lesson he gleaned is that government did too much? That individual citizens, if left alone, could have done a better job? In all seriousness, is he crazy?
Later in the speech, Jindal criticized the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as an example of liberal spending run amok. His prime example of its profligacy? Volcano monitoring. As Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska wrote yesterday to Jindal, volcano monitoring “is a matter of life in death in Alaska” — sort of like how hurricane rescue operations are a matter of life and death in New Orleans.
Believe it or not, it gets worse. The sheriff Jindal praised in his Katrina story as a heroic humanitarian has a sordid history of racial profiling. After the hurricane, Sheriff Lee ordered deputies to stop blacks for no reason besides their race. When asked by a TV reporter about this clearly illegal practice, Lee responded, “We know the crime is in the black community. Why should I waste time in the white community?”
In Bobby Jindal’s America, our proudest achievement is our supermarkets, and the federal government provides protection from neither hurricanes nor volcanoes. But at least it condones vigorous racial profiling.
Politicians always have second lives — Roland Burris seems to have six — and I’m sure Jindal is no exception. When President Jindal takes office in 2016 or 2020, I’ll look back on this column and kick myself. But for now, I can look forward to Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney as the biggest threats to Obama’s re-election campaign, and nothing can give me more comfort — though Jindal still provides the most laughter.
Sam Brill is a junior in Trumbull College.