Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Down in the bayou

To me, one truism has always been that we get the government that we deserve. Now I'm not so sure anymore.

I'm thinking particularly of the unfortunate souls in Louisiana who've had Bobby Jindal thrust upon them as their leader:

Jindal was something of a disaster. The delivery was awkward and sing-song (comparisons to Kenneth from "30 Rock" are ubiquitous). The arguments were tone deaf and tiresome. The anecdotes were long and pointless. Jindal hadn't quite practiced enough with a teleprompter. He not only seemed like a guy selling a bad product in an infomercial, Jindal seemed like he was new at it.

It was painful to watch, both because the speech was bad and because it was hard not to feel bad for the guy embarrassing himself on national television.

Ok, so maybe it's not fair to draw too many conclusions about his political viability based on a single speech. A speech that is generally a set-up for failure; hardly anyone ever comes off as a winner in the response to a State of the Union-style address.

So, what then of Jindal's actual record? As I noted the other day, he's been quite overrated for a long time now. He once lost to Kathleen Blanco, for chrissakes.

The comparisons to Obama? Uh ...

It's unclear what prompts the comparison between the two other than that they are both young, brown, Ivy League-educated, and beloved by their respective bases. But it's a comparison that the monochromatic Republican Party, anxious to show its inclusiveness, has been happy to accept. That makes it no less inane, and no less transparent an attempt to put a nonwhite face on an increasingly white party.

Jindal and Obama could not be more different, and the contrasts begin but don't end with the fact that one of them changed his name to fit in while the other carried his daddy's "funny" African moniker all the way to the White House.

As the First Lady noted last night, it's highly doubtful that Jindal's father ever called him "Bobby" at a young age. He probably called him Piyush, his given Indian name which apparently means "drink of the Gods." (Also, can you imagine the shitstorm Obama would have faced this fall if he'd publicly referred to himself as something, like, Timmy?)

So yes, Jindal obviously isn't ready for prime time. And he might never be.

But somewhat overlooked last night was his anecdotal Katrina reference to the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee. To put it nicely, Sheriff Lee's legacy will not get the GOP out beyond the cutting edge. This, from his obit in the New York Times:

Sheriff Lee always vigorously denied he was a racist. But with his aggressive — and loudly announced — policing of blacks who dared to cross the parish line from New Orleans into Jefferson, he seemed to give voice to a heavily white jurisdiction that sent the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to the State Legislature in 1989. This constituency had voted with its feet decades earlier by abandoning the black dominated city.

In 1986, he drew national attention to his normally unremarked-on kingdom of shopping strips and subdivisions when he announced, after a spate of robberies, “If there are some young blacks driving a car late at night in a predominantly white area, they will be stopped.”

... Up to the end, Sheriff Lee continued to issue provocative statements about race and crime. In 2006, he stirred up a final firestorm when he said, discussing a new plan to focus on violence, “We’re only stopping black people.”

In all, it was a provocative bit of hagiography on a night when my sympathy deepened for my old friends in Louisiana. Now it seems as if they'll be stuck with Jindal for another three years, and probably more, depending on the rallying power of the state Democrats.

Either way, you've got to think the wheels are coming completely off that "Jindal in '12" bandwagon. If not, then the GOP seems headed for a ditch. Or, better yet, a bayou.


Ryan J. Rusak said...

Interestingly, Obama actually went the other way -- he was pretty universally known as Barry as a kid in Hawaii, then started going as Barack later in life. And while I agree Jindal was pretty bad, I'd argue that ALL those responses look bad -- you've got the president, in the House chamber, with all the pageantry and applause and the draatic entrance, versus some poor soul, Democrat or Republican, talking to a camera in a very quiet, very empty room. The responders just can't compete. Go back and look at Tim Kaine, or Reid/Pelosi, during the Bush yrs and you'll see what I mean.

blackink said...

Hey Ryan. Great to hear from you.

I totally agree with you about the vast majority of response speeches coming off bad, in fact, I pretty much allowed as much. Given that sort of precedent, Jindal was already behind the 8-ball.

One thing, though: I think the difference with Obama's name shift was that it was thrust upon him. His family called him that for short, his friends called him that and he was known as "Barry" until he was an adult and insisted upon being called "Barack." He was born Barack and he still goes by the name.

I think, in some ways, we're all the "victim" of that. Most of family members called me Joe Dudley, or Joel Douglas, or Little Joel until I got old enough to make my claim on "Joel." Now, everyone calls me that. Lucky for me, it's also my given name. No identity crisis necessary.

But Jindal insisted that others call him by some name other than the one he was given at birth, and seems to have stuck with it. No big deal, in the whole scheme of things. Just saying that Barack and Bobby ain't comparable to me.

But to borrow a line from Saul, a man has the right to change his name to vatever he vants to change it to. And if a man vants to be called Bobby, godammit this is a free country, you should respect his vishes, and call the man Bobby Jindal!