"We are not quitters"

A combative Obama blasts irresponsible CEOs and the deficit he inherited while promising, "We will recover."

Published February 25, 2009 12:00PM (EST)

Surrender, Bobby Jindal! That's what I hoped somebody was saying to the opportunistic Louisiana governor before he had to answer President Obama's stirring speech tonight. This was the combative, feisty, populist Obama I wanted -- probably mistakenly, since he won -- to see during the presidential campaign.

Yes, there was a lot for liberals to cheer about, but some of the things that moved me most in Obama's speech were beyond ideology. I loved the way he -- and everyone else there – hugged Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back from pancreatic cancer surgery. It was great to see his impressive, fabulously diverse Cabinet together, all glittery with optimism. I am glad he told America's children that "dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country -- and this country needs and values the talents of every American."

But he backed that up, and made it more than a matter of personal responsibility, by singling out young Ty’Sheoma Bethea of Dillon, S.C., who wrote a letter seeking help for her dilapidated public school. “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself," Bethea wrote. "We are not quitters." Are you listening, Mark Sanford? In the balcony above, Michelle Obama hugged Bethea, and I had new hope we might finally pay attention to the scandal of our public schools.

But sure, I loved Obama's bashing irresponsible CEOs and and his unmistakable criticism of his Republican predecessor. He showed rare and genuine anger at the combination of corporate mismangement and government bungling that led to both the credit crisis and the ineffectual TARP that failed to solve it. "This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet," Obama promised. "Those days are over." He railed against the days when "a surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future," and pledged to keep his promise to repeal the Bush tax cuts.

The less said about Jindal's address, the better. What a clueless self-promoter. God bless him and his family for their hard work and success, but to compare his own story to Obama's was tone-deaf. Even sillier, bordering on scandalous, was his decision to use Hurricane Katrina as an example of why government can't be trusted. Bobby, Katrina is why Americans believe Republican government can't be trusted. There's a difference. He also accused Obama of wanting to impose "government-run" healthcare, which is a lie.

That's all content. When it comes to style, I'm sure the other GOP 2012 contenders were happy watching Jindal tonight. He sounded like a pitchman on an infomercial, and when he got really wound up, a little bit like Kenneth the page on "30 Rock." MSNBC's Chris Matthews let out an audible groan of "Oh God" when Jindal strutted out, and his reaction was prescient.

Speaking of Matthews, I'll be on a special edition of "Midnight Hardball" tonight at 9/12. Yes, it's like midnight basketball, it keeps the troublemakers off the streets. I might have more to say later.

By Joan Walsh

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