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Bobby Jindal Takes A Beating

The big story Tuesday night, of course, was Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. But almost as interesting to political junkies was what came immediately afterward: The response from Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Governor being pushed as the new face of the Republican Party and a leading contender for the party's presidential nomination in 2012.

What was meant to be a coming out celebration on the national stage, however, turned to something far different for Jindal: The governor, who has been well received in other public forums, was almost universally panned. And an address that was expected to generate momentum for a possible 2012 run instead resulted in questions about whether the 37-year-old governor is really ready for prime time. (You can watch and read Jindal's speech in full here.)

Many of the most stinging barbs came from Jindal's ideological brethren. Consider these comments from a Fox News panel right after the speech:

  • "This was not Bobby Jindal's greatest oratorical moment."
  • "The delivery was not exactly terrific."
  • "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."
  • "He tried the best he could."

    Then there was the response from center-right New York Times columnist David Brooks, who said this:

    To come up at this moment in history with a stale, government-is-the-problem, we can't trust the federal government – it's just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but the idea that government is going to have no role, that the federal government has no role in this, in a moment when only the federal government is big enough to actually do stuff – to just ignore all that, and just say government is a problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending, it's just a form of nihilism. It's just not where the country is. It's not where the future of the country is.

    …I think it's insane. I just think it's a disaster for the party.

    And while one might not expect much support for a Republican response from liberals like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, the unvarnished disdain from the left that greeted Jindal's effort went far beyond the usual criticism.
    (AP Photo/MSNBC, Ali Goldstein)
    Here's Maddow: "Honestly, the Republican response to Barack Obama's first State Of The Union was to invoke government failure during Katrina as a model for how to move forward as a country. I know that I am paid to talk for a living, I am incapable of doing what I am paid to do right now. I am absolutely stunned."

    Her MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews was more direct in his assessment of Jindal as he emerged to give the speech: "Oh, God."

    State Of The Union responses often fall flat – the speaker is following the grand spectacle of a dramatic speech to Congress, punctuated by applause and standing ovations, with an awkward, audience-free address directly to a camera – but the strength of the negative response to Jindal's effort is almost unprecedented.

    (More often then not, these responses are endured and quickly forgotten. Remember commerce secretary nominee Gary Locke's 2003 effort? Didn't think so.)

    As Republican political strategist David Johnson pointed out in the New York Times today, Jindal was to some extent the victim of high expectations, since Republicans are desperately "looking for a voice to lead them out of the wilderness."

    Nonetheless, he admitted, "it was a flop."

    The Louisiana governor even managed to anger a seldom-heard lobby: The volcano-adjacent. Jindal identified a $140 million appropriation for volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful spending in the Obama-backed stimulus package, prompting Royce Pollard, the mayor of Vancouver, Washington, to point out that the people of his town take volcano monitoring quite seriously.

    "Does the governor have a volcano in his backyard?" Pollard asked. "We have one that's very active, and it still rumbles and spits and coughs very frequently."

    Jindal still has one prominent defender: Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said, the day after the speech, "I love Bobby Jindal, and that did not change after last night." (He did acknowledge, however, that "I never heard the media, both sides, conservative and liberal, dump on a response like they did last night.")

    Criticism of the governor has even seeped into pop culture: Following Jindal's speech, a number of people took to the internet to proclaim the similarity between Jindal and Kenneth The Page from the NBC sitcom "30 Rock." And now "Kenneth" has responded, saying Jindal "sounds like a real goober…natorial representative."

    It remains to be seen to what degree the fallout from Jindal's response will impact his standing among Republicans. But as Sarah Palin can tell you, getting mocked by a "30 Rock" cast member probably isn't going to help.

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