GOP's Obama vs. the real one
By Clarence Page
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
June 6, 2010
Don't count Bobby Jindal out. The Louisiana governor, touted as "the Republican Obama" before his first big national speech flopped, is rising again, strong enough this time to go toe-to-toe with the real President Barack Obama.
At a time when Jindal's party's strongest voices seem to be coming from angry conservative radio pundits and cable TV hosts, Jindal presents a powerfully authentic image of rolled-up-shirtsleeves populist indignation over the gooey threat that BP's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico poses to his state's "way of life."
That's a far cry from Jindal's first appearance on the national stage. His excruciatingly folksy response on behalf of his party to President Obama's first congressional address brought comparisons to "Kenneth the page," a gleeful bumpkin character on NBC's "30 Rock."
Until then Jindal, who will be 39 on Thursday, was often called the "Republican Obama" for his similarities to the original. The Ivy League and Oxford-educated former congressman and son of Indian-American immigrants also belongs to a once-plentiful but now sadly endangered political species, a Republican of color.
Today the former Kenneth looks more like Super Bobby, in the news almost daily, at threatened beaches and marshland, talking to constituents and lecturing reporters on the finer points of levees, currents, wind, sand berms and Washington sluggishness.
"In his public remarks, Jindal has gotten as worked up as a circuit-riding preacher," writes Gary Reese in the Southern Political Report. "Is this righteous indignation or political pantomime? It depends on who you ask."
Either way, Jindal's passion resonates well with the traditions of colorful Louisiana legends like Huey Long — in sharp contrast to Obama's professorial impatience with BP and its failure to stop the big gushing leak, despite assistance from the best scientific minds that the White House can pull together.
"I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people," Obama told Larry King in a CNN interview that aired Thursday, "but that's not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem and ultimately this isn't about me and how angry I am."
Indeed, even libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said on the Don Imus show on Fox Business Network that Obama and, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush both deserve a break from the "overkill" of those who mistakenly believe "that the president is everything to everybody, that he can fix an oil leak."
Yet, as an example of how statecraft is largely stagecraft in this media age, Jindal's dispute with the White House over sand berms offers an excellent example of his effectiveness.
At first the White House resisted his request for federal approval that would force BP to pay for the cost of building sand berms inside barrier islands to protect the mainland and wetlands — and the huge fisheries industries — from the oil. But after six weeks and despite considerable evidence that the berms might not work, the Obama administration gave in.
The administration's cave-in on sand berms calls to mind the National Guard troops that Obama recently approved for our Mexican border. For weeks the White House maintained that troops would do too little to solve the immigration or drug smuggling problems. But sometimes it's better to switch than fight, especially when nothing else seems to be working.
Lately Jindal also has been receiving praise from liberal-leaners, as reporter Jesse Zwick writes in a recent issue of The New Republic, for "the kind of smarts and ideological flexibility that we should applaud in our leaders, no matter the party." The headline: "Kenneth the Page becomes a man."
Yet, praise from the left for "ideological flexibility" brings scorn from the right for flip-flopping. Some conservatives are miffed that Jindal threatened to reject federal economic stimulus funds, then took them anyway, just because his state needed the money.
Conservatives are similarly upset that Jindal is seeking federal help to combat the oil spill. Welcome to the life of a governor, where the ideology that helped you to get your job can get in the way of your ability to do the job.
No, don't count Bobby Jindal out. I think he'll do just fine, if his fellow conservatives don't get in his way.
Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage