The Morning Jolt

White House

Don’t End the State of the Union out of Spite

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, January 30, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi inches closer to ending the State of the Union address as part of her fight with President Trump, the sea of change in American attitudes about bullying, and some advice from Kamala Harris that probably won’t work well for a certain congressman.

If You’re Going to End the State of the Union, Do It for a Better Reason than Partisan Animosity

Some Democrats will openly proclaim that Donald Trump is not legitimately elected president of the United States. Some are quieter about that belief but clearly it drives their actions, and a minority disagree with it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in that middle category. By requesting that the president either delay the State of the Union address or submit it in writing — effectively rescinding the earlier invitation to deliver it January 29 — she’s pushing for an end to an American political tradition. Whether you love the State of the Union or hate it — I wrote last year how most responses in the newspapers the morning after were prewritten to make the printer deadlines — the event is, next to inaugurations and funerals, our most formal ritual in American government. It’s been televised since 1947 and in prime-time evening hours since 1968. If we’re going to end this tradition, we ought to do it for a better reason than the speaker detests the administration and there’s a government shutdown going on.

The security explanation is nonsense, and everyone knows it. If the building would not be secure during the State of the Union address because of the shutdown, is it secure today?

Pelosi’s team is quite open about the fact that their actions are meant to demonstrate they have no respect for the president:

Surprised Democratic lawmakers cheered their leader’s rationale: If the government stays shut down, Pelosi would deprive Trump of the spotlight he craves. To a president especially sensitive to acts of disrespect — and one with a hearty appetite for pomp and circumstance — the so-called unvitation was not merely a ­power play. It was a calculated personal slight.

The advice “Respect the office, not the man,” and its variant, “Salute the rank, not the man” is good, honorable, and often difficult. Americans of various stripes have found this advice difficult during just about every presidency, and certainly every modern one. (Maybe William Henry Harrison wasn’t around long enough to really irk anyone.) Once one faction of a party ceases offering traditional demonstrations of respect, then others will — unless, like in the case of Joe Wilson’s shout during a joint address to Congress, there is broad bipartisan rebuke.

The State of the Union has gone on during times of war, deep recession, under threat of terrorism and with Congress contemplating the impeachment of the president. This is the speech that announced Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Bill Clinton’s “The era of big government is over,” and George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” The only time it was postponed was in 1986, after the Challenger disaster. Just because lots of addresses have been laundry lists of proposals that will never been enacted and saccharine applause lines doesn’t mean that these speeches have to be like this. We just need presidents and White House speechwriters to aim a little higher.

Now we’re going to toss the whole thing out because of the government-shutdown fight?

If a Democratic speaker finds reasons to indefinitely delay a Republican president’s address, then a future Republican speaker will find reasons to indefinitely delay a Republican president’s address. And one more aspect of our modern government will succumb to toxic partisanship.

A Few More Thoughts on that Gillette Commercial . . .

Caitlin Flanagan offers the most intriguing analysis of the Gillette ad: The commercial is a preemptive strike to head off criticism that women’s razors cost more, and with beards coming back in style for men, they’re trying to advertise to women without explicitly advertising to women.

Mona Charen argues that conservatives fell into a trap by criticizing the ad, calling it “a critique of bullying, boorishness, and sexual misconduct.” Yeah, but does bullying exist in America because suburban dads shrug at it from their backyard grills? (One can’t help but notice that the actual bullies in the commercial look barely old enough to shave.)

If you grew up in the 1980s and have kids now, you undoubtedly noticed that schools have undergone a phenomenal change in their attitudes towards bullying, and I suspect that the majority of parents reaffirm that zero-tolerance attitude. This is an indisputably good thing. In my school years, it always struck me as ludicrously counterproductive that if one teen punched another in school, he usually was punished with detention — which took him out of a classroom that he didn’t want to be in anyway. It was the opposite of a deterrent; you might as well give him free ice cream while he’s in the detention hall. But if an 18-year-old punched another 18-year-old on the street outside of school, he could be facing assault charges. For a long time, the attitude seemed to be that any act of violence committed inside a school should bring less severe consequences.

I keep coming back to the question of authority. The issues of #MeToo and men behaving badly are indeed critically important. I think if there’s been a male backlash, it’s driven by the perception of a blanket indictment of men driven by the actions of some extraordinarily powerful men, who held all of the “right” attitudes and were showered with praise in elite circles: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Les Moonves, and all the rest. Their ability to escape consequence was driven in large part by their wealth, power, and fame. They had no fear of a corporate human-resources department because in many cases the corporate human-resources department answered to them. As many observed, the fact that some gay Hollywood executive felt secure enough to go up and grope Terry Crews — the textbook definition of a big tough guy you wouldn’t want to mess with — demonstrated that the entertainment industry had a code of omerta that would make the mafia envious.

That’s light years away from the environment and lives of the average dads at the backyard barbecues or the average man. “Don’t be like Harvey Weinstein” is pretty condescending advice to men who have never been like Harvey Weinstein and will never have the opportunity to be like Harvey Weinstein.

Speaking of advice . . .

Uh, Congressman, I’m Not Sure She Meant You

Kamala Harris’ advice: “Don’t let anybody tell you who you are, you tell them who you are.”

Congressman Ed Case, Democrat of Hawaii: “I’m an Asian trapped in a white body.”

ADDENDUM: The New York Post uses a briefer version of my list of things to know about Kamala Harris. Today, I unveil 20 things you ought to know about Joe Biden.


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