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Let’s be honest about ice cream.
Yes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let her guard down when she showed off her ice cream collection and well-stocked royalty-class refrigerator on national television.
After all, it’s a presidential election year and she holds the most powerful office of any Democrat in Washington. So, faster than you can say “Nancy Antoinette,” President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign put up recent TV ads branding her as just that.
Taking off on the legend that Marie Antoinette, bride of France’s King Louis XVI, supposedly responded “Let them eat cake” to the news that the peasants needed bread, the Trump campaign ad attacked her for blocking coronavirus aid.
[ Column: Take tribal politics out of coronavirus shutdown debate, and think about the guy in line at the food pantry ]
Lifting footage from her recent interview by CBS “Late Late Show” host James Corden in her kitchen, the ad juxtaposes happy footage of her showing off her favorite ice creams in her very expensive freezer with very sad footage of poor Americans struggling to get food to put in their own refrigerators.
The ad offers a textbook example of how images can be used in ads to provoke an emotional response based on distorted reality — and Republicans ran with it.
Her Republican counterpart and fellow Californian, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, slammed her for supposedly being more interested in her frozen desserts than in moving funds to replenish the Small Business Administration fund for loans to businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic. “The only problem here is Democrats are denying the ability for small businesses to get their loans from the SBA to pay their employees,” McCarthy told Fox News’ “Bill Hemmer Reports.”
“I only have one refrigerator,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted sarcastically about Pelosi’s double-wide kitchen behemoth. “I will give you all the ice cream I have, Madam Speaker, if you fund small business and stop holding it hostage.”
California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes cried foul, assuring us that no leading Republican would be able to get away with, well, owning lots of ice cream in a “$24,000 freezer?” Yes. “We would boot (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell or McCarthy out of leadership just like that,” he said, and accused the media of giving Pelosi a free pass.
Well, over in the media sector occupied by “The View,” panelist Meghan McCain criticized Pelosi for falling into a media trap. “In this specific moment (during the pandemic), optics are narratives,” she said. “I don’t make the rules of politics, this is just how it works.”
She’s right, although my reaction was echoed by her liberal fellow panelist Joy Behar: “Let’s go to Trump Tower,” said Behar, “and see what kind of refrigerator he has.”
Indeed, in the political Twitter-sphere and punditocracy, as media guru Marshall McLuhan declared way back in the pre-internet era, “Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing.” What you don’t see in the fireworks over Pelosi’s ice cream are the quiet but effective negotiations she was conducting with Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to achieve something Trump says he loves: a good deal.
After blocking two coronavirus rescue packages pushed by Republicans — and surviving blasts of criticism — Democrats won hundreds of billions of dollars in concessions aimed at helping people previously overlooked.
At almost $500 billion, the final measure ended up at almost twice the size and scope of the bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tried to rush to passage without negotiations two weeks earlier.
Democrats won $320 billion in new funds to that depleted small business loan program, which was about $70 billion more than the infusion that McConnell sought. That included $60 billion that Democrats requested for smaller community lenders which have the toughest time acquiring loans from the bigger banks.
Democrats also won $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for COVID-19 testing, which may well be the most needed, yet most poorly funded or supplied, aspect of the pandemic fight. Along with funds for testing, the bill mandates the Trump administration to build a strategy to help states step up the deployment of tests throughout the country.
The measure doesn’t cover all ills, by any means, but Pelosi and her party won a lot more than ice cream. Political trolling and other election year shenanigans are inevitable in our democracy. But taking our frustrations out on Pelosi’s ice cream? That’s a fridge too far.
Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/pagespage.