Friday February 14, 2020 21:38

Pelosi's Polarizing Pantomime and the State of Disunion

The State of the Union address has been analyzed ad nauseam and the standard interpretation goes something like this:

(1) Pelosi insulted Trump by shortening the traditional introduction and saying "I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States";

(2) Trump gave Pelosi a copy of the speech;

(3) Pelosi extended her hand;

(4) Trump ignored it;

(5) Pelosi withdrew her hand and winced, or flinched, or grimaced.

(6) Pelosi fidgeted during the speech and ripped it up at the end. Later, she said she'd been provoked by Trump's refusal to shake.

The putative offer and rebuff are shown at about 2:16 of this clip.

The occasion was always likely to be dramatic and on that score it exceeded expectations. Pelosi had been a leader of the impeachment and Trump's trial in the Senate was ongoing, although acquittal was certain and imminent.

Trump and Pelosi were fully aware of the dramatic context and weight of the occasion and each one must have had a strategy. Trump's was to ignore the impeachment as though it hadn't happened and he wasn't being tried, without going as far as feigning warmth toward the Speaker. Congressional Republicans behaved normally, standing and clapping at every obvious point while the Democratic contingent generally stayed seated and looked scornful.

What had Pelosi planned to do? Introduce the President perfunctorily but then offer the hand of friendship? That would be schizophrenic. Did she offer her hand by way of apologizing for the chilly introduction? That seems unlikely. Was she playing everything by ear? That seems utterly ridiculous.

Did she engineer a rebuffed handshake to justify the pre-planned ripping up of the speech? Call me cynical but that would explain the wince/flinch/grimace that called attention to the thing and would fit with the chilly introduction.

In any event, Trump's strategy seems to have worked better than Pelosi's. Republicans have been giddily intercutting scenes of the tear-jerk moments with scenes of Pelosi ripping the speech up. And even Peggy Noonan, a staunch NeverTrumper and heretofore a big fan of Pelosi's, had these critical words:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

She introduced him rudely, without the usual encomiums. Oh, snap.

The classy lady was not classy. She forgot she has a higher responsibility than to her base, but—yes, how corny—to her country, the institution, the young who are watching and just getting a sense of how to behave in the world.

Noonan thinks Pelosi has lowered herself to the level of the unworthy Trump, but not everyone agrees. One benefit of blogging is being able to blend in with coffee shop furniture while eavesdropping and I struck paydirt when two stylish suburban matrons spent an hour absolutely gushing over Pelosi's display of contempt. In their eyes, she'd been too restrained and something more extreme would've been even better. So if nothing else, Pelosi's core supporters are stoked. Maybe that's what she wanted to accomplish. (But nah....)

Meanwhile, in an alternative universe, Trump and Pelosi actually did shake and Pence joined them. Imagine such a thing, and then try squaring circles.



Read 1225 times Last modified on Monday March 09, 2020 20:38

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