Everyone agrees. Bobby Jindal had a tough act to follow. He had to rebut a popular American president, one of the most gifted orators since perhaps Lincoln himself. The president had just given an impassioned speech, had the Congress swooning and, gasp, its members hugging him. Now, since when do men hug each other like that?
And here comes Jindal. He is not a presence, nor does he have the gift of oratory, that much we knew. We knew, however, that he was a smart man, perhaps of intellect to equal the president's. Jindal's voice is not thunderous, his speech lacks the cadence that the president so skillfully employs, we knew that too. To expect him to match the president would have been impossible. But we expected Jindal to at least give us something different than what so many of us were used to as coming from the GOP. After all, he is supposed to be the standard bearer of the new GOP. And what happened? He came across as "amateurish," uncomfortable, and not genuine. Hmmmm, how did that happen?
I am a Korean-American woman who lives in the South. I live on the coast of North Carolina, and I stick out. There is simply no getting around it. I go to PTA meetings. I am the only Asian. I go to school board meetings. I am the only Asian. In fact, I make frequent appearance on the news, not as a reporter, but as someone that the camera zooms on. Call me a token. That is just the way it is where I live.
I have lived in North Carolina now going on 10 years. I have picked up a little bit of the Southern drawl, and I can sometimes imitate it pretty well. My musical training has helped me with that. However, I may talk like that all I want, but I make no mistake about the fact that, in the locals' eyes, I am never one of them. I know that. I simply don't look the part. So I don't try to be. I find that I get more respect for knowing what I am talking about rather than sounding like one of them.
So, here is what Bobby Jindal did wrong. He tried too hard to sound like everyone. He tried to be the folksy hero that the Republicans have tried to serve up every election. Therein lies the first of his two mistakes. He forgot that folksy did not work during this election. Sarah Palin had the folksiness all locked up, and she didn't help the party any. In fact, she made folksiness popular at the cost of being intelligent. So instead of being folksy, He should have been himself, arguing and making valid points.
Much more than that, however, is the second mistake that he made. In trying to be folksy, Bobby Jindal forgot who he was. The reason that he has been hailed as the savior of the Republican party because he is so unlike the Republicans of the recent past. He is the child of immigrants, he is young, he is not Wonder Bread white, and he is patently intelligent. But he tried so hard to be one of them, to be folksy. I know, and I bet he knows that he will never, ever be folksy in so many folksy people's eyes. He simply does not look the part just like I will never be a Southerner.
Perhaps Jindal's cluelessness is just indicative of the implosion within the GOP itself. As David Brooks argues, it doesn't know where it wants to go, what it wants to be. While personifying the kind of transformation that the GOP needs by simply being what he is, Bobby Jindal does not know how to convince the GOP any other way than the good old folksy way. The new GOP and the old GOP are mutually exclusive. And that is the logical conclusion that he should have drawn before he appeared before the camera.
So, here is to more implosions with the GOP. The drama continues.