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Jindal on Failure

I attended the first half of last night’s National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington, bolting (with about half the press corps) after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave a mulligan speech addressing how the party should oppose the president. Phil Klein nails the feeling in the room.

While the crowd reacted positively, their applause was much more tepid than I would have expected given that he’s still considered one of the rising stars in the party. Public speaking, as far as I can tell, is not one of his political strengths.

Jindal’s goals were to 1) do better than his Obama response speech and to 2) engage with the press and the base on the question of whether Republicans really wanted the president to “fail.” Jindal called this “political correctness run amok” and argued that Republicans only want the president to fail if his agenda is hurting the country. But this part rang hollow:

The very Democrat leaders who are now asking this phony question, are the ones who for so long wanted to see the last President fail, regardless of the issue, and regardless of whether he was right or wrong.

This is Limbaughism, and it’s both partially untrue and rhetorically tricky. At the start of George W. Bush’s presidency, he won major Democratic support for two of his big initiatives—Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on tax cuts, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on education. After Sept.11, of course, Democrats fell completely in line with Bush on the war on terror, giving him honeymoon political support that lasted for months. At the end of Bush’s presidency, it was Democratic votes (including that of then-Sen. Barack Obama) that passed the Wall Street bailout — not the action of a party that wanted the president to fail, even as they blamed his party for the crisis.

The “regardless of whether he was right or wrong” bit of this is, of course, nonsense — can any Republican name an instance of Democrats opposing Bush when they thought he was right? They’d probably cite some Iraq War votes, but it’s re-writing history to say that Democrats opposed the war, or the funding, or the surge, out of hope that Bush would fail. The Democrats who voted “no” on the war didn’t think it would work. They opposed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because he was a failure, and opposed the surge because they thought it would fail. In retrospect they were right on the former and wrong on the latter. But it’s a stretch to accuse them of acting in bad faith. They believed what Jindal now says Republicans believe: “That they are completely wrong, and that their path will have dire consequences for not only this time, but also for the future of America.”

The Jindal speech (text here) was the latest step in the evolution of a rather interesting political figure into one who knows what he must say, true or untrue, to win over the national GOP base.

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