Bobby Jindal's Response

As is so often the case, Ramesh says it best:

I thought his delivery was weak. The content will play well with the party base but seems unlikely to expand it. . . . That said, it is hard for anybody to come out well from responding to a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress.

At a forum in Philadelphia, I interviewed Ramesh on the Republican future. He noted that we were part of the tiny conspiracy of non-Hindu South Asian conservatives, and I believe is literally the only other member. During that same forum, Ramesh made a very astute observation about the source of Republican vulnerabilities over the last two decades. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, but I think it was spot on.

  • Foreign policy has been a strength for Republicans. It is now a weakness.
  • Social issues have been a strength for Republicans, and they remain a strength. There is room for debate on whether or not this will continue to be true.
  • Economic issues have been a serious weakness for Republicans, whether the party is winning or losing. At a basic level, working and middle class Americans — particularly those who are nonwhite and those who live in large metropolitan areas — don’t believe that Republicans understand their economic anxieties.

An interesting finding from the 2008 exit polls: When asked, “Who Is In Touch With People Like You?,” 44 percent said “only Obama” and 26 percent said “only McCain,” while 13 percent said “both” and 16 percent — my favorite — said “neither.” Obama started out much closer to 50 percent simply by virtue of passing that gut-level test.

Did Jindal’s speech pass that bar — will it strike the (small handful) of viewers as reflecting a basic understanding of the economic anxieties Americans are dealing with? I’m a firm believer that our leaders should project optimism. A realistic, non-crazy optimism, but optimism all the same. And I liked Jindal’s emphasis on what Americans can achieve: it appealed to my sensibilities. Yet while Democrats need to ramp up their optimism, I think Republicans need to ramp up the sense that they appreciate the gravity of the downturn. Can-do spirit: very good. Emphasis on pragmatism: also good. But a word or two about how we — Democrats and Republicans — have gotten ourselves into a massive mess? Also good.

And was Jindal right about a maglev train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas? I don’t think he was, and that’s frustrating. My understanding is that this is a mischaracterization of the legislation. The effort to find “pork” in the bill strikes me as misconceived: better to emphasize that it represents a comprehensively wrongheaded (arguendo) approach, and to offer an attractive alternative.

PS Unfortunately, this Ezra Klein post rings true.

Beyond that, it’s a speech that Boehner could have given in 2007 and that Frist could have given in 2005 and that Lott could have given in 1998 and that Gingrich could have given in 1993. Jindal made a mistake accepting the GOP’s invitation to give this response. Yesterday, he seemed like a different kind of Republican. Today, he doesn’t.

That, however, can change. It’s a long way to 2016.