Republicans turn to a new boy wonder in reply to Obama

Indian-American Governor of Louisiana is critical of President's recovery plan

By Leonard Doyle
Wednesday 25 February 2009 01:00

America was introduced to the latest boy wonder of the Republican Party last night. It was a coming out party of sorts for Bobby Jindal, 37, the Governor of Louisiana who was due to make a primetime televised rebuttal to President Obama's address to both houses of Congress.

The President's State of the Union-style address was perhaps the toughest challenge of Mr Obama's five-week-old administration, as he attempted to convince increasingly frightened Americans that his tax-and-spend economic stimulus plan is the best way to economic recovery.

Mr Jindal was due to speak from his office in Baton Rouge, emblazoning his name as the new voice of Republicanism while leapfrogging over such big-name personalities as Governor Sarah Palin and California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his fiercely sharp intellect and staunchly conservative fiscal views, Mr Jindal has been described as the Republican Party's "Cajun fried" solution to successive bouts of electoral humiliation.

After the thrashings the party received at the polls in 2006 and 2008, and with Mr Obama riding high in the polls, Republicans want to appeal to America's multicultural, yet conservative, younger voters while losing whatever remains of the "good ole boy" legacy. That Republican Party grandees asked the nationally unknown Mr Jindal – the son of Indian immigrants and the first non-white Governor of Louisiana since the Civil War era – to respond to Mr Obama reflects the rapidly shifting tectonic plates of United States politics. Not long ago, the party was openly embraced a race-baiting "Southern strategy" in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South to get out the white vote.

"The speech is very important ... His speech will put a face on the name and put a fresh face on the Republican Party," said Pearson Cross, a political scientist and close observer of Mr Jindal's ascent to national prominence.

Now Mr Jindal has eyes on being the first Indian-American president of the US and his televised address was seen as a warm up for a bid, as early as 2012.

Mr Obama has already taken note of the precocious Republican who expressed "fundamental disagreement" with the President's plans to jump-start the US economy with a vast tax and spend stimulus programme, while sanctimoniously expressing the wish that the plans for recovery succeed.

Governor Jindal has made headlines by sharply criticising Mr Obama's huge stimulus package; he has even threatened to refuse $100m in funds allocated to his state and bitterly complained about $50m to be spent on the arts.

It's "not apparent to me why [it] had to be in the stimulus package", he said, but added that his fellow Republican governors wanted to give Mr Obama "every opportunity" to succeed in restarting the economy.

At a White House dinner for governors, which Mr Jindal attended, the President retorted: "We'll have ample time for campaigns down the road."

Meanwhile, the veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins told CNN: "It's time for another generation to come into play. A lot of Republicans came of age under Reagan, which was 25 years ago... and we just haven't built on that with young people." He described Mr Jindal as a "young dynamic governor" with "appeal to younger voters".

Mr Jindal has been making the most of an opportunity handed to him on a plate. "Look, I think every American is incredibly proud by the President's personal story," he said before the Congressional address, "and I have been selected and honoured to give... the Republican response."

Before the address Mr Jindal said: "Here in Louisiana, we have first-hand experience with reforming government and cutting taxes to stimulate our economy... This is a terrific opportunity to talk about our great state to the nation."

Bobby Jindal: A brief biography

* Born Piyush Jindal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he calls himself Bobby after the sitcom character Bobby Brady in The Brady Bunch, a favourite programme when he was a child.

* Precociously bright, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

* Narrowly lost his first run for governor in 2003 but was quickly elected to Congress at age 33 – "the ultimate embodiment of the American dream".

* At age 36 he was elected governor of Louisiana in 2007, becoming the youngest US governor, the first Indian American elected to state-wide office in US history and the first non-European to be elected in the south since a black man, Pinckney Pinchback, served for 35 days in the 1870s in Louisiana.

* Born a Hindu, he is now a pro-life Catholic who favours pro-chemical castration for sex offenders. His religious makeover presents none of the problems faced by Obama, who was accused of being a secret Muslim.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments