Green New Deal; Democrats' 'Sit-In'; Press Club First

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Good morning, it’s Monday, February 11, 2019. On this date 37 years ago a new presidency began in our nation’s capital, and Ronald Reagan seemed especially pleased about it. Let me quickly add that it wasn’t Reagan who was inaugurated the night before. He’d become the 40th U.S. president a year earlier. Reagan did, however, administer the oath of office to the other president, whose name was Vivian Vahlberg -- the first woman to lead the National Press Club.

A 33-year-old deputy bureau chief for three Mountain Time Zone newspapers (The Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City Times, and the Colorado Springs Sun), Vahlberg had fun with the ceremony, as we’ll see in a moment.

Looking back on those festivities, the contrast with the mood of spring dinners hosted by the media today is stark. It’s a comparison that does not necessarily reflect well on our time. Before exploring that idea, I’d direct you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, where we aggregate stories, videos, and columns spanning the political spectrum while providing an array of the latest survey data, along with the RCP poll averages. We also offer a complement of original content from RCP’s staff and contributors:

* * *

Weak Rollout of the Green New Deal. Bill Scher writes that the Democratic initiative was not ready to be unveiled, drawing criticism for being both too vague and too sweeping.

Democrats’ “Sit-In” Is a Stain on Their White Coats. Frank Miele takes a dim view of the opposition party’s resistance posture during the State of the Union address.

A Loaded Gun in the Hands of Lawyers. In RealClearPolicy, Charles Duan assails dubious intellectual property lawsuits, which can put defendants out of business because of legal costs alone.

Shining a Light on the Navy’s Troubled Acquisition System. In RealClearDefense, Kevin Eyer warns that the procurement process is riven with contradictions and conflicts. 

Dolittle Raid Was a Needed Morale Booster. In RealClearHistory, Steve Feinstein reprises the daring aerial gambit designed as to rally support in Britain and America during World War II. 

RealClearLife Debuts Author Interview Feature. Ariel Scotti has this Q&A with Erin Hosier about her memoir of father-daughter abuse, “Don’t Let Me Down.”

* * *

On Feb. 10, 1982, President Reagan brought his wife, Nancy, to the National Press Building two blocks from the White House for the installation of a new National Press Club president at its annual black-tie dinner. This wasn’t considered unusual: U.S. presidents had been closely associated with press club since its founding. And if you were from Oklahoma, as Vivian Vahlberg was, the organization’s 1982 dinner was the social event of the season.

The entertainment that evening included skits, country and western numbers, and -- with help from two college opera stars from Oklahoma City -- hits from the Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” A bipartisan crowd graced the head table and the ballroom. Among those in attendance were members of the Reagan administration and Republican Sen. Don Nickles as well as Democratic Congressmen Dave McCurdy, Glenn English, and Mike Synar.

By then, the National Press Club had come a long way, baby, from its roots as social club of (male) scribes devoted mainly to playing poker in private.

Here, according to the press club’s official history, are its origins:

It all began on a cold, blustery February day in 1908 when a one-legged reporter for the old Washington Times by the name of Graham Nichol crossed 14th Street on crutches and met a colleague, James Hay.

“I’m getting tired of having to hunt a stuffy, ill-ventilated little hall room in a cheap boarding house every time I want to play a game of poker,” Nichol exclaimed. “Hells bells, why don’t we get up a press club? A place where the fellows can take a drink or turn a card when they feel like it.”

Almost from its inception, the club became a place where luminaries, including U.S. presidents, liked to hang out. As the members rented permanent clubhouse space, celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt, Charlie Chaplin, and Andrew Carnegie came by to have a drink. So did President William Howard Taft, and his GOP frenemy, Theodore Roosevelt. Warren G. Harding, whom I wrote about on Friday, was a former newspaperman who had actually voted in National Press Club elections. Woodrow Wilson was the first president to give a formal address at the club.

Two months before he assumed the highest office in the land, Harry Truman played the piano at the press club while Lauren Bacall hovered above him, her legs dangling provocatively beside the wartime vice president, a publicity shot that, when Bacall died in 2014, the New York Times dubbed the “first viral selfie.”

By then, the club had long ago orchestrated construction of the National Press Building (Calvin Coolidge laid the cornerstone). But if women like Bacall were welcome to entertain troops as part of a USO show hosted by the club -- or speak at is newsmaker luncheons, as Eleanor Roosevelt did in 1938 -- they weren’t welcomed as members until 1971, long after the creation of the Women’s National Press Club.

Eleven years later, pioneering female journalist Helen Thomas welcomed President Reagan to the dais as the evening’s headliner at Vivian Vahlberg’s inaugural dinner. As he began his remarks, Reagan quipped that he’d been Vahlberg’s second choice as a speaker -- that she really wanted Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Not true,” Vahlberg murmured to the crowd, while pointing to Reagan: “First choice.”

Reagan also noted that both presidents had inherited fiscal difficulties in their respective organizations (Vahlberg was about to oversee a $45 million renovation of the National Press Building) but mostly the president kept things light. “I understand the oath of office has been revised to fit the special nature of tonight's occasion, so it may sound a bit unfamiliar to some of the veteran members,” Reagan deadpanned. “Vivian, stand by -- this isn't really binding, so you don't need to hold up your right hand.”

As the audience realized what was happening, laughter broke out in the ballroom and Reagan  adopted the tone of a country preacher:

“Dearly beloved,” he began, “we are gathered together this evening under the slightly bleary eyes of the membership to join together this, shall we say, newsperson, in unholy matrimony with the office of president of the National Press Club. If anyone knows any reason why this ceremony should not take place, forget it. You've already voted and it was unanimous. The chair having heard no objections, we'll proceed.

“Do you, Vivian, promise to love, honor, and obey the constitution of the National Press Club, to cherish it always, in sickness and in health, through deficits and remodeling, ’til politics do you part? Do you promise to uphold the sacred traditions of the card room, the billiard room, and the tap room and to brave the slings and arrows of outrageous board and membership meetings? “Most of all, do you promise to keep the National Press Club a warm and vital place where writers, reporters, newsmakers, and other questionable types meet to formally and informally exchange views, ideas, and plain good fellowship, to maintain what is finest in its past and work to build its future as a major world news center? If so, please signify by saying, ‘I do.’”

“I do,” said a beaming Vahlberg.

“All right then, Vivian, as a retired journalist, as a proud member of the National Press Club, and as the chief executive of another Washington concern with deficit problems, I now pronounce you president of the National Press Club.”

Ad-libbing a bit, Reagan added, “What I don't know is, Vivian, do I kiss the bride?” Then, spotting Nancy Reagan on the stage as the audience cracked up, he said, as if to himself, “You'd better kiss her.”

“We’ll just shake hands,” he said to Vahlberg, who replied, “OK,” -- a fitting punctuation point to an evening when a woman from Oklahoma played her part in advancing American history. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.



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