Focus On POTUS

* If the State of the Union speech is that important, at least symbolically, then it deserves to look like it. With the focus on POTUS–no matter who that is. The president needs to be the center of attention. Literally. Even this one. It’s his scripted take on the state of our union–from economic report to legislative agenda and national priorities.
To that end, let’s clean up the optics of tradition and get rid of that backdrop of de facto distraction represented by the seated presence of the Vice President and Speaker of the House who share the TV frame with the president. Whether it’s Mike Pence and Paul Ryan, Joe Biden and John Boehner, Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi or Al Gore and Newt Gingrich. They can’t help weighing in with inevitably partisan body language and gestures that range from approving nods and haughty smirks to standing ovations and seated discordance. We’ve seen it too often.
It just so happens that matters are made worse right now with Pence and Ryan, the fawning sycophant and the smug sellout, who are beyond off-putting because they’re doubling down on all that Trump represents and embodies.
No, we don’t have to go back to the early American tradition of a president simply submitting a written report to Congress–however tempting that might seem right now. But we can still take the proper, communication-friendly approach and keep the president, whoever he or she is, appropriately spotlighted.
* Parallels between Donald Trump and the Russia probe and Richard Nixon and Watergate keep coming. High-profile investigations, obstruction of justice scenarios, impeachment talk and antagonistic personalities will yield that. Nixon’s base lionized his tough guy mien, his “moral majority,” take-no-prisoners rhetoric on the anti-war long hairs and his adversarial references to the media. And he had the backing of the Republican establishment–until he no longer had it.
But such analogies typically ignore a basic reality. Nixon, at least, was not unqualified to be president. He was a Navy vet, a Duke Law graduate, a former congressman who served in both the House and Senate and a two-term, Cold War vice president under Dwight Eisenhower. Comparing him to Trump, without underscoring this reality, is unfair to Nixon.
“Tricky Dick” would appreciate the irony.
* Speaking of, uh, foreign meddling, in some ways it looks like others may have gained on the U.S. in today’s 24-7, cyber world of mass communications. Back in the Cold War 1950s and ’60s, the CIA not only had key media operatives helping out, but it also had the capability of placing items directly on the wire service (AP, UPI) tickers as part of its regular propaganda apparatus. Not only has communication evolved, so has “fake news.”
* This Hillary Clinton quote still resonates. May it never reach its ultimate resonance. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
* The new, highly hyped tax law, as we’ve been hearing, will be adding about $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade. Remember when that alone would have stoked outrage and worse among Tea Partiers?
* The Trump effect, as we know, is hardly limited to this country. The rhetorical ripples range from North Korea to Great Britain. From foe to friend. We’ve also seen–and heard–the impact from the parts of Europe most immigrant averse, such as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. And check out this quote: “I have come to the conclusion that many politicians and journalists have inferior intelligence compared to normal people.” That was Czech Republic President Milos Zeman seemingly channeling Donald Trump.

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