Before going downhill fast, Bobby Jindal started badly in his nationally televised Republican response to President Obama the other evening.
The young Louisiana governor began by extolling his own heroic biography. This is a prerequisite in American presidential politics, an arena in which Jindal was aiming to play until he gave this speech.
You need to be a man from Hope or have a father from Kenya or a storied war record or a moose on your wall or a former president for a daddy and experience as a Yale cheerleader.
So here came Jindal, a Republican favorite of the moment because he is young, new, not of European descent and Ivy League-educated at Brown. This makes him the GOP answer to Obama, or so the superficial current Republican political thinking goes.
Jindal walked oddly to his mark in front of a microphone, then proceeded to explain by way of his introduction to America that he was in his mother's womb when his folks came to America from India. His daddy couldn't get health insurance for his birth. So his daddy worked out an installment payment plan with the doctor.
"Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment," Jindal said.
Fortunately for him?
I overheard a woman ask the relevant question: "What were they going to do? Repossess him?"
It was silly, nonsensical, as was everything that cascaded from Jindal's mouth from that point forward. He talked too fast, too flatly and with painfully stilted gesticulation.
And the style was much better than the substance.
It was altogether so bad that people had serious conversations later about who it might have been deep in the Republican Party who had set Jindal up like that. Was it a Romney agent, a Palin agent or a Huckabee agent?
And why didn't Jindal, if he's such a rising star, show enough sense to say something different and in another setting and much closer to 2012 while much further from a bravura Obama speech inviting an instant comparison that Jindal couldn't possibly win.
This was Jindal's message, and I kid you not: He said government was not the solution.
We'll remind him of that if another seismic hurricane hits his state and FEMA forgets to respond.
We wonder who built the levees that made New Orleans inhabitable.
We wonder who's providing Medicaid and food stamps to the solid fifth of the population of Jindal's state that lives below the federal poverty rate, the second-highest such rate in the country. These are the people in whose behalf Jindal talks about turning down stimulus money to burnish his right-wing bona fides.
How would Jindal attempt to rescue this failing American economy? Would he let the markets prevail and the big banks fail? Would he let GM and Chrysler file for bankruptcy and throw much of the upper Midwest out of work? Would he have all the doctors repossess all the babies whose parents had no health insurance?
What's Bobby Jindal's better idea? I guess he'd cut our taxes and give us all an Ayn Rand book.
Actually, I would advise the young Louisiana governor to take heart.
I remember that day more than 20 years ago when another acclaimed and ambitious young Southern governor introduced himself to the nation with a speech that, until Jindal's the other night, was the worst in recorded American television history. They actually cheered that night at the Democratic National Convention when, in his nominating speech for Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton said, "In closing."
They said he was finished. They said you live in American politics by first impressions.
Surely this means Bobby Jindal will be our next president. And what a journey that will have been for a kid born on credit.
John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.