The reviews were swift and scathing: Off-putting. Amateurish. Disastrous.
And those were fellow Republicans reacting to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who delivered the nationally broadcast follow-up to President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night to Congress.
Even allowing for hyperbole, it was not, by most accounts, a winning performance by Jindal. Touted as a rising GOP star and a possible contender for the White House in 2012, the 37-year-old governor quickly learned the spotlight can singe just as easily as illuminate.
Fellow conservatives criticized Jindal’s mannerisms, his delivery, the backdrop for his 10-minute speech (a spiral staircase in the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge). “You can’t go on TV and counter Obama with that,” said radio host Laura Ingraham. Philip Klein of the American Spectator said Jindal seemed more like a high school student delivering his valedictory speech than a prospective new GOP leader.
Jindal, the son of immigrants, combined inspiring anecdotes from his life with a recitation of familiar Republican arguments against big government and taxes. There were few specific solutions for the nation’s colossal economic mess.
“The way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians,” he said. “The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything.”
David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, said Jindal delivered a “stale” message promoting the “insane” notion the GOP has become too moderate. “I just think it’s a disaster for the party,” Brooks said on PBS’ “News Hour.”
Some challenged some of Jindal’s assertions, most notably a suggestion the federal government has had little to do with Louisiana’s continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens,” Jindal said. “We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes, and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.”
He neglected to mention that the federal government has poured tens of billions of dollars into New Orleans since the storm.
Jindal had his defenders, especially after some of the more searing commentary surfaced.
“What Jindal lacked in ‘presence’ he made up for with transparent believability,” American Spectator senior editor Quin Hillyer wrote on the publication’s Web site.
While some said Jindal’s prime-time debut damaged his presidential prospects, perhaps fatally, others cautioned against such a hasty conclusion.
Bill Clinton, then a young, promising Arkansas governor, famously bombed with a marathon speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. He obviously recovered and so can Jindal, said Paul Begala, a one-time Clinton aide.
“It was a disaster,” said Begala – panning Jindal’s appearance as “chirpy and childish … insubstantial and insincere” – “but you can come back from disaster.”