Gulf Coast water may not be clear, but the difference between talk and action, between inexperience disguised in a well-scripted package and actual leadership, is. You can see it in the persons and performances of President Barack Obama and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. In the wake of the oil spill, President Obama has been widely considered missing in action, ineffective, and impotent. Jindal, on the other hand, was noticeably and commendably quick on his feet, on-the-scene and effective. It's a tale of two men many a national commentator wouldn't have predicted as recently as last year.
To fully appreciate the contrast, rewind to February 2009, when the president delivered his first State of the Union address. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute praised Obama's "effortless eloquence," calling it a "sharp contrast with former president George W. Bush's oratory."
And the commander in chief had the body language and camera-ready moves down perfect, too. "As President Obama made his way off the dais, he stopped to hug Tom Coburn, a senator from Oklahoma and his friend. The same Tom Coburn who is as conservative as any member of Congress," Ornstein wrote in the Washington Post.
(Add "huggability" to "who would you rather have a beer with?" as a completely useless presidential-preference test.)
Bobby Jindal was the Republican tapped to give the traditional opposition-party response that night. Jindal's speech was nearly universally trashed. So were his future near-term political prospects.
"This was not Bobby Jindal's greatest oratorical moment."
"I think he had a really poor performance tonight ... It just came off as amateurish."
"Even the tempo in which he spoke seemed like sing-song, and he was telling stories that seemed very simplistic and almost childish."
And that was just the response on the Fox News Channel.
The current messages coming in from the Gulf are a testament to the fickleness of political punditry. By now, former Clinton political war-room adviser James Carville's criticism of the White House's "hands-offy" approach is the stuff of YouTube legend: "Man, you've got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here." But Carville is far from alone. His fellow Clintonite turned CNN commentator Paul Begala didn't disagree.
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