The Policy of Speak Softly May be Dead -- Sunday Political Brunch-- May 20, 2018


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Political discourse is loud these days, as witnessed by all the negative, campaign attack ads for the past few months in the 2018 primary election states. President Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy was, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” But over 100 years later, I wonder if his approach is now antiquated. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Speak Softy? NOT!” – President Trump is not Teddy Roosevelt by any stretch. Maybe Trump’s slogan should be: “Speak boorishly, and crudely, and carry a big stick!” I’m not making a negative judgement here, but rather am wondering if it’s a good approach in the modern age. During the campaign and first year of the Trump administration, I thought that the excessive and provocative tweeting should stop. It didn’t and it appears here to stay. Maybe we just need to recognize a new era in diplomacy, whether we like it or not, just as we recognize new ways to communicate that we don’t like.

“Jerusalem” – Consistency from campaign promises, to electoral success is something that voters like. If you ran on a policy, don’t change your mind once in office. We’ve seen “bait and switch” too many times in our lifetimes. Whether you like President Trump, or not, you’ve got to concede that for the most part he’s trying to hold true to campaign promises. He said he’d recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel and move the U.S embassy there, and he did. Yes, there was ensuing violence; but, campaign promise made, promise fulfilled.

“Iran” – The same campaign-to-office consistency that applies to Jerusalem, also applies to Iran. Candidate Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal – and now President Trump has followed through. Again, you may think it’s a bad decision, but he gets points for sticking to what he pledged.

“Rigidity vs. Flexibility” – On the other hand, it’s one thing to be consistent, but what if on further reflection you change your mind? In 1988 Vice President George H. W. Bush ran on a pledge of, “Read my lips. No new taxes!” and he won the White House. By 1991, facing a recession, he in fact raised some taxes and it cost him reelection. Is it okay to change your mind? I ask, because in at least the North Korean instance, President Trump has.

“North Korea” – While he held his ground on Iran and Jerusalem, President Trump has done an about-face on North Korea. While the North lobbed wayward missiles, Trump essentially said he’d blow the nation off the map if the threats continued. Somehow, somewhere (I suspect China) Kim Jong Un has agreed to meet President Trump on June 12 in Singapore, and may give up his nuclear arms program (although turmoil in recent days suggests it may not happen). Either way, I mention it because clearly Trump has shown diplomatic flexibility.

“Where’s the Wall?” -- Another area where promises may not equal performance is on the southern border wall with Mexico. Yes, the President has directed the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to expand existing border walls and fences, this is by no means the start-to-finish border wall he promised. Of course, the answer lies in the funding. Unless Congress approves the entire budget to build the wall, it probably won’t happen. In a midterm election year, many marginal Republican House members and Senators probably want to steer clear of this until after November. That’s the reality of politics.

“Hey Joe, Speak Softly!” – The “speak softly and carry a big stick” line has had some humorous modern takes. Then Vice President Joe Biden tried to use this line to show President Obama’s toughness on foreign policy. What was meant to be a compliment, went viral and became an internet hoot! Judge for yourself:

“Primary Colors” – Four the second straight week four states held primary elections: Pennsylvania, Idaho, Nebraska, and Oregon. There were no surprises in the latter three, but Pennsylvania remains intriguing. The state was under a Congressional redistricting plan that could lead to several Democrats taking currently Republican held seats in November. Right now, it’s hard to tell in a state Trump won in perhaps the biggest upset of 2016. Nationwide Democrats need to gain 25 seats to win back the House in 2018. In Pennsylvania, as many as six Republicans seats may be up for grabs, and it’s interesting to note that progressive (liberal) candidates beat moderates in many primary races.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He is currently the Chief Political Report for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, five surrounding states and Washington, D.C.

What do you think of President Trump’s foreign policy so far? Just click the comment button at

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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