Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Tuesday Morning White House Correspondent Hot Links

I'm still getting adjusted to having to leave the house by 6:25am this week. Hot Links will return at a date to be determined. That said, Bill Kelly, Director of Government Relations for Mayor Sylvester Turner, was at the White House yesterday for the 2022 World Series Celebration, and filed this report late last night.

When Lyndon Johnson suddenly became President in late November of 1963, he quickly decided to focus all his political capital on a civil rights bill. When advisors said risking it all on such a divisive topic - though noble and needed - LBJ was quick to remind them he knew about power.

“Then what the hell is the presidency for?” He demanded.

For anyone who has ever worked in government, visiting the White House is more than just the federal executive’s recognition of an achievement. You are literally sitting in the seat of power, standing shoulder to shoulder with people who the entire nation are acknowledging. You are getting time with the Chief Executive - the leader of the free world - who scripts the narration of this national notice. 

Being included today in an East Room ceremony gave me a sense of history, a pride and appreciation of accomplishment, and a reflection of the people who actually made it happen.

The Astros players entered a packed East Room and filed into position. These men regularly take the field as the center of attention as tens of thousands of in-person fans stand to applaud along with millions more watching them on video feeds. There aren’t many times where their entrance is not the main event.

But when the President of the United State follows you on stage, with Jim Crane and Dusty Baker in tow, the importance of the moment became clear.

The national attention and honor was being given to our hometown baseball team by our President.

Much of what happens was expected - in this case a Baker/Biden “old dudes get it done” vibe and well timed jokes. The thanks given to the fans and an appreciation for the championship accomplishment was acknowledged by everyone who has paid for a ticket to a game.

But today’s event went off script, specifically and intentionally by the President.  After reading off the teleprompter for his introductory remarks, the President decided to have a human moment when he got to the part about the Astros work for the community of Uvalde.

He turned toward the players to make sure the intended audience was clear that he meant to thank them - not for winning the World Series - but for trying to put back the world of students and families who had their lives shattered.

The President said that he had spoken to each and everyone of the families of the shooting victims. He emphasized “each and every one.” While people can disagree with the President’s politics or policies, he unarguably posses a powerful empathy and compassion for those who have experienced loss.

In speaking to how the team - and really the entire Astros organization - had embraced the Uvalde community, the ceremony just hit different. This was not a “good on and off the field” line. It was a recognition of how powerful an outsized influence professional athletes can have.

Personal interactions with players like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Over 3,000 Uvalde students and family members sitting in Minute Maid Park. New gear for area baseball team.

Sure, that’s to be expected - but the difference was that everyone recognized that this community needed help, and the men who just dominated the MLB could almost provide it. While all of the above experiences might just be a distraction from the permanent trauma inflected on this rural community - just thinking about something besides the shooting was a precious gift few could have given.

Biden talked about how the human to human interaction these players provided and what it meant to a group of people consumed by unimaginable grief. Whether you call it faith, or hope, or even just a distraction, when the people of Uvalde are with the Astros, they were away from the awful - even if they were destined to go back.

Biden has often spoken of the suffocating, paralyzing gravity of grief. And the power to pull the focus from that horror is an even greater force than what Yordan supplied in his epic shot to center in Game 6.

Of all the handshakes and selfies, of all the pomp and history, the real recognition was that the most powerful man in world thanked the best baseball team in world for trying to support the fallen worlds of these families. That is what I will remember most.

That is what I was most proud of my team for today. Not sweeping the Mariners and Yankees. Not for the no hitter in Game 4 of the World Series.

No, it was the that fact they are using their fame and attention for good - and for the people who needed it most. And that use of power was recognized by our current President, and on behalf of our nation, he thanked them for not being super human, but for just being human.

Besides, what the hell is winning the World Series for if you don’t use that power to help people who need it?