SOTU Optics Hardly Help

* If I had been the Speaker of the House, I would have done what Nancy Pelosi did in tearing up her SOTU speech copy. Damn right. She had just sat through–prop-like–a braggadocios Celebrity Apprentice presentation after being blatantly snubbed on a pre-speech handshake. So she tore up a speech after Trump had completed another round of reality-shredding rhetoric in what had morphed into a “Four More Years” rally among sycophantic, Party First GOPsters. This “House of Shards” was an all-too-appropriate forum for going on a symbolic tear. In the context of one who rips the Constitution, this was nothing but a well-deserved, cutting gesture.

But I would still be wrong.   

However understandable and fist-bumpable as a visceral counter punch, it was not helpful. It reduced Pelosi, however briefly and inadvertently, to a perversely complementary act behind the ringmaster. Unfortunately, it will be used and re-used, sans context, as a Trump-rally meme. Optics matter, especially to the “Lock her up,” “Take her out” crowd. Historical archives will not be enriched by its certain inclusion. One has to believe that Michelle Obama, even during this dystopian administration, would still have advised her to “go high when they go low.” Even if AOC thoroughly approved.

BTW, isn’t it way past the time for some furniture rearranging for the annual SOTU speech? No matter who’s giving it. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump, the president shouldn’t be sharing a framed, necessarily distracting, TV shot with the vice president and Speaker of the House. Whether it’s Joe Biden or Mike Pence, Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi.

This is the president’s forum, and there will always be additional optics and cut-away response shots, but framing the VP and Speaker in the same shot–as they gesture or notably don’t stand or applaud in unison, is an unnecessary distraction. Even if the president is the distracter-in-chief.

* “Ignorance and despotism seem made for each other.” No, that wasn’t Nancy Pelosi. It was Thomas Jefferson.

* The Friday Night Firings: No one was surprised that the recently acquitted president ranted, raged and exercised knee-jerk retribution by summarily jettisoning those–including Lt. Col. Alexander Vidman, the war hero-Purple Heart winner–whose testimonies to the House underscored Trump’s political extortion involving Ukraine. It’s also a reminder of why there are Whistleblower laws requiring anonymity.

As for the ousting of Gordon Sondland, the million-dollar Republican donor who bought his position as envoy to the European Union: Call it karma. Just ask Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen or Jeff Sessions. Faustian deals can end this way–no matter what Rudy Guiliani thinks.

* Not that it’s a shock, but Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone GOPster vote for impeachment conviction, has been officially disinvited from this month’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference convention by CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp. Only Schlapp doubled down on the partisan retribution raining down on Romney by warning that Romney, were he to show up at CPAC, should be “afraid” for his “physical safety.” Yeah, that’s what it’s come down to these days. That’s also how an authoritarian’s surrogates communicate for the bully pulpiteer. But at least Schlapp didn’t advocate “taking him out.”

* “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” That was the president referencing Mitt Romney–not Mike Pence.

* This much we still know: Trump’s base is not enough to re-elect him. The 2018 mid-terms were a reminder that moderate suburban voters, especially women, can be difference-makers in several key states.  A crucial GOPster priority is to win back this demographic. But what, candidly, is still puzzling–despite the punditocracy’s analysis about anti-establishment, anti-elite, populist appeal and anti-Clinton sentiment in 2016–is how anyone defined as “moderate,” could have voted for Donald Trump in the first place. He had a track record, one that was as public as it was notorious.

* “We are part of the problem, as an institution that cannot see beyond the blind political polarization.” That was Alaskan Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, going candid.

* “I cannot vote to convict.” That was Sen. Lisa Murkowski, going along to get along.

* “It’s not a party. It’s a cult. (Trump) can’t be beat in the Republican primary.” The reason, explained former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, that he ended his Republican primary challenge.

* So Sen. Rick Scott is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the House to impeach an elected official. That will be hard; the constitution hasn’t been amended in a generation. Alas, it’s a lot easier to elect an impeachable president.

* “Race-baiting bigot.” That was Sen. Lindsey Graham’s take on Donald Trump before Trump became his unprincipled lodestar and presidential golfing partner.

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