Jindal’s Moment
By Philip Klein
The American Spectator Blog
February 24, 2009

In addition to this being President Obama’s first speech to a joint session of Congress, it’s also Bobby Jindal’s chance to introduce himself to a large national audience in delivering the Republican response. According to the Washington Post, Jindal will be delivering the speech from the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge, which is more or less a typical way to deliver the response. I think he would have been better off taking a page out of Christine Todd Whitman’s book. Back in 1995, when she was the tax cutting governor still in good graces with the party, she delivered her response in front of an audience in the New Jersey state assembly chamber, which mitigated the natural advantage that President Clinton had by delivering a speech in front of Congress with all its pageantry.

I’m still waiting to see how Jindal performs as governor, and see his views fleshed out more, but what I find most appealing about him is that he is undeniably brilliant. I watched Jindal’s performance on “Meet the Press” this week, and it was refreshing to see a Republican who was actually able to provide a detailed defense of his decisions and policies. At one point, David Gregory grilled Jindal about his decision to reject some unemployment money from the stimulus package because it would require permanent changes to state law that would impose obligations down the road. Gregory quoted Sen. Mary Landrieu saying that Jindal was wrong. “Her point being, you could insert a sunset clause when this has to go away, but it would certainly be beneficial at a time when you’re in economic stress,” Gregory said.

Here was Jindal’s response:

GOV. JINDAL: That’s great, except the federal law, if you actually read the bill–and I know it was 1,000 pages, and I know they got it, you know, at midnight, or hours before they voted on it–if you actually read the bill, there’s one problem with that. The word permanent is in the bill. It requires the state to make a permanent change in our law. Law B–our employer group agrees with me. They say, “Yes, this will result an increase in taxes on our businesses, this will result in a permanent obligation on the state of Louisiana.” It would be like spending $1 to get a dime. Why would we take temporary federal dollars if we’re going to end up having a permanent program?

And here’s the problem. So many of these things that are called temporary programs end up being permanent government programs. But this one’s crystal clear, black and white letter law. The federal stimulus bill says it has to be a permanent change in state law if you take this state money. And so within three years the federal money’s gone, we’ve got now a permanent change in our laws, we have to pay for it, our businesses pay for it. I don’t think it makes sense to be raising taxes on Louisiana businesses during these economically challenging times. And what it shows is what we’re going to do in the stimulus is we’re going to look at every program, every dollar. If it makes sense for Louisiana, makes sense for our taxpayers, we’ll use those programs and dollars. If it doesn’t, like on Friday we said, “This doesn’t make sense for us. This is not a good deal for us.” It makes–my job is to represent Louisiana’s taxpayers. Makes no sense for us to take temporary federal dollars and create permanent state obligations.

One thing I would say is that, perhaps because he has such a command of the details, at times he tends to speak a bit too fast and drop wonky terms. I think that could turn some people off from his message, and that’s something he’ll need to work on as he matures as a politician. He’s smart, yes, but does he come across as likeable enough to connect with a national audience? We’ll see how he performs tonight.