Jindal defends GOP speech

Published 11:54 pm Monday, March 2, 2009

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Widely panned for his national TV address, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal offered his first defense of the speech Monday, saying he sticks by the message, while acknowledging shortcomings in his delivery.

‘‘Look, I get that people thought I could have spoken better. I get that. That’s fine … What’s important to me is the content. I’m a policy guy. You guys know that. I’ve always been a policy guy, always will be a policy guy. The ideas are important. The substance is important,’’ Jindal told reporters in the state Capitol, a day after returning from a family vacation.

The 37-year-old governor, regularly touted as a presidential contender, said he outlined a critical philosophical distinction between the views of Democrats and Republicans as he gave the national GOP response to Obama’s first address to Congress last week.

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Republican party leaders have touted the Oxford-educated Jindal, son of Indian immigrants, as the future of the GOP, generating lofty expectations for his debut national address. Jindal said he wrote the speech himself.

But the address has been the target of political commentators, comics and bloggers who called it amateurish and out of step with the American public. Some critiqued Jindal’s delivery as too ‘‘sing-songy,’’ and compared it to the late children’s television host Mister Rogers. Some critics asserted the speech — which was many Americans’ first view of Jindal — could have damaged the governor’s long-term political aspirations.

Jindal tried to deflect the criticism Monday and joked that many of Louisiana’s governors have received bad national publicity over the years, in a state often the butt of jokes for corrupt politicians.

‘‘Being compared to Mister Rogers is better than some of the other comparisons we’ve had here in the past,’’ Jindal said.

The governor said it was difficult to follow Obama, known for his impressive oratory, and said he tried to slow his pace because of past complaints that Jindal’s rapid-fire speaking style is tough to follow. But he insisted his message was important.

In the speech Tuesday, Jindal criticized Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package as laden with unnecessary spending added by a Democratic Congress. He talked of the need to cut taxes and limit government spending at a time when polls show a majority of Americans are looking to the federal government to reverse the economic downturn.

Jindal defended those positions again Monday, despite criticism from political commentators — both Democratic and Republican — that the speech was too simplistic and offered few new ideas for battling the country’s economic woes.

‘‘Our children and grandchildren have to pay that debt back. It’s important to get control of that spending in Washington,’’ he said.

Jindal called ‘‘a diversion’’ the claims that his criticism of government spending was hypocritical because he continues to push for hurricane recovery spending, particularly money to repair levees in the New Orleans area damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The governor said the federal government failed to design and build the levees properly, so the federal government should repair them to the promised standard and help the state recover from the resulting damage.

‘‘I think that is a simple concept: You break it, you buy it,’’ Jindal said.

And despite the repeated criticism over the last week, the Louisiana governor refused any suggestion he might hire a speechwriter.