Bobby Jindal has been selected to deliver the televised Republican response to Barack Obama’s February 24 address to Congress, which means Jindal will now be the subject of a wave of news stories hyping him as a rising national star.
Take it away, New York Times: “The Louisiana governor has become one to watch among those in the next generation of leaders.”
For Jindal, this will probably be the main benefit of his moment of in the spotlight. The content of opposition party responses tends to be forgotten by voters almost instantly (assuming it even registers with them in the first place), along with the identity of the speaker. It’s not quite the same type of exposure as a convention keynote address. But reporters will remember, which will ensure Jindal an even more prominent place in media discussion about the 2012 presidential race – a discussion he very much wants to be a part of.
What’s more interesting, though, is the evolution of the opposition party response into a one- (or, more rarely, two-) person showcase. It wasn’t too long ago that the out-of-power party had no idea what to do with the invaluable chunk of primetime that the television networks handed them every year. Interestingly, it was Bill Clinton who helped make this clear.
Twenty-four years ago, Democrats were reeling, victims just a few months earlier of a 49-state massacre at the hands of Ronald Reagan. If nothing else, the old actor was a brilliant showman, the first president to understand and master the medium of television, a skill he put to use annually in his State of the Union addresses. It was Reagan, for instance, who inaugurated the now-clichéd practice of recognizing “everyday” American heroes in the balcony.
From a technical standpoint, Reagan’s performance in 1985 was one his finest – a speech full of optimism, humor and devoutly patriotic themes delivered at the height of his popularity. There was little competition from cable television back then, so the audience was massive. Democrats, as was the custom, were given the chance to prepare a response. The current practice of anointing one spokesman to speak directly into the camera was not yet in vogue; instead, opposition parties would produce elaborate 20- or 30-minute video presentations shot in multiple locations. The Democrats’ ’85 version marked the beginning of the end of this custom.
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