Friday, February 27, 2009

Mister Jindal

I was speaking to a friend this morning, and he suggested that we add something to the "never get involved in a land war in Asia" list: Never follow a Barack Obama speech.

I'm late to the party in saying this, but Bobby Jindal was awful on Tuesday night. A thankless job? Absolutely. A speech that was probably approved by a committee of Republican operatives? Sure. But the problem was one of tone, and of intelligence not used. In arguing for Obama's candidacy, and in continuing to appreciate him as president, I mostly note his affect. Among other things, he's someone who is comfortable being intelligent in front of us. Compare that to Jindal, who has a reputation as a detail wonk but chose to build his speech around the astoundingly tone-deaf (and vapidly delivered) theme of "Americans can do anything," which he repeated until I wanted to choke him.

Jindal chose to address us like Mister Rogers would, but the most stunning thing to me was when he brought up Hurricane Katrina. I understand the political need for even Republicans to distance themselves from an unpopular president, but Jindal spoke about the natural disaster in the context of questioning the ability of federal government to help out. As Jon Stewart said, "So, because the Republican administration screwed the pooch, a Democratic administration shouldn't even try?"

You don't have to be Kanye West to believe that the response to Katrina was subpar. The head of FEMA did lose his job over it. And even though Jindal has been, on principle, saying that he doesn't want federal money with strings attached, the federal government has agreed to give the cash-poor state of Louisiana nearly $4 billion dollars to help with recovery. I'm not a fan of government as the answer to everything. But there are things the federal government is uniquely qualified to do, like, oh, I don't know, give massive aid to an ailing region. The right's inability to muster a message more nuanced than "Government bad" is the reason it's in the woods.


Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Yeah, the standard talking point of "big government" is like nails on a chalkboard to me. A big or expanding government is neither good nor bad. It's only good if it works, and it's only bad if it doesn't. History has countless examples of our government enlarging for good, and certainly examples of the opposite. Being anti-big-government should not be a philosophy. In the end, policies are all about results. Clinton shrunk the government. Bush enlarged it. Now Obama wants to expand it more. The GOP needs to start talking about the effectiveness of individual planks of his plan, as opposed to turning "government" into a bad word.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans don't actually believe that "Goverment bad." But you don't have to take my word for it. Check out what evil-incarnate Karl Rove said in a column responding to strawman arguments like this one:

"Many Americans justifiably believe that government is too big and often acts in counterproductive ways. But that's a far cry from believing that in "every" case government is the problem or that government should be "dismantled" root and branch. Who -- other than an anarchist -- "constantly rejects any common endeavor" like building levees, roads or bridges?""

If Republicans are doing a poor job of making their arguments, then I suppose that's largely their own fault. I haven't heard anyone -- on the right or left -- that thought Jindal's speech was effective.

But we should all bear some responsibility to at least accurately portray what the other side is actually arguing, and not just spout your own talking points mirrored through the lens of lefty sites (cough*Sullivan*cough). Nobody can honestly believe that the only objection to the stimulus package is the belief that "Goverment bad."

As Jindal pointed out, accepting these benefits will force Louisiana to raise payroll taxes to meet the federal government's mandates.

Also, there's some question whether Louisiana actually needs the money. It turns out that the comment by VP Biden (thank goodness we avoided disaster with Sarah Palin, right?) that Louisiana is losing 400 jobs a day isn't even remotely true. Louisiana is actually adding jobs to the economy. There's reason to believe that if La. raises payroll taxes -- as the stimulus would require -- then more people will be put out of work.

And although this is being sold as "free money" being offered to the States, anyone with even a passing knowledge of economics knows that's not the case. Remember when Democrats were railing against Bush's dangerous budget deficits of $200 billion? Remember the reasons? This year's deficit is likely to top $1 trillion. That amount is filled with pork, like dog parks in at least two states and billions of dollars to a coal plant in Illinois.

Not only will we have to pay that bill sometime in the future, but the (non-partisan) Congressional Budget Office predicts that the stimulus bill alone will crowd out private investment and slow economic growth beginning in 2011.

If you want a better idea of what Republicans are actually arguing, I'd suggest checking out Jindal's interview with the Today Show the next morning. YouTube it. It's 5 minutes long. He's much more policy-wonkish, and I think much more effective.

-- MattM

6:51 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Thanks, Matt. Jindal was way better on the Today Show. Makes you wonder why that wasn't his tone and detail the night before. For those interested:

And yes, yes, we should all still thank goodness that we avoided Palin. Of course.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous pf said...

Although Jon Stewart is so in love with himself it's hard to watch (he feeds my dread that politics has been reduced to an endless cycle of dueling lampoons), I appreciate the comparison. When I was a kid, Mr. Rogers made me feel like I needed a shower, for reasons I couldn't have understood at the time.

Here's to the enduring hope that Obama can inspire his colleagues and adversaries to elevate their game -- without resorting to a clever cardigan.

12:46 PM  

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