“The Sunday Political Brunch”—March 5, 2017
Sunday, March 05, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor
It’s never a dull moment in the world of politics, and this past week was no exception. President Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, and there is certainly a lot to chew on. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:
“A Different Donald” – I have no qualms about saying it was the best political speech Donald Trump has delivered to date - hands down. I am neither endorsing nor condemning the policies here; instead, I am critiquing the style and tone of the speech. The address was organized, thematic, structured, disciplined, emotional - when it needed to be - and dignified, yet with a challenging tone at times. It was the most “un-Trump” speech he has ever delivered. After his harsh and provocative convention acceptance speech and his Inaugural address, this was quite a departure.
“What is ‘Being Presidential?’” – As I’ve often said, trying to define “Presidential” is just like trying to grab a handful of Jell-O – it’s an elusive quality. But here are some likely traits: confident, yet with humility; respectful of the dignity, traditions, and history of the office you represent; compassionate; respectful of your opposition; strong (emotionally and politically); resolute; firm, but fair; knowledgeable, yet with an open mind to learn (aka, don’t be a know-it-all); and deferential to the expertise of others. I could go on. It’s a tapestry of traits. Whether you agree or not with his policies, this was probably the most “Presidential” Mr. Trump has appeared through the course of the campaign and now his time in office. Will it last? Stay tuned.
“Who Remembers?” – Quick! Name the most memorable line from last year’s final State of the Union Address from President Obama! Or, what was President George H.W. Bush’s most memorable moment in his four addresses? Who was President Clinton’s most memorable gallery guest? What? Cat got your tongue? Don’t feel bad; you are not alone. The State of the Union or joint session addresses are more political pep rallies than they are policy roadmaps. Few – if any – ever result in meaningful laws being passed, or policies being implemented.
“The Opposing Response” – I am of two minds on this. My gut says get rid of the opposing party response; my brain says that - in the interest of trying to show fairness - we need to continue it, potholes and all. It’s always awkward and forced. Remember Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), grabbing the water bottle for an odd gulp a few years back? You knew instantly that it would soon be a Saturday Night Live skit! This year it was former Governor Steve Beshear (D-KY) with a whole host of stiff, frozen, “Hollywood-extra" types, awkwardly sitting behind him. “I’m a proud Democrat, but first and foremost, I’m a proud Republican, and Democrat, and mostly, American,” Beshear said. Huh? The opposition response just never works for either party.
“The Immigrant Crime Victims” – Certainly the most controversial and contentious policies of the new President are with regard to immigration. He has made a point of showcasing U.S. citizens who have been the victims of crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants. On Tuesday night, some of the victims’ family members were in the gallery. Three of the survivors of murder victims were African-American. Clearly, the President is trying to get beyond the perception that he cares only about white people. It underscores his point and the issue if he shows the impact of illegal immigration on a diverse population of victims.
“Jewish Community Centers” – Noting that it was the final day of Black History Month, the President called out those threatening and attacking Jewish Community Centers, and other bias crimes. "Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting [of Indian victims] in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms," Trump said. This should silence those who call Trump a Nazi, but some will likely persist.
“Blame it on Obama” – If the speech had a low point, I thought it was the veiled criticism President Trump leveled at President Obama’s performance over the past eight years. Look, that works and is fair game on the campaign trail; but we do have something of a tradition in this country where Presidents don’t bash their predecessors once in office. It’s about “politics stopping at the water’s edge” and preserving a respect for the office itself, while not demeaning the previous occupants. I just found the tone jarring and unnecessary since Obama’s not the President anymore. But, as I’ve said often, U.S. politics is now in uncharted territory.
“Trump’s Dilemma” – By so many accounts – yes, from Republicans, and even from many Democrats – the President made a very forceful and passionate speech before Congress. He looked and sounded Presidential. It played well in the 24-hour news cycle. The problem for him (and many politicians) is that good news has a very short shelf-life, akin to that of a loaf of bread. Within days, the controversy about Russia and Attorney General Jeff Sessions dominated the headlines. The bottom line: It’s tough to get and to sustain positive momentum in the nation’s capital.
“What Have You Done for Me Lately? – Politics is a “What have you done for me lately” business. People want a policy payoff. Anyone can read a teleprompter and give a good speech. It’s quite another thing to deliver bills that Congress will pass that have a positive outcome for the public at large. President Trump has touted immigration reform, job creation, and repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) as top priorities. But where are the bills? Unless legislation is introduced in Congress – that gains traction, and ultimately an affirmative vote - then all we’ve seen and heard are empty promises.
What do you think should be the number one legislative priority of the Trump administration?