Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bobby Jindal and Freak-Show Politics

The Jindal Problematic. The conventional wisdom is that the GOP needs to expand its appeal beyond hard-core conservatives and the South. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. What the Republicans need to do is stop their spiraling decline into freak-show status. They really need to get Republican politicians back in charge of the Republican message and draw public attention off Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Alan Keyes, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and other hard-right media freaks. All of these figures attract attention by being "strange" and "bizarre," and the fact that they become the best known spokespeople for the Republican Party makes the Republicans into the party of outlandish spectacles--in other words, a "freak show." If the Republicans don't watch it, they'll sink into Ross Perot, American Independent Party, or Dixiecrat numbers as they go the way of the Whigs.

The conventional wisdom was also wrong about Bobby Jindal. Both the Republicans and the mainstream media have represented Jindal as the Republican "competition" to Barack Obama. But the Republicans really need to become credible as a serious political party once more before they can become genuinely competitive with the Democrats.

This is seemingly what Jindal seemingly promised, a re-assertion of GOP credibility. Being a Fulbright Scholar and a policy-wonk, Jindal was supposed to be an ideas guy, a guy who could present conservative views in a sophisticated way, somebody who could be taken seriously. This is the kind of thing that Republicans need to get out of the rut of over-reliance on conservative spectacle, appeals to racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and the rejection of science, education, and culture.

The Jindal Failure. This is why the grotesquely entertaining failure of Jindal's response was highly significant. Chris Matthews sniffed out a plantation atmospheric in Jindal's self-presentation even before Jindal began speaking and Jindal goofed up right away by referring to Barack Obama right off the bat as "our first African-American president" and thus racializing Obama. Obviously, Jindal is just as tone-deaf on race as other Republicans and seems to think that Obama won because of "white guilt" (bias alert: I supported Hillary during the primaries).
In fact, Jindal was tone deaf on everything. The sing-song unctuousness in his voice, his rejection of a government role in Katrina, the demagoguing of high-speed rail and volcano research--it was all terrible. David Bro0ks hit the nail on the head when he referred to Jindal's speech as a form of "nihilism" in which Jindal seemed to reject any effort to deal with the financial crisis. But Brooks forgot to mention that there's a nihilism in everything the Republicans are doing these days. In the final analysis, that nihilism is the core value of the Republican freak show, a reveling in the prospect of failure and disaster.

Conclusion. Both Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal achieved something like bi-partisan consensus last night. Obama's speech was viewed positively or somewhat positively by 92% of the audience while Jindal's response was panned by all sides of the political spectrum. It's been a long time since public opinion has been that unanimous on anything.

Interestingly enough, the only significant voice defending Jindal was uber-freakmeister Rush Limbaugh himself.

But that comes as no surprise.

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