BOBBY JINDAL PLAYED HIMSELF.

The press has, for some time, been running with the idea that Bobby Jindal is the GOP's Obama. 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. Last night, the differences were clear: Where Jindal was awkward, Obama was confident. Obama has mastered his voice, Jindal sounded like he didn't know how to give a speech. Obama had mastered a variety of tones and cadences early in his career, Jindal offered a forced folksiness to a sing-song tune. But perhaps the most telling part of Jindal's response was his extended introduction of his family history. Until now, the GOP has allowed the press to make the Obama comparisons, last night, Jindal tried to make one himself, an act that was inadvertently self-diminishing.

The worst part of Jindal's response wasn't just that, as Ezra says, it could have been given by any Republican at any time in the last 20 years. It was that the Republicans completely failed to predict the tone and content of Obama's speech. It didn't sound like a response at all: Jindal argued his points like he hadn't heard a word Obama said. Jindal touted the Republican tax cut "stimulus" moments after the nation heard Obama say he had given 95 percent of Americans a tax cut. He said "Now is no time to dismantle the defenses that have protected this country for hundreds of years, or make deep cuts in funding for our troops," right after Obama said he was expanding the armed forces and giving them a raise. Trying to box Obama in as a pessimist, Jindal said, "Don't let anyone tell you that America's best days are behind her," which might have worked if Obama hadn't just given an entire speech saying just that.

More embarrassing was Jindal's attempt to frame Hurricane Katrina as a disaster that the federal government could not have dealt with. As though the response to Katrina were an ideological issue about the role of government and not a matter of individual incompetence on the part of President Bush and his Democratic counterparts in Louisiana. No one's memory is that short. It's almost as if he were saying, sure, the nation's in a crisis, but if it were up to us, you'd be on your own, because we know you can handle it. Just like the folks waiting on top of their roofs in New Orleans.

I have no idea why the GOP thought that would be an inspiring message. Picking Jindal for the response implied that the GOP still sees Obama through Rush Limbaugh's eyes, as a cipher whose only appeal is the color of his skin, rather than the uniquely talented politician he's proven to be. An election and several successful pieces of legislation later, the GOP still isn't taking Obama seriously. Until they do, they're going to continue having nights like this one.


-- A. Serwer

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