New hope for Bobby Jindal

By James Fallows

Still in the internet twilight zone, but happened to pass a TV that was, improbably enough, replaying Bobby Jindal's "response" speech from last week. I am the last person to say this, but let me confirm the prevailing view: Wow.

One way to think of this is: It's been a mixed week for the Rhodes Scholar tribe. Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, known in RS parlance as being of "Tennessee and Balliol College," has just been named the new White House health-reform czar(ina?), and Dominic Barton ("British Columbia and Brasenose College") was chosen capo di tutti capi of McKinsey & Co. Congratulations! On the other hand, we have .... that speech, by Gov. Jindal ("Louisiana and New College.") Maybe they can revoke these things for excessive public embarrassment? This could be called the Mel Reynolds provision? ("Illinois and Lincoln College, plus federal prison.")

Actually there is both precedent and hope for Gov. Jindal. His speech was no more humiliating a flop than was the 1988 Democratic convention speech by that other boy-wonder southern governor then making his debut on the national stage, Bill Clinton ("Arkansas and University College.") Clinton very quickly figured out that if everyone was laughing at him, the only way to come out ahead was to join in and ultimately lead the hilarity. So within a week he was on the Tonight show trading barbs with Johnny Carson about just how terrible his speech had been. Politicians' self-deprecation can never be 100% sincere, but that doesn't matter. We appreciate the gesture.

This pirouette is a little trickier for Jindal, because in addition to making fun (as Clinton did) of his ridiculous stage presence he'd probably also have to mock what he actually said, which was more or less the straight Limbaughesque anti-government line. If he's as smart as everyone thought until last week thinks, he'll figure out a way to show that he understands why people would snicker at a governor of Louisiana saying, "Who needs the federal government? Who needs warnings of natural disasters?" while recovery from Katrina is nowhere near complete. Turning the situation in his favor would be an act of Clintonlike dexterity, and would ideally happen under the auspices of today's Johnny Carson, Jon Stewart.

Daily Show bookers, throw this man a lifeline! Gov. Bobby, follow the trail that Gov. Bill has blazed! And act soon. Self-deprecation delayed is self-deprecation that just makes things worse. I'd love to hear Clinton counsel Jindal on this one.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/03/new-hope-for-bobby-jindal/1148/