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Posted by on Feb 25, 2009 in Economy, Politics | 5 comments

Bobby Jindal’s Problem: He Looks Like Saturday Night Live Caricature

big_bomb.jpgCan Democrats, Republicans and independents put aside political biases and just bluntly say it after they’ve taken their hands away from their eyes?

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s speech in replying to President Barack Obama’s speech to Congres wasn’t “da bomb” but “a bomb.”

To paraphrase the late Jackie Gleason, his response made the atomic bomb look like a firecracker.

TRULY — putting aside politics — have we EVER seen such a crash-and-burn on the national stage as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s highly-touted reply to Obama’? Was this the real Jindal, an increasingly respected, serious conservative Governor who many feel could be face of the Republican party’s future? Or did he simply have a bad night? And. if it was a bad night, can he undo the damage he’ll suffer if his performance speech inspires a new Saturday Night Live character or if Jay Leno and David Letterman now find a new person whose name they can say that sparks guffaws before they get to their joke?

In watching Jindal’s response you got a feeling that somehow Democratic political pranksters had hijacked the video feed to the Governor’s speech and someone doing a (bad) Jindal impression got to do a parody of someone who has impressed many Republicans and media types as a person to watch. Imagery matters in 21st century politics — so Jindal has lots of work to do if he truly wants to run in 2012. Or any year.

The Jindal who was on TV last night was indeed someone to watch — but not exactly for the reasons the GOP had in mind. Unless the GOP’s intent was to finally expand its tent to recruit more satirists and comedians.

In terms of content, Jindal’s speech has even gotten thumbs down from some Republicans for re-running a well-worn list of GOP talking points in a speech that was aimed at rebutting a new Democratic president who seems to be shifting political language and phraseology as polls increasingly indicate he is redefining the nation’s center to his liking and political advantage. The GOP needed someone who could seriously compete with Obama on the same rhetorical and content turf. And the party DOES have some talent who could have done it or tried and come off well.

You watch Jindal and think: how could his advisers let him deliver a speech in a way that will open him — and the Republican party — up to such ridicule? In speeches or addresses, performance can prevail over pedestrian or even bad content (Republicans say that about Obama all the time). You see that in show biz, too, where a comedian or actor with great performance skills uplifts soggy material that wouldn’t get rave reviews and would bomb otherwise.

The bottom line: in terms of his advance billing and what many Americans saw of him the first time they sampled him, Jindal proved to be the Vista of politicians.

But he isn’t the first who went south in a first appearance on the national stage. In 1988 then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton delivered a speech that was so long winded — and long — that Johnny Carson and other late night comedians and comedy club comedians were set with material for months. Clinton eventually showed up on Carson’s show to join in the ribbing, which helped him. Clinton recovered.

However, Jindal’s problem is more profound: his delivery is destined to bomb on a national stage because it LITERALLY seems to be a parody.

Even Fox Newsers were gloomy, although some made the inevitable excuses since he was repping their team. But the following (h/T Think Progress) isn’t a good omen for someone who wants to be a national figure: Republicans may excuse him but many other voters and comedians will chuckle.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan, writing on the Huffington Post, provides evidence that Jindal resembles Kenneth from 30 Rock.

NOT a good start — especially in following Obama. Why?

(1) His delivery and content in his debut appearance didn’t help the Republican Party .

(2) He made Obama — who looked good — look even better by comparison. Who booked Jindal to deliver that speech? Rahm Emanuel?

Remember what your Mom said? “Remember to make a good first impression!” Jindal will spend the next year trying to show this speech really was NOT him. And by several accounts, it wasn’t. MSNBC’s First Read says Jindal basically got bad advice and had a bad night:

As for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s official GOP response, it appears someone gave him bad advice last night, whether it was his awkward entrance or his way-too-casual delivery. The Louisiana governor, a Rhodes scholar, is a serious guy who’s known for sometimes being too wonky and even somewhat humorless. Well, he tried too hard NOT to look wonky and humorless. But it didn’t work; he wasn’t the Bobby Jindal we’ve seen before. Also, his speech seemed to be too much of a brochure about himself rather than about his party and its ideas. To be fair, Jindal got better as his speech wore on, and the good news is that past responders who also got poor initial reviews — Tim Kaine and Kathleen Sebelius come to mind — easily recovered. One other thing: Is it disingenuous for Jindal to slam the role of the federal government (“Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government; we place our hope in you”) when that said federal government is rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina?

Michael Gerson has a Washington Post piece detailing Jindal’s positive points as a GOP phenomenon. It’s makes a good case for Jindal, as a Republican conservative candidate. The problem: Jindal’s performance skills challenges will trip on and undercut message since he last night he seemed communications challenged.

There is a time when partisans need to stop back and be honest about what they see and/or hear. Conservative blogger Ace of Spades does that:

Awful. He walked out like an earnest dork and has a weird inflection, trying to sound upbeat and sunny when it’s clearly not his natural metier. It sounds false, and he looks false.

I don’t care how much of a star Jindal is, America doesn’t elect somewhat-off dorks as president.

True: a good politician can fake sincerity. Sing-song deliveries sounding like 6th graders delivering Show and Tell reports don’t help.

UPDATE: Here’s one take on Jindal, his delivery and his speech’s content.

UPDATE II: More reports that Jindal had an off night from the WaPo