President Barack Obama’s entrance into the House chamber, even more than the Inauguration, sent chills up my spine. This scene is more familiar than an Inauguration, and just so, to see Obama come down the aisle after the Sargeant-of-Arms announces, "Madame Speaker, the President of the United States," well, it was a wonderful moment. And, true to form, Obama delivered a masterful speech, balancing warnings about the immediate economic prospects with hope for the future and a plan to get from one to the other.

Obama was shy about the details last night. As with the stimulus bill, look for Obama to suggest broad outlines and work with Congress on the details. And, last night was not about details. It was about rescuing his campaign vision from the strong currents unleashed by the economic downturn, to show how it is not enough to tread water through the current economic mess but that we must also make the long-term investments in energy, education and health care that have been deferred while Reagan and his heirs re-organized the economy in such a way that the captains of industry care more about their bonuses than the long-term viability of their companies.

Giving the response to a Presidential address is always a challenging task. I have only seen it done well twice, by Gov. Christine Whitman of New Jersey in 1993 and by Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia in 2007. Last night’s response was given by the much-touted rising star of the Republican Party, Governor Bobby Jindal. Earlier in the day, someone whose judgment I respect greatly had told me to keep an eye on Jindal, that he was a man of substance. So, I eagerly stayed tuned.

There were two problems with the speech, one stylistic and the other substantive. Governor Jindal’s delivery was off, he was unable to caress the camera in the manner of, say, Gov. Sarah Palin, and the intonation was child-like, a fact reinforced by the Governor’s extremely youthful look. Even Brit Hume on Fox News had to admit, "The speech read a lot better than it sounded. This was not Bobby Jindal’s greatest oratorical moment." When you are a Republican rising star, and you get panned on Fox News, you know you really bombed.

Brit Hume notwithstanding, the speech did not read better than it sounded. It read like the screed of someone living in a parallel universe. His claim that lower taxes would lead to economic recovery skirts the fact that George W. Bush and the GOP Congress lowered taxes and still ran the economy into the ditch, to say nothing of the memory that marginal tax rates topped out at ninety percent during the economic boom of the 1950s when a Republican president named Eisenhower sat in the Oval Office. Tax rates matter, but the view that they determine economic behavior is ridiculous: Specific, targeted tax cuts definitely affect economic decision making, but so long as you are not taxed at one hundred percent, there is always an incentive to make more money.

Jindal’s choice of spending targets was also strange. He objected to the $8 million for high speed rail in the stimulus bill. Maybe they don’t need it in Louisiana, but putting in high speed rail tracks along the Northeast Corridor would lower dependence on foreign oil and improve the quality of life for those who must commute anywhere near I-95. He spoke disparagingly of $140 million for volcano monitoring, though surely a Governor of Louisiana should know what horrors can occur when the government is not prepared for natural disasters.

Which recalls the strangest moment in the speech. Jindal told a tale about the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which was not exactly the GOP’s finest moment, to make the point that, as he put it, "The strength of America is not found in our government." But that misses the point as the poor citizens of New Orleans know better than most. The strength of the American people must be expressed in our government too. The lesson of the levee-break after Katrina is that a political ideology that views government with contempt is ill-equipped to make sure the government is prepared to handle the kinds of challenges with which only a government can cope.

So, Jindal thinks government per se was the problem in the response to Katrina when in fact it was the GOP’s government, from the over-flying President to the wildly incompetent FEMA administrator, that was the problem. No wonder he also thinks that the economic mess that was created by years of the GOP encouraging greed and the sheer venality of the business classes should be solved by those same people who got us into the mess. Americans know what the Republicans can’t bring themselves to admit: In the current crisis, government is the solution, the only solution.

"Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need?" That is not a bad characterization of the spending habits of the Bush years. But, President Obama made clear he wanted to invest in energy independence, education and health care. Which of those three do we not need? And, as for his moral concern for "our children" and the government’s deficits, mortgaging the future is something many of us do when we buy a home. The question is not whether it makes sense to borrow but why are you borrowing the money in the first place? To invest in energy independence seems like an investment that may pay off for our children. To give tax cuts to the top one percent, not so much.

So, there were two winners and two losers last night. The losers were Gov. Jindal and the worldview he espouses: If this is the best the GOP has to offer, substantively or stylistically, to quote a recent GOP officeholder, "Bring it on!" But, the GOP will find its bearings and its voice. While the first clear winner last night was Barack Obama the second winner was Sarah Palin.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 3/4/2009 - 12:51pm
Joe, I totally agree with you. I recently watched a film called "Lake of Fire" that doesn't take sides, but makes the reality of abortion very clear. The problem with the reality of abortion, though, is that it has to do with sex and is gruesome. This is what prevents such a movie from being shown on network television. However, the President and members of Congress should consider it required viewing for themselves. It wouldn't hurt to show it to college students either.
Anonymous | 3/3/2009 - 5:54pm
Not only do I think women should get ALL of the info about abortion but I agree with laws that require informed consent and ultrasound so that women can know what they are killing. Also I would love for the networks to do an accurate education program about the abortion procedure so that woman can learn and see what is actually involved with the procedure. That way they can make an informed "choice". How can a woman make a choice when she is being deceived with doctored-up definitions and euphamisms, so that she might think this is only a "lump of cells or tissue". Let them know the truth so that their choice will be educated and free.
Anonymous | 3/2/2009 - 11:50pm
Marie, Don't be taken in by the ''pro-choice'' mantra. Doctors moralize every day. Doctors say things like, ''If it was my wife....''. Behind the ''privacy'' of the exam room door doctors encourage abortion in not so subtle ways. Doctors encourage patients to stop feeding and to withdraw care based on their own moral view of the world. Yes there are doctors who fight for both the mother and the child. This is a choice of mine. I choose life and am willing to go to jail or lose my license to defend even the abortionists life! I wish all of the Obama Catholics would defend him less when he threatens rights of conscience and when he makes obvious pro-abortion moves. Pro-Obama Catholics are still smoking the Obama weed when it comes to abortion. Admit it, regardless of your political opinion on economics, Obama will further the cause of abortion as an acceptable lifestyle choice.
Anonymous | 3/5/2009 - 10:46pm
Joe Driscoll, I doubt that the Disney to LV maglev train will have any short term benefit outside that area, but then giving the unemployed guy in Louisiana money doesn't benefit people too far beyond his immediate neighborhood. How widespread the impact is in the short term should not be the sole test of its worthiness. I can think of a number of bridge and road projects from the beginning of the previous century that were undertaken for the express purpose of uniting potential gamblers with gambling facilities. The benefits of having those bridges and roads outlasted the facilities which have been repurposed several times over.
Anonymous | 3/3/2009 - 11:38am
Joe, Obama will not further the cause of abortion as an acceptable lifestyle choice beyond where it is now, because chasm between those who do not see abortion as immoral and those who do cannot be made any wider. I would agree with you that very few women actually make the choice to abort freely. I also agree that you should be free to share your personal views. Given that you believe other doctors are influencing patients with their anti-life views, I would think that you would support regulations that make it mandatory for a doctor to identify those views as personal and not medical.
Anonymous | 3/2/2009 - 12:37pm
Joe Kash, The current regulations that Bush signed at the end of his term allow you to deceive women about why you are treating them a particular way--letting them think their health is your only concern when your soul is your bigger concern. There is no reason to assume that new regulations will mandate referrals. They could be rewritten so that you must simply inform the patient that you will not do an abortion and will not provide a referral. I have a Catholic friend who works at a state university hospital who has always done it that way. However, don't leave it up to chance that they think of that approach themselves. Let the Obama administration know.
Anonymous | 3/1/2009 - 6:02pm
Michael, Everyone takes you so seriously on here. Everyone needs to just relax and enjoy the scary ride. I find the rollercoasters with the highest hills and deepest valleys seem to end the fastest. There isn't anything anyone can do about it so just Hold on and Take care, Philip
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 9:10pm
"you are imagining the Obama will make you do abortions?" He won't make me perform them but he will make me refer to have them done. Kind of like sending Dred Scott back to the South only at least that was not killing Dred Scott.
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 12:52pm
The terrorists were not scared while Bush was in office. Bush, fulfilling all of Bin Laden's predictions, was carrying out Phase II of the 9/11 attack, which was collapsing the US economy. Joe Kash, you are imagining the Obama will make you do abortions? David Power, Chaput was promoting his book by saying something that would get him publicity. I hope he remembers to pay taxes on what he makes from his book sales.
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 4:50am
Spines being tingled,it seems that your piece is widely read.Here is what Archbishop Chaput observed A spirit of adulation bordering on servility already exists among some of the same Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists who once accused prolifers of being too cozy with Republicans. It turns out that Caesar is an equal opportunity employer
Anonymous | 2/26/2009 - 10:39pm
"Bush scared me. Obama doesn't." With Bush the terrorists were scared. With Obama God-fearing Christian Doctors like myself are scared.
Anonymous | 2/26/2009 - 12:39pm
No fan of Jindal (or his cringe-worthy performance on Tuesday), but I wouldn't count him out. One disastrous, nationally televised speech does not necessarily doom a candidate. Another relatively obscure young Southern governor gave a rambling, long-winded, much-mocked opening address at the 1988 Democratic Convention. Four years later, he was President.
Anonymous | 2/26/2009 - 12:16pm
Dear Michael, no need to fear, FOCA is not anywhere to be seen, despite what they tell you in Church. Furthermore, just because something is legal does not mean that people will want to do it. As a matter of fact, typically, if something is forbidden, then it becomes something people want to do. The fact that women have abortions has more to do with them wanting to have abortions than with them being allowed to have them without anyone going to jail. Can you name a President who actually protected the young? I can't. Bush scared me. Obama doesn't.
Anonymous | 2/26/2009 - 12:10pm
Joe, a rail line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles makes perfect sense for those people who have businesses in those places. The gambling industry, in particular, has always put a premium on transportation development, particularly the kind that brings gamblers directly to their establishments without offering them the option of wandering off. Recreational gamblers like not having to worry about transportation. Furthermore, being able to commute from where one live, rather than relocate, improves one's chances of finding work. We spend billions of dollars developing technologies related to war making that then spread into other areas of society. Certainly perfecting maglev high speed rail transportation could occur under these more benign circumstances and have a positive impact on our economy. I have lived in many cities that were a couple of hours from bigger, more entertaining cities and often wished that there were a train that could take me there.
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 4:04pm
Marie, Somehow I'm still not convinced that Harry Reid's earmark of $8 billion to commute from Disney Land to Las Vegas on a high speed rail will stimulate the economy of anyone who doesn't live outside of Vegas. And I'm sorry if recreational gamblers are worried about transportation, but it's not my job (or taxes) to alleviate such concerns. Suppose, instead, that we focus on the unemployed who are concerned about their next rent or mortgage payment and leave the recreational gamblers (and those who wish to commute daily between the two cities for better job opportunities) to come up with their own solutions to these problems. And here's an idea for perfecting maglev high-speed rail: Let the gambling industry, who you claim has always put a premium on transportation development, fund the research.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 7:22pm
Obama still scares me, as a Christian Man I don't think we need the Foca passed.. It's kind of Odd to me that if this bill passed perhaps there will be more abortions and less children.. So Perhaps we won't be asking our children for loans.. Now I know some will say " But look at the good he is doing" That might be true but where do we draw the line and say someone needs to protect the young, If we don't stand up for the ones that have no voice then I'm sure God will stand up for them.. And we will pay a great price..
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 11:10am
This was an excellent piece. I, too, was very disappointed in the much-touted response by Gov Jindal, which was little more than the typical Republican party line, which runs down new approaches but offers nothing new and different (and workable) in their place. The emphasis on tax cuts as the cure for all economic ills is especially ludicrous...while one might see some benefit in lowering tax rates in a booming economy, it is insane in the current economic situation: I have yet to see a reasonable explanation of how tax cuts will help someone who is out of work and has no income to tax, or how they will encourage a business to hire more employees - businesses, after all, hire staff because they see a business advantage in doing so...when business is good enough that they can recognize economic gain from the hiring of new people. The Republicans complain much, but offer little. The Democrats at least are doing something different that may work. Time will tell.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 6:44pm
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the $8 billion high speed rail line included in the stimulus package would run from Las Angeles to Las Vegas, certainly something that will be ''efficient for commuters''. A gentleman from Nevada named Reid is responsible for it's inclusion. I look foward to learning how this is going to the stimulate the national economy.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 2:56pm
After Jindal's response, I think Sarah Palin is back as the republican front-runner. The republican party is really hurting and they don't have any new ideas or solutions. All they can do is bash Obama. Jealousy will get them nowhere.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 1:44pm
I do expect Brit Hume to be honest and objective. I don't expect that from Michael Sean Winters. "sent chills up my spine." It seem the investors got chills too, just not the same kind that you got!
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 1:41pm
Excellent piece. The Republicans are the ones who struck out. Employment for scientists stimulates the economy. Making transportation more efficient for commuters stimulates the economy too. The only thing that does not stimulate the economy is giving money to people who have more than they need.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 10:34am
Note that the high-speed rail portion of the stimulus is $8 billion, not $8 million.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 8:55am
Terrible piece. JIndal may have struck out on the delivery but the speech had substance. How can you defend the railray and the volcano money? Governor Jindal never said they were unworthy projects only that neither had anything to do with creating jobs or stimulating the economy. Ear marks and pork always have some meaninigful purpose but if you throw a stimulus bill and a volcano study have absolutely no place together and even an idiot would know that.
Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 9:21am
Unless Jindal's delivery improves greatly in the next two years he can forget about becoming President. I've been saying it again and again to all those around me that Sarah Palin will be the Republican Candidate in 2012. I have no doubt about it. Even the media outlets that hate her will back her against the other Republicans because she's such a dream story. Of course they'll turn on her as soon as she becomes the nominee.