The best evidence that Gov. Bobby Jindal does not plan a career in national politics is a negative inference: his speaking style, which he has changed little in four years of statewide office.
Jindal is nothing if not a political animal. But a smart political animal or at least his consultants and aides would have learned something after Jindal’s 2009 debut on the national stage in a widely panned response to President Barack Obama’s first message to Congress.
Our loquacious governor recently got some at least tepid reviews from his appearance at a New York State Republican dinner. Reporters talked less about what he said than how long he said it.
To the point that two veteran politicians, behind him on the schedule, joked about being short and to the point.
However, there was another speaker at the New York event: Newt Gingrich.
The former speaker of the U.S. House praised Jindal publicly. “He will eventually be a great leader for the entire country,” Gingrich said.
That’s not small praise, and in the season of vice presidential speculation, the national press is full of interest in Jindal for good reason. Columnist George Will called him a serious policy figure, akin to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., another potential pick of Jindal’s generation.
In its list of potential running mate picks for nominee Mitt Romney, Reuters called Jindal “a major voice in the conservative movement and (who) could help Romney patch up relations with a base that was reluctant to choose him during the long, bitter primary fight.”
Reuters said a downside is that Jindal might be “too timid a pick for the attack-dog role the vice presidential candidate often plays.”
David Frum, in an opinion piece for CNN, suggested Jindal. He also noted his policy smarts and his appeal as an Indian American.
However much there is to these arguments for Jindal as a nominee, the fact is that he may not be ready for prime time if he continues to deliver 45-minute speeches where a 15-minute speech is required.
A consultant team faces a difficult problem with intelligent and highly ambitious candidates.
It’s a fine line between an encouraging sycophancy when times are tough and stern coaching when candidates think they’re doing great, and don’t want to change their ways.
All this may be pointless speculation, and let’s face it: Today’s vice president, Joe Biden, could give Jindal a lesson in expansive public addresses.
We should also remember that another Deep South politician once roused a crowd to its feet with a single phrase: “In conclusion, …”
That was Bill Clinton at the 1988 Democratic convention.
Four years later, he was running the convention, and could talk as long as he wanted to.
The difference between Clinton and Jindal: the former’s professionalism. Clinton worked diligently on becoming a better speaker, even while in the White House.
Further, he had practice at using speech writers, a habit that requires adjustment of the politician to the writer at least as much as the familiarity of the writer to the politician.
That Jindal appears indifferent to the problem might not hamper his future career, or not even be a deterrent to being on Romney’s ticket this year.
But one of these days, somebody’s going to have to be able to tell him when an audience is whipped beyond its limit.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is email@example.com.