Obama was fantastic - worlds better than his inaugural. He laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda of any Democratic President since LBJ, and did it so smoothly that you'd think he was just selling an incremental center-left pragmatism. I think that he has an acute sense - more acute than most people in Washington, probably - of just how much running room is open in front of him at the moment, and he intends to make the absolute most of it. Burkean temperament or no, this was not a Burkean speech by any stretch: It was the speech of a man seeking to turn a moment of crisis into a domestic-policy revolution, and oozing confidence from every pore along the way. Now all he has to do is find a way to pay for it ...
And Jindal - yeah, he was just as lousy as everybody's saying. As far as themes and messaging went, he basically chose option A on Ambinder's list - government isn't the solution; pork is the problem; etc. - and embedded it in a weak, sing-song delivery that I suspect left even the people who respond favorably to that message cold. Sure, responding to a Presidential speech is almost always a thankless, hopeless job - but shouldn't someone as smart as Jindal have recognized that, and either turned the opportunity down flat, or found a way to sound like something other than a kindergarten teacher delivering familiar GOP talking points? In the event, his speech was the capstone on a lousy night for conservatism: If that's the best the Right has to offer as a rebuttal to Obama, American liberalism is going to be running untouched down the field for years to come.
Douthat's mostly on-target here. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the stimulus bill Obama recently signed -- e.g., that it won't provide enough stimulus when it's needed most, that many of its provisions aren't likely to be temporary and will strain the long term fiscal picture, etc. -- but dogmatically opposing fiscal stimulus during a long recession (especially when monetary policy has already taken the Fed funds rate to near-zero) is bad politics and bad economics. The smarter approach for Republicans in Congress would have been to demand a more effective stimulus -- one with more temporary, fast-acting measures (e.g., more aid for the unemployed, a payroll tax holiday, a temporary tax credit to encourage businesses to move up capital spending to this year, etc.).
On the other hand, on the longer-term policy objectives President Obama listed in his speech last night (e.g., free college for everyone, etc.), a good economic case (though a more difficult political one) can be made to oppose them, or to offer more fiscally sustainable alternatives.
Governor Jindal is a Rhodes Scholar who has had a meteoric political career so far, so he ought to be smart enough to realize this. He has time to reposition himself as a "effective government" conservative and differentiate himself from some of the Republican leaders in Congress by offering intelligent, nuanced opposition to President Obama's liberal policies. Jindal's rebuttal last night was an inauspicious start though1.
1One small example was Jindal's mockery of volcano monitoring in his rebuttal last night. As Matt Yglesias asked on his blog,
What’s with the attack on “something called ‘volcano monitoring’”? Volcano monitoring is where they monitor volcanos. So as to better understand, better predict, and better prepare for natural disasters. Is that so complicated? Are only hurricanes worth responding to?
If you're going to pick an example of wasteful government spending, volcano monitoring doesn't seem like the best one (not that Sen. McCain got much traction last fall with his jihad against pork -- which, in the big picture, has little impact on the federal budget anyway).