What Jindal's Fall Says About Politics

I'm going to reserve judgment about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's performance last night in response to Obama's speech. But I'd be ...
by | February 25, 2009

Jindal-sotu-large50 I'm going to reserve judgment about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's performance last night in response to Obama's speech. But I'd be alone in that -- the commentariat is nearly-universal in proclaiming that he bombed.

It's not an unusual fate. Others have done badly in this context -- Gary Locke and Tim Kaine come to mind. If you're a rising star, the spotlight of the brief response to a president turns out to be a bad bet.

And Jindal was nothing if not a rising star. Just a couple of days ago, neighboring Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi told The Washington Post, "He's a very attractive, young, I would say, future star, but I'm not so sure stardom's in the future. I think it may already be here."

Herein lies Jindal's problem. He was a future star that his party mistook for a current star. He may have been brought up to the majors too early.

Jindal looked great on paper for Republicans. He's in with the evangelical wing, he's a tax-cutter and his ethnicity is a plus for a party sadly short on minority support up against the nation's first black president.

And Jindal had every appearance of being a comer. Although just 37, he had held myriad jobs in state government. He'd made efforts at really tackling Medicaid fraud, which probably doesn't get enough attention, and the Louisiana legislature had a productive session last year -- which, remember, was Jindal's first year in office.

Jindal is, after all is said and done, still a rookie. In a sense, that helped him until yesterday. No one knew anything about him except that he impressed people early, he's clearly very smart and he pushed through an ethics bill.

In this regard, he was a blank slate. That can be a positive. Every politician seems to come equipped with a cheat sheet of two or three accomplishments or adjectives that cable commentators invariably recite.

Jindal's were all good. Now they'll include "bombed in national debut."

This is not to say that Jindal can't make a comeback on the national stage. To repeat: He's only 37.

But he'll need some kind of big venue at some point, perhaps well into the future after more preparation and seasoning in his current job, to prove that he's got the stuff to help him overcome the newly-formed legions of doubters.

Update: Bad notices are still pouring in but political scientist Jack Pitney, while not praising the speech, notes that Jindal has plenty of time to step up his act: "In the year 2040 he will still be younger than McCain was in 2008."


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