Politics

Bobby Jindal’s Burden: Will Voters Want Another ‘Skinny Kid With A Funny Name’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Bobby Jindal is delivering a lecture, and I’m nodding off. We’re at the Heritage Foundation where he is set to release his new energy plan, and the Louisiana governor keeps throwing around acronyms: “LNG” (for liquefied natural gas), “OCS” (for outer continental shelf) and “RFS” (for Renewable Fuel Standard.) WTF?

I wonder if this is reserved for the think-tank crowd, or if he goes through life using abbreviations that 99 percent of his audience doesn’t understand.

Just as I’m about to check out, it’s time for the Q&A (which, I learn stands for “question and answer”) — and I’m relieved, because this is where he shines. Answering questions allows the wonky wunderkind to display his knowledge in a way that is organic and (since he’s being put on the spot) more impressive than scripted remarks. He also turns out to be quick-witted and funny. I secretly fantasize about being the strategist who figures this out just in time for Iowa, bans Bobby from ever uttering another word that isn’t in response to a voter’s question, and then helps take him all the way to the White House.

The reverie is interrupted by polite applause. It’s over. But a little meeting has been arranged for a handful of center-right journalist types.

It’s important to know that, despite popular belief, political writers tend to be more jaded and cynical than average folks — and for good reason: We are around politicians and this familiarity has a way of diminishing their allure. This is generally a good thing; you wouldn’t want writers to be too enamored of politicians they cover.

Still, the truly great pols have a magnetic charm that can temporarily overcome this force field. Even as you realize they’re bullshitting you, a candidate who possesses that elusive “It Factor” can still be charming. (If you’re working for a presidential candidate, you want everyone he encounters to have the same look in their eyes that a love-struck young man has upon seeing the object of his affection).

Jindal lacks this quality, and I’m not sure anyone can manufacture it.

Still, sometimes this can be overcome, if everything else is in line. But here, too, I wonder about Jindal’s positioning. And this is based on his own political analysis of the 2016 race. “[W]e tend to elect people…who address some of the shortcomings of the person who came immediately before them,” he tells us.

“[A]fter the Clinton years,” he continues, “George Bush famously campaigned on bringing integrity and character back to the oval office. [And] after eight years of President Bush, some said that they were looking for more eloquent President Obama, that he had these flowering speeches? I think after eight years of this president, I think voters are going to be looking for competence.”

And my initial thought is this: If voters are going to be looking for the opposite of Obama, why would they turn to another young intellectual promising to be more competent than the last guy. On top of that — and this is even less fair, and more superficial — how likely are they to be stylistically in the mood for another (as Barack Obama described himself) “skinny kid with a funny name?”

I nod off again. And my thoughts drift to this: I wonder what Chris Christie is up to?