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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- September 25, 2016

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – The first of the three 2016 Presidential debates is Monday night at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. Each candidate could have a make-or-break night in what is traditionally the most watched debate in the series. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Don’t ‘Cough-Up’ the Football!” – For Hillary Clinton, health is a big concern. I am assuming she’ll be rested and recovered from her pneumonia; but, if not, watch out. She had a terrible coughing fit at a campaign stop in Ohio a few weeks ago and has had hoarseness issues in other speeches. If that happens again, it will surely raise voters' concerns about her well-being.

“The Comeback” – On the other hand, being "down for the count" and having underdog status could help. In 1984, President Reagan had a wandering, unfocused debate performance in the first contest. Many worried he was too old for a second term; but, when he was asked about the age issue in the second debate, he quipped, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." The crowd laughed and so, too, did Mondale. The election was over that night. A strong Clinton performance could be similarly disarming.

“First Do No Harm” – In medicine, the Hippocratic Oath states,"First Do No Harm!" The same applies to politics. In 2008, many observers opined that Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin would be crushed by her vastly experienced opponent, Senator Joe Biden. Palin – while not stellar – made no gaffes and held her ground. Biden was a voice of experience; and, in the end, Biden won by his statesmanship. Yet, Palin was a winner, too, because she held her own in a debate where she was projected to be crushed. The lesson for Trump is to be confident, poised, and knowledgeable against someone who has far more debate experience.

“Be Presidential!” – The biggest rap on Trump this year was that he was not Presidential and not diplomatic. That all changed when he went to visit the President of Mexico. Trump looked every bit the part of a national leader, and gained a lot of traction against the sometimes flat-footed Clinton. He needs to reprise that performance. Most observers have high expectations for Clinton’s debate performance, given her years of political experience. Trump needs to counter that by coming across as competent and with the right temperament for the job. If he goes off on some odd tangent or rant, he will be his own worst enemy. He needs to remember this is a one-on-one debate, not the free-for-all chaos of 17 candidates in the original GOP debates.

“The Bush Bombshell” – It’s a matter the moderator must raise during the debate: President George H.W. Bush says he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton. There have been eleven U.S. Presidents in my lifetime, and I can’t remember another former leader casting a ballot for the opposition party nominee. Normally, endorsements – whether by newspapers or special interest groups – don’t amount to a hill of beans. But a former President’s blessing is gold, especially among an uncertain electorate. Only 43 people have ever held this job over the course of 230-plus years. Bush's is one vote - not a formal endorsement - but it carries weight!

“The Attacks” – The attacks have to have a laser-beam focus. There can’t be any nuance. The candidates must get right to the point. No one needs a political science lecture. Trump needs to say: “Hillary, they called for help in Benghazi, and you failed to respond!” and, “Hillary, the FBI Director said you were ‘careless and reckless’ with classified emails.” Clinton, in turn, needs to say, “Republican President George H.W. Bush is voting for me; what does that say about you, Donald?” And, “How can you manage the economy, when you drove four companies into bankruptcy?” They both need to be pointed, succinct, and harsh; and let the chips fall where they may!

“Third Parties?” – It disappoints me greatly to see no third party candidates on the stage, though that could still change in later debates. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green nominee Jill Stein have collectively polled anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the vote. The threshold for any one candidate to be on the debate stage is 15 percent in national polls. But how do you achieve 15 percent unless you have a forum where you can express your views and persuade an audience? The rigged, traditional two-party debates need to lower that threshold to anywhere from five to seven percent. Let people have a voice!

Who is your prediction for the winner for the first Presidential debate, and why? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- September 18, 2016

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – During all of the clamor this week about Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s health issues, a viewer suggested to me that Clinton was being held to a higher standard in the media simply because she was a woman. "Baloney!" was my response! The public and the media have frequently been obsessed with the health of our Presidents and candidates. Let’s “brunch“ on that this week:

“2016” – We’ve never before had a Presidential campaign where the nominees are this old. Donald Trump just turned 70, and Hillary Clinton will be 69 next month. Yes, with modern health care, maybe 70 is the new 55 (I hope so, for my own sake), but the public has every right to demand full disclosure and scrutiny of any nominee’s health report. It’s not a gender thing; it’s a full-public-disclosure thing in an age when so many candidates claim to run on a platform of transparency.

“The Joggers” – Yes, media scrutiny is now 24/7; and it wasn’t always that way. Still, two of our most recent Presidents were avid joggers, and when each collapsed during a run, the public was rightly concerned. President Jimmy Carter fell down while running in a race in October, 1979. President George H.W. Bush collapsed while running in May, 1991. Both events were widely covered in the press and raised speculation about whether each man was healthy enough to stay in office (which seemed counterintuitive since both were exercise nuts).

“Win One for the Gipper!” – Even before he took office as the oldest President, there were questions about Ronald Reagan’s health, and whether he could withstand the rigors of the White House (which are enormous). Two months into office, he barely escaped death by assassination; then he successfully survived colon cancer surgery. A “meandering” debate performance against Walter Mondale in 1984 raised questions again about Reagan’s fitness to serve and his mental acuity. He was under intense scrutiny; but each health challenge made him seem stronger – not weaker – in the public eye.

“The Past 24 Years” – Nearly every President in the past 100 years – from the term of Woodrow Wilson to that of Barack Obama -- has faced major health issues. It’s fascinating to note that the past three Presidents – Clinton, Bush II, and Obama - were relatively problem free. Yes, Clinton fought obesity and had open-heart surgery after leaving office; and yes, Bush II choked on a pretzel until he was nearly unconscious, but both Clinton and George W. Bush were free of health problems while in office. President Obama has had nary a worry, so maybe our Presidents are getting healthier, as we all live longer.

“The Heart of the Matter” – As I said, despite the relatively good health of the past three, they are the exceptions, not the rule. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had a massive heart attack, and many urged him not to seek a second term. Not long after Ike’s health scare, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson also had a massive heart attack. He recovered to become Vice President in 1960, and President in 1963, though he would be dead from heart disease by 1973, at the age of 64.

“Nixon-Ford” – Aside from a serious case of heartburn caused by Watergate, Richard Nixon had no serious health issues while in office. His successor, Gerald Ford, an All-American college football player and NFL draftee, was perhaps our most athletic President. But Ford had bad knees from football which occasionally showed, as when he stumbled down the steps of Air Force One, prompting the memorable “Saturday Night Live” parody. Still, this was a relatively health-worry-free era in the White House.

“Going Back” – One hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson was President. He was felled by a serious stroke; and - as we now know – his wife essentially ran the White House the last few years of his term. His successor, President Warren Harding, died in office just two years into his term. Presidents Coolidge and Hoover had no serious health issues we know of; but after them - and for the next 12 years - the country had President Franklin Roosevelt, whose myriad of health issues, including polio and heart trouble, were largely concealed by a sympathetic press.

“The Outliers” – Not only those who get elected, but all contenders for the highest offices have their health scrutinized. In 1972, Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) was removed as the Vice Presidential nominee after it was learned he had undergone electroshock therapy earlier in his life. In 2012, Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain underwent intense health scrutiny because he was in his 70s and because of the torturous five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“The Secrecy” – Look, I am not naïve. Health concerns were not always as open as they are today. The press knew in the 1930s and '40s that FDR was crippled by polio, yet by “handshake” agreement never released photos of him in his wheelchair or using arm and leg braces. Also largely obscured was the history of back surgeries and painkillers needed by President Kennedy as a result of his World War II injuries. In fact, the alarming facts we now know about the health of these two Presidents may be the reason why there is so much more scrutiny today.

“Why All of This Matters” – If people think Hillary Clinton is somehow being "picked on" or being held to a higher standard, they are badly mistaken. Except for the FDR and JFK histories noted above, the public and the press have been very vigilant and concerned about Presidential health for a long, long time. People want to know if their preferred candidate can stand the rigors of office. Mrs. Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia is serious business. On April 4 ,1841, our ninth President, William Henry Harrison, died of pneumonia after serving just 32 days in office. At 68, he was the oldest President ever to take the Oath of Office until Ronald Reagan. Again, with Clinton about to turn 69 and Trump at 70, the press and public have every right to be circumspect.

How concerned are you about the candidates' health? Just click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia@aol.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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