While “disastrous” was among the more charitable descriptions of Bobby Jindal’s performance Tuesday night, we would like to thank him for mounting so ineffectual a response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress. (The joke in the White House press room is that Jindal has gone from being a rising star to a black hole.) We take no pleasure in the derision—laughter at a governor who has made a fool of himself on national television only makes our state look bad—but we’re glad that he put up no serious resistance to the persuasiveness of Obama’s progressive agenda. Jindal has done us the favor of leaving his party even more leaderless and dispirited. His faux-optimistic speech, titled “Americans Can Do Anything,” was clearly written before the G.O.P. knew what Obama would say; they were expecting a gloomy assessment of the economy without an equal measure of confidence that the nation can rebuild and come back stronger than before.
Speaking of storms and rebuilding, Jindal’s use of Hurricane Katrina as an example of why the federal government cannot be relied upon in a time of crisis is beyond false and hypocritical (as we recall, it was his Republican party that was in charge at the time)—it was also self-damning and . . . simply incredible. The fact that one (government-despising) administration compounded the catastrophe should teach us that we can never improve government’s effectiveness? (Further, surely lowering tax revenues as Jindal prescribes will make it only weaker, as happened before Katrina: sorry, we don’t have enough funds for both stronger storm protection and the wars we’re waging.)
So, even though the governor seems to have concocted his little Harry Lee anecdote (well, he did introduce it by saying, “Let me tell you a story”), we want to thank him for failing to rebut Obama’s ambitious and perfectly logical focus on energy, health care, and education simultaneously. (The G.O.P. response was intellectually incoherent—there were no new ideas or authentic solutions; contrast that with the moral vision that makes Obama’s agenda a cohesive whole, as explained by political linguistics expert George Lakoff in “The Obama Code.”) The Republicans’ golden boy, their rising star, performed so badly that even conservative, right-wing commentators panned him. Only Rush Limbaugh is standing by his man. We don’t like seeing our governor ridiculed, but if it eases the passage of Obama’s agenda, we’ll take it.
On Meet the Press on Sunday, Jindal repeatedly claimed a “fundamental disagreement” with the stimulus bill, but declined to mention that he is accepting about 98% of the stimulus money allocated for Louisiana (excepting the $100 million in unemployment funding). By our calculations, he has only a 2% philosophical difference. But enough to strike a convincing pose for his base. (And is there a racial element to the money he is refusing? Just asking.)
We were pleased to hear him say this on Meet the Press:
Our state, by the way, 9 to $10 billion comes off of our coast in terms of federal oil and gas royalties. If that was federal lands within our state, we’d get 50 percent. We get virtually none of that. You look at 30 percent of the nation’s oil and gas in some form comes off of our coast. It’s important for the country that America rebuilds those levees, that America helps those communities get back on their feet.
We thank the governor for making that point. And Jindal repeatedly referred to the “federal levees.” At first we were encouraged to hear this acknowledgment of the builder, and the implied responsibility—or was he only giving another example of how government can’t do anything right? (If that is his meaning, we pray he’s not saying “Why even try?”)
He is still wrong, though, morally and as a matter of economic policy, to deny his jobless citizens nearly $100 million in unemployment insurance funds from the stimulus bill. It is unconscionable to turn down money that would help one’s people—and to refuse to amend state law to expand eligibility to include part-time workers. Further, since 2001, tax cuts as economic stimulus have been proven to be less stimulative than provision of unemployment benefits, state fiscal relief, food stamps, and middle class tax cuts.
We continue to hope that Jindal himself will soon be out of a job—first as his party’s rising star, and then as Louisiana’s governor. But he’s still young; perhaps he can convert, as he’s done before.