Most of the criticism of Bobby Jindal’s response to Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of congress last night has focused on Jindal’s stylistic shortcomings, his awkward delivery and the overwhelming urge to shove him into a locker or flush his head in a toilet he inspires. That doesn’t seem fair. Luckily, I didn’t watch or hear either Barack’s speech or Jindal’s, so I’m in a perfect position to evaluate each address on the merits of what was said, not how they said it. Besides, honestly, is it even a contest when the poor guy had to follow Obama? Come on. Barack’s the coolest motherfucker on the planet.
I’m working from transcripts of Obama and Jindal’s speeches available from the invaluable website RealClearPolitics. The text of Barack’s speech is right here, and Jindal’s is here. I’ll defy expectations by beginning . . . at the beginning.
Here’s how Barack opened, after all that “Madame Speaker” bullshit:
I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.
I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. . . . The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.
But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:
We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.
Not too shabby. He acknowledges the authority of the people, he lays out the crisis in unflinching language, and follows that with the encouragement and optimism Bill Clinton got on him for leaving out before.
Here’s the opening of Jindal’s response:
Good evening. I’m Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana.
Tonight, we witnessed a great moment in the history of our Republic. In the very chamber where Congress once voted to abolish slavery, our first African-American President stepped forward to address the state of our union. With his speech tonight, the President completed a redemptive journey that took our nation from Independence Hall, to Gettysburg, to the lunch counter, and now, finally, the Oval Office.
Regardless of party, all Americans are moved by the President’s personal story — the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, who grew up to become leader of the free world.
Am I the only one who thinks all these Republicans paying lip service to the importance of Obama as the first black president is starting to sound condescending? McCain’s concession speech was classy, the love at the inauguration was appropriate, but I already know he’s the first black president, asshole. I know why it’s important, I know why we ought to be proud of it. I don’t need fucking Bobby Jindal to tell me. I voted for the motherfucker.
But, as he reveals in the next sentence, Jindal’s purpose for bringing up Barack’s heritage is more cynical than usual:
Like the President’s father, my parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a ‘pre-existing condition.’ Even after landing a job, [my father] could still not afford to pay for my delivery — so he worked out an installment plan with the doctor. Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment.
Ahhh, see that, potential 2012 voters? He’s just like Obama, ol’ Jindal — the child of immigrants who grew up to realize the American dream thanks to their tireless effort and seamless assimilation. And is it really smart for a conservative who opposes reforming health care to make that last joke? Why fortunately for you, Bobby? Because if Dad had missed a payment, our harsh, profit-driven health care system would have pushed your mother out on the street to drop you in a gutter? That’s what you’re getting at, right?
Now, since I don’t have all goddamn day, let me skip to the end. Barack spends most of his speech justifying the massive stimulus bill he just signed, talking about all the jobs it will create and all the opportunities it will open up for people suffering from the recession, and then wraps things up like so:
I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.
And if we do — if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
I wish some president, someday would come up with a better closer than “God bless America,” but . . .
Respond to that, Jindal!
A few weeks ago, the President warned that our nation is facing a crisis that he said “we may not be able to reverse.” Our troubles are real, to be sure. But don’t let anyone tell you that we cannot recover — or that America’s best days are behind her. This is the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the Great Depression, prevailed in two World Wars, won the struggle for civil rights, defeated the Soviet menace, and responded with determined courage to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The American spirit has triumphed over almost every form of adversity known to man — and the American spirit will triumph again.
We can have confidence in our future — because, amid today’s challenges, we also count many blessings: We have the most innovative citizens, the most abundant resources, the most resilient economy, the most powerful military, and the freest political system in the history of the world. My fellow citizens, never forget: We are Americans. And like my dad said years ago, Americans can do anything.
Thank you for listening. God bless you. And God bless America.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that we cannot recover.” Implying what? I don’t recall President Obama ever saying that. In fact, I don’t recall any politician ever saying that. It’d be a really stupid thing for a politician to say, for one thing. For another thing, the most pessimistic voices in the national conversation these last few weeks have been Republicans, who seem to be not only predicting the failure of Obama’s policies, but rubbing their hands together in anticipation. Obama states over and over again in his speech that he has hopes for the recovery of the economy, that he has faith in the spirit and the resilience of the United States, and Jindal comes back with, “Don’t believe all this shit about how we’re never going to recover.” Unbelievable.
Jindal’s response was almost entirely composed of current Republican boilerplate — lower taxes, deregulate, increase domestic oil production. Nice to see them trying to defy that old stereotype of Republicans being the party of amoral capitalists. Obama’s wasn’t much more creative coming from his side, but while he proposed increased government involvement in the economy, he also urged greater public involvement in the government. Jindal painted government, as conservatives always do, as the boogeyman, the big evil that wants to pick our pockets and enslave us. Obama chose to be realistic about the role government must take in these trouble economic times, and to encourage people to take more control of that government they’ve been taught for so long to fear. That’s a big deal for me. The federal government is a monstrosity, and it does need radical reforms. But the most needed reform might just be to bring that government back down to the people. If we are the government, if the government is us, we have nothing to fear.
Government, government, government, government. After that last paragraph, would you believe I still had a few left over?
There’s one more happy detail from Obama’s speech:
I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort — because nobody messes with Joe.
Awesome. It gives Biden something to keep him busy, and hopefully keep him off of my television. Nothing sends the press running in the other direction quite like the phrase “unprecedented oversight effort.” You just can’t make that sexy.