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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

When Politicians (Sometimes) Understood That Honesty Is The Best Policy

Let me be blunt, please: Most of us ink-stained wretches in the political press corps are complete suckers for candor from politicians when speaking about themselves. Candor can truly be disarming.

Early in the first Reagan term, on Aug. 19, 1981, in a major incident, two Libyan fighter jets attacked two U.S. Navy F-14 fighter jets over the Gulf of Sidra in the Mediterranean Sea. Understanding orders to fire if fired upon, the Navy pilots — in a dogfight lasting just one minute — shot both Libyan jets down. His White House staff chose not to wake President Ronald Reagan, who was sleeping in California and was not informed until some six hours later, when he awakened.

This report led to renewed questions about the president's age and possible disengagement from his own administration and his duties as commander in chief. Reagan, who, frankly, did occasionally nod off at less than scintillating briefings, silenced most critics with this rejoinder: "I have left orders to be awakened at any time during national emergency ... even if I'm in a Cabinet meeting."

Equally appealing to the cynics on the press bus was presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who, when asked why he had shifted during the South Carolina primary from calling the Confederate flag "a symbol of racism and slavery" to instead maintaining he "understood both sides," publicly confessed his regrets: "I had not just been dishonest." He subsequently admitted: "I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interest from my country's. That was what made the lie unforgivable."

Confession is not only good for the soul but also good for favorable press coverage, which McCain would prove during his presidential campaign when asked what he saw as his own imperfections and defects. Believe me, this is a question which ordinarily elicits from candidates the most self-serving verbal oatmeal, such gems as, "I admit I'm a perfectionist" or, "I sometimes work too hard at the job and shortchange my personal responsibilities."

McCain admitted and accepted full responsibility for the failure, after his five-and-a-half-years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, of his first marriage and added that he had been a lousy student, finishing fifth from last in his graduating class at the United States Naval Academy and admitting that, yes, he did have a quick and bad temper. Americans are mostly grown-ups who know that none of us, most especially those pursuing the presidency, is without sin and serious flaws.

When Republicans controlled the U.S. House, the Senate and the White House, just four short years ago, and were predicting a quick and easy "repeal and replace " of President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner gave the press and the public, to say nothing of his fellow GOPers, a dose of candor: "In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time, agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once." That was true then and is still true today.

Just maybe Walt Whitman knew something about the weaknesses of those with a press pass when he wrote: "All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor."

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

When Republicans Tell The Truth (And Think It’s A Joke)

My friend Mark Russell, the wonderful American humorist, had an ironclad prediction:

The results of the 2020 Census will show that more than 215,000 Americans, in the coming year, will reach the age of 100, and Russell adds, "All of them will have valid Florida driver's licenses."

The unreelected 45th president is (sadly) that rare human being with neither an embarrassment gene nor a sense of humor. A sense of humor usually indicates perspective in its possessor. Our two most previous presidents, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, both of whom were reelected, were not afraid to laugh publicly at their own perceived problems or shortcomings.

Bush, the 43rd president, was clearly comfortable poking fun at himself: "Those stories about my intellectual capacity do get under my skin. You know, for a while, I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, 'Intelligence Briefing.'" Acknowledging his frequent mispronunciations and fractured syntax, Bush said. "You know what Garrison Keillor said: 'George Bush's lips are where words go to die.'"

After former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani had asserted, "I do not believe President Obama loves America," and then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker added that he didn't "really know whether Obama loves America," President Obama offered the following rejoinder. With Walker sitting only a few feet away from him, Obama responded: "Think about it, Scott. If I didn't love America, I wouldn't have moved here from Kenya." Conceding that his White House years had noticeably aged him, Barack Obama publicly remarked, "I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be."

If this does not seem important, then just remember that when President George W. Bush ran successfully for reelection — the one and only Republican to do so since 1984 — against then-Sen. John Kerry, the consensus judgment was that Kerry won all three debates against Bush, and public opinion polls revealed that voters judged Kerry to be more intelligent and knowledgeable than Bush. Asked, given those facts, how Bush won, the respected Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart explained, "Voters value 'I like' over IQ."

Contrary to popular lore, not all political scandals take place in Washington, D.C. Not that many hours' drive from where we are right now, in a state prison, one convict turned to his cellmate and said, "You know, the food was a lot better here when you were governor."


Hands down, the year's award for Daring to Admit the Ugly Truth goes to former Trump Budget Director and South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney when he exposed the Republican inconsistencies on federal spending: "My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House. The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president. Then Donald Trump became president and we're a lot less interested as a party."

Happy new year.


To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Alabama Republicans Rebut The Myth Of White Superiority

By way of introduction: Tommy Tuberville is the new Republican U.S. senator from Alabama.

He was previously a successful college football coach at the University of Mississippi, Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Auburn — where his team six times defeated their powerful in-state rival, the University of Alabama. Tuberville — with the strong endorsement of President Donald J. Trump and after a campaign in which, after first announcing he would meet his rivals in public debates, he refused to debate either his primary or general election opponents and did not hold open press conferences or announce his scheduled campaign appearances to press or to the public — still won 60 percent of the vote in November to defeat the Democratic incumbent Doug Jones.

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Younger Voters Elected Oldest President, And Other 2020 Observations

Joe Biden won the White House, we are reminded almost daily, on his third try, having run unsuccessfully in both 1988 and 2008.

It's funny; I can't recall, having covered the 1980 presidential race, much ever being made of the fact that that year's winner, Republican Ronald Reagan, also won on his third White House run.

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Why Those White Working Class Votes Still Matter

Joe Biden has reason to be proud; in the last 107 years, only three American presidential nominees have managed to defeat an elected, incumbent president who was seeking a second term. Let history show that the winning trio were all politically gifted leaders who became successful presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

That is fairly awesome company for Regular Joe to be joining. But Democrats already impatiently waiting for "Hail to the Chief" to be played for one of their own would be wise to confront a sobering reality from the Nov. 3 returns: White, working-class men who represent 1 out of 3 presidential voters and who formed the electoral backbone of the winning coalitions that elected FDR, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy preferred Republican Donald Trump, now of Mar-a-Lago, Florida, over Joe Biden, a son of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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Patriotism On Full Display —By Chickenhawks Like Trump

Mick Mulvaney was a four-term Republican congressman from South Carolina with a reputation as a hawk on government spending in 2017 when President Donald Trump chose him to be director of the Office of Budget and Management, the nation's top fiscal officer. Mulvaney held that position until December 2018, when Trump named him "acting" White House chief of staff , a position he held until March 2020 when the president replaced him with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows.

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Presidential Debate Questions I Would Ask

The political shadowboxing before presidential debates is cleverly choreographed. Take the 2000 contest between then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. Before that year's first general election debate, the Bush team did a superb job of lowering expectations for Governor Bush by emphasizing to reporters what an experienced and superb debater Gore was. So, when Bush more or less held his own in the opening debate, the Texas governor got a lot of the "better than expected" press coverage his campaign had all the time been angling for.

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He Showed Us How To Run A Presidential Debate

What do presidential candidates George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney all have in common? On the biggest night each of their political careers, when they — live and on national television without teleprompters or prepared texts — were being scrutinized and judged by up to 80 million of their fellow citizens on their fitness to be president, all of these men agreed to accept and to trust journalist-anchor Jim Lehrer to moderate their presidential debate.

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People Will Never Forget How Biden Makes Them Feel

The "post-game" analyses of the 2020 Democratic National Convention have gone on for longer than the convention itself. Critics continue to weigh in on whether Barack Obama or Michelle Obama was the more effective speaker and whether Joe Biden, in his 24-minute acceptance speech (remarkably brief by historical standards), put to rest questions about Sleepy Joe.

But all that, to me, is beside the point. What matters most is what poet Maya Angelou once said: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." Three separate pieces over four days had to make you, if you were a sentient human being, feel better about Joe Biden.

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The Missing Voters Who May Doom Trump In November

Political polls elicit predictable reactions from the candidates being polled. The campaign of the candidate trailing in the poll almost invariably invokes history: "I, for one, am grateful that Christopher Columbus didn't take a poll before he bravely sailed off in search of a New World. He never would have left the dock" or, "Thank goodness George Washington and his cold, hungry and out-manned troops at Valley Forge didn't listen to the pollsters, or you and I today would still be bowing and curtsying before the queen."

And the candidate who is leading in those same polls also has a script to follow, which typically goes like this: "Encouraging as these results may be, any poll is nothing more than a snapshot in time. We'll just continue to work harder to earn the confidence of the hardworking Americans we seek to serve." Which is often followed by, "We all know there is only one poll that counts, and that is the real poll on Election Day."

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Voters Have Decided — And They Don’t Want Trump

By now, Republican officeholders are daily and in ever-increasing numbers coming up with reasons why they will be unable to attend the late-August GOP convention in Jacksonville, Florida. In every campaign year, everything is a poll — who shows up and who doesn't when your candidate comes to town; who elbows in for the picture with the standard-bearer as opposed to who suddenly remembers that he and his family have an unbreakable appointment with the hometown taxidermist about stuffing the late, beloved family hamster.

Looking at the most respected national polls conducted in the month of July, we see that President Donald Trump, in the matchup with former Vice President Joe Biden, is winning 40 percent, 41 percent, 40 percent and 37 percent of the national vote. Yes, a poll is only a snapshot in time of attitudes and judgments, not set in stone. But the emerging reality is clear: A majority of American voters have decided that they really do not want Trump to be their president for the next four years.

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Remember 1988? Don’t Be Too Quick To Believe Polls

New York Times/Siena College has Democrat Joe Biden at 50 percent and Republican President Donald Trump at 36 percent; CNN has Biden at 54 percent and Trump 36 percent; Fox News has Biden at 50 percent and Trump at 38 percent. These recent national polls have left Democrats almost giddy with anticipation. But before Democrats put the champagne on ice, they would be wise to remember the prophetic words of an authentically wise Texan. Former Gov. Ann Richards said, on July 3, 1988, on CBS's "Face the Nation": "July does not a November election make."

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The Night RFK Showed America What Leadership Means

History can be cruel. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was unquestionably America's most prominent prophet and practitioner of nonviolence, was followed by riots, arson and looting in 168 American cities and towns. The numbers are staggering: 2,600 fires were set; 21,700 people were injured; 2,600 were arrested; 39 were killed. One city that was spared all that in the days following King's murder was Indianapolis.

Credit for that must be given to the citizens of Indiana's capital city and to its leaders, both black and white, and also to a remarkable American political leader, who, on that April night in 1968, delivered the news of King's death to an Indianapolis rally of mostly African Americans.

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Are Democrats Smart Enough To Take Yes For An Answer?

Here's the fail-safe test for whether a political party is growing and strengthening or shrinking in size and prospects: Is that party spending its time, energy and effort seeking, recruiting and welcoming converts to its ranks, or is that party instead hunting down heretics within its ranks and, in the name of political purity, banishing them to some outer darkness?

Because American politics is always a matter of addition, not subtraction, the convert-seeking and convert-welcoming party is healthier and almost always has the better prospects of winning the November general election. Republicans understood that well in 1980 when the GOP presidential nominee openly courted and embraced converts, even giving them very own designation as Reagan Democrats. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the future Democratic nominee told the nation: "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America." Thus did Barack Obama become the first Democrat in 12 presidential elections to win 53 percent of the national Vote.

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Trump Picks A Fight With Obama That He Can Only Lose

It is a common, if not especially honorable, practice in American politics for a candidate and her campaign to prefer to run not against their actual opponent on the ballot but rather against the most unpopular caricature of the opponent's party. That explains why Democrats, for close to three decades after the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt crushed Republican Herbert Hoover by 18 percent in the popular vote and carried 42 of the then 48 states, continued to run against "Herbert Hoover Republicans." Ignored was Hoover's humanitarian record during World War I, when through his leadership, 7 million Belgians were rescued from certain starvation.

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Trump Is Losing Badly — So Prepare For The Distractions

As you probably already knew, the next six months of 2020 presidential campaigning are going to be ugly. I do not say this happily, but I do so based upon a lifetime of watching candidates run for election and reelection. Almost invariably, politicians return to what worked successfully in previous campaigns.

Consider the most recent presidential election of 2016. When exit polls across the nation asked actual voters whether their opinion of the two candidates was favorable or unfavorable, their answers were Donald Trump 38 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and Hillary Clinton 43 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable.

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This President Knows…Television!

Somebody close to President Donald Trump could, in a burst of candor, tell him that he does not know everything to be known about the history of the filibuster in the United States Senate — or even the origin of the infield fly rule in Major League Baseball.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, should ever dare to suggest that this president has not completely mastered everything there is to know about American popular television. Lest we forget, only one American president, before he came to office, was the host/star/dominant personality for 14 years of a network prime-time TV show, which, in its debut season, actually averaged 20 million viewers a show. That was Donald Trump's The Apprentice.

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