In spill response, Obama has his Jindal moment 

Democrats have found that 16 months is a political eternity.

It was just that long ago that President Obama gave his first address to a joint session of Congress to thunderous, often bipartisan, cheers.

Obama's speech, which laid out a jaw-dropping agenda for his first year in office, is also memorable for the awfulness of the Republican response to it.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was tapped to give the rebuttal. The GOP, shattered by their 2008 rout and exhausted from a years-long defense of George W. Bush, glommed on to Jindal like a bankrupt man to a rich relation.

It was a time when Republicans found the whiteness of their leaders unbearable in comparison with the first black president. It was just a month after Republicans had ditched their party chairman, Mike Duncan, in favor of the "urban-suburban hip-hop" approach of Michael Steele.

Plus, Jindal had one of the few good storylines available to Republicans. After losing the presidency, 21 House seats and eight Senate seats, the successful, corruption-busting 37-year-old son of Indian immigrants looked pretty good.

Jindal bombed. Democrats cackled.

Jindal's hollow sounding delivery in the darkened main hall of his official residence made him seem like an Audio-Animatronic character on Disney's Haunted Mansion ride.

It was so bad that Republicans winced and then hung their heads on panel shows while liberals compared Jindal with Kenneth the page from "30 Rock."

Liberals laughed so loudly because they believed Jindal's dud was evidence that not only was the great Republican hope for the era of Obama ruined but that the whole party was kaput. The GOP was going to be, in the buzz phrase of that moment, "a small, regional party" limited to the South. Republicans would, at best, become a loyal opposition.

Triumphalism in politics is always a mistake.

As it turned out, Obama managed to both frighten the center and disappoint the left with his overlarge agenda and leadership that is as tentative as his rhetoric is bold.

The one part of the president's agenda that was enacted by Congress, a national health care program, took too long, came at a terrible political expense and is only considered a success by a small minority because it will so ruin the existing system that it will necessitate later, more effective reforms.

And now, the president finds himself the captive of a so-far unstoppable oil spill that reinforces Democratic fears that Obama was all talk and gives everyone else reason to doubt his competence.

The burst of early spring rah-rah partisanship that followed the passage of Obamacare has been drowned like an oil-slicked ibis.

The coming elections look to be a season of pain for Democrats. We've seen the polls and know that Republicans are fired up, Democrats are dispirited and independents are desperate for the change they thought they were voting for in 2008.

It looks quite possible that Democrats could lose twice the number of House seats they picked up two years ago. There will be lots of expectations setting over the next four months. Democrats may say anything short of a 70-seat sweep is a GOP loss, but don't be fooled.

Democrats, who controlled the commanding heights just 16 months ago, are preparing for an ugly, negative campaign season aimed at so disgusting voters that incumbents can survive in low-turnout elections.

On that February night when Obama soared and Jindal sank, few could have imagined how fast the tables would have turned.

This week it was Obama who was haunting his mansion even as Jindal was hitting his stride.

Jindal looks like a man who knows how to wield executive power -- calling out the National Guard, pushing hard against the feds and BP and never wringing his hands.

Remember that it was Jindal who started the drumbeat for Obama to meet with the BP bosses. The White House resisted for weeks, but finally caved on Wednesday.

Obama had to resort to an Oval Office address to try to stop his poll numbers from leaking away like BP crude, and ended up looking small and alone behind that great big desk.

He summed up his message by saying of America's future: "Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there. We know we'll get there."

Actually, Mr. President, folks tuned in with hopes that you might tell them how.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com.

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt

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Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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