Bobby Jindal, the 37-year-old governor of Louisiana, seemed like a good choice to deliver the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's kinda' State of the Union address. Last summer, the charismatic former congressman was the much-buzzed-about great hope of the GOP, touted as a potential running mate for then-presidential candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain. But on the eve of Mardi Gras, Jindal saw his remarks savaged by critics. And these attacks didn't just spring from the lefties at MSNBC. Some conservative pundits and regular readers of "The Corner," the water-cooler blog we produce at National Review Online, have expressed their disappointment.
Jindal, who can give a good, substantive speech off the cuff, looked uncomfortable in front of a teleprompter, probably frustrated at the inadequacy of "responding" to a presidential address to Congress from the relatively modest confines of the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge. A fiend for wonky detail, he was most likely also aggravated that he didn't have time to rebut the president's arguments point by point.
What Jindal ended up doing, however, was adequately delivering a speech about American exceptionalism and fiscal conservatism. However imperfect, it was, in many ways, a speech that should have been celebrated. At a time when the country's corporations evince an overwhelming sense of entitlement to which Washington has been only too generous in catering, the doughty Louisianan stood on principle, calling for a return to the great American bedrock: hard work, self-sufficiency and the willingness to debate. Jindal's underwhelming enunciation of some fundamental principles came but days after the chattering classes on the Internet, talk radio and even in the White House went wild over CNBC's Rick Santelli. The talking head had a furious "Network" moment on the floor of the Chicago stock exchange one mid-February morning, raging against the irresponsible bailout culture that's infected a nation founded on self-reliance.
Even though most of us don't watch CNBC and few of us knew much about the governor of Alaska before she stepped out onto the national stage, the enthusiasm with which many Americans responded to Palin and Santelli was similar, and it originated in a desire for leadership. In Santelli's case, people responded to his anger and common sense. In Palin's case, they reacted to her passion and folksiness. Passion, of course, can only get you so far. And, frankly, the same goes for competence and smarts. Man cannot get elected on capability and intelligence alone. Just ask Mitt Romney. As the country edged toward the brink of financial meltdown during last year's Republican primary, there was something about the fiscally-savvy former governor of Massachusetts that did not compute with voters. Like Jindal facing an unfair playing field after the president's speech, Romney had some disadvantages not of his making that he just couldn't overcome. But as with Jindal that night, there was something people needed to hear that Romney could not manage to convey.