How other presidents spent their Fourths of July

President George W. Bush smiles as he poses for a group photo with military personnel during his visit to U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.  on July 4, 2006. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Through history, the Fourth of July has been a day for some presidents to declare their independence from the public. They’ve made tracks to the beach, the mountains, the golf course, the farm, the ranch. In the middle of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was sailing to a Hawaii vacation.

It’s also been a day for some presidents to insert themselves front and center in the fabric of it all, as Donald Trump plans to do Thursday with his speechifying and showmanship. Teddy Roosevelt drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands for his oratory and Richard Nixon enraged the anti-war masses without even showing up.

In modern times, though, presidents have tended to stand back and let the people party. George W. Bush had a ceremony welcoming immigrants as new citizens. Barack Obama threw a South Lawn barbecue for troops. Trump’s plan to command center stage with his words and American military might has the capital cleaving along political lines.

As the anti-Nixon demonstrations of 1970 showed, Independence Day in the capital isn’t always just fun and games. It has a tradition of red, white and boo, too.

And when protesters make their presence felt Thursday, that will be as American as the cherries and milk that apparently soured Zachary Taylor’s gut when he wolfed them down July 4, 1850, and died five days later.

A look at what some presidents have done on the Fourth of July:

1777: On the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, with the Revolutionary War underway, future president John Adams describes a day and night of spontaneous celebration in Philadelphia in a letter to his wife, Abigail. After hours of parading troops, fireworks, bonfires and music, he tells her he strolled alone in the dark.

“I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise,” he writes, “and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly houses were dark; but the lights were very universal. Considering the lateness of the design and the suddenness of the execution, I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendour of every part of this joyful exhibition. ”

1791: Two years after becoming the first president, George Washington celebrates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “with an address, fine cuisine, and walking about town,” says the National Park Service . Philadelphia was the interim capital as Washington, D.C., was being readied; Lancaster had hosted the Continental Congress for a quick, on-the-run session during the revolution.

1798: Now president, John Adams reviews a military parade in Philadelphia as the young nation flexes its muscle.

1801: Thomas Jefferson presides over the first Fourth of July public reception at the White House.

1822: James Monroe hangs out at his farm in Virginia.

1826: Adams, the second president, and Jefferson, the third, both die on this July 4.

1831: James Monroe, who was the fifth president, dies on this July 4.

1848: James Polk witnesses the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument with Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, attending. A military parade follows.

1850: Zachary Taylor attends festivities at the grounds of the Washington Monument and falls ill with stomach cramps after eating cherries and drinking iced milk and water. He dies July 9. A theory that someone poisoned him with arsenic was debunked in 1991 when his body was exhumed and tested.

1861: Abraham Lincoln sends a message to Congress defending his invocation of war powers, appealing for more troops to fight the South and assailing Virginia for allowing “this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders.” He vows to “go forward without fear.”

1868: Post-war, Andrew Johnson executes a proclamation granting amnesty to those who fought for the Confederacy.

1902: Teddy Roosevelt speaks to 200,000 people in Pittsburgh. He liked to get in people’s faces on the holiday.

1914: “Our country, right or wrong,” Woodrow Wilson declares at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

1928: Calvin Coolidge (born July 4, 1872) goes trout fishing in Wisconsin.

1930: Herbert Hoover vacations by the Rapidan River in Virginia.

1934: Franklin Roosevelt is in or near the Bahamas after leaving Annapolis, Maryland, on a monthlong voyage and visit to Hawaii via the Panama Canal. On July 4, the U.S.S. Houston’s log refers to the “fishing party” leaving the ship for part of the day.

1946: With World War II over the year before, Harry Truman relaxes in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains at Roosevelt’s Shangri-La retreat, later renamed Camp David.

1951: With the U.S. at war in Korea, Truman addresses a huge crowd at the Washington Monument grounds, marking the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

1953 and 1957: Dwight Eisenhower = golf.

1968: Lyndon Johnson, who favored his Texas ranch on the holiday, speaks in San Antonio about the lack of independence for the poor, minorities, the ill, people “who must breathe polluted air” and those who live in fear of crime, “despite our Fourth of July rhetoric.”

1970: Richard Nixon, in California, tapes a message that is played to crowds on the National Mall at an “Honor America Day” celebration organized by supporters and hotly protested by anti-war masses and civil rights activists. Tear gas overcomes protesters and celebrants alike, Viet Cong flags mingle with the Stars and Stripes, and demonstrators plunge into the reflecting pool, some naked.

1976: As the U.S. turns 200, Gerald Ford speaks at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, then Independence Hall, and reviews the armada of tall ships in New York harbor.

1987: Ronald Reagan, at Camp David, makes a straight political statement in his July 4 radio address, pitching an economic “bill of rights” and Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. On a Saturday, it served as his weekly radio address, which he and other modern presidents used for their agendas.

2008: George W. Bush, like several presidents before him, hosts a naturalization ceremony. More than 70 people from 30 countries are embraced as new citizens.

2010: Barack Obama brings 1,200 service members to the South Lawn for a barbecue. The father of a July 4 baby, Malia, he would joke that she always thought the capital fireworks were for her.

2012: Obama combines two Fourth of July traditions — celebrating troops and new citizens — by honoring the naturalization of U.S. military members who came to the country as immigrants.

2017: Trump goes to his golf club, then hosts a White House picnic for military families.

2018: Another White House picnic for military families, with thousands also invited to see the fireworks.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Presidents and disasters: A volatile mix

President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The politics of natural disasters can be tricky for a president.

Long before President Donald Trump tossed paper towels to storm-stricken Puerto Ricans and denied Hurricane Maria’s official death toll, his predecessors struggled to steer the nation through life-and-death emergencies.

To project empathy without looking weak. To show both command and cooperation. To put the focus on victims — but provide leadership, too.

A look at how presidents have grappled with the challenges and opportunities of disaster politics:

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TRUMP

Trump is not known for shows of empathy and relishes fights he thinks will resonate with his core supporters.

That includes a bitter and lasting brawl with Puerto Rico in the year since the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria. He also has grappled with getting it right in ruby-red Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey, which dumped nearly 50 inches of rain near Houston.

Trump’s first post-Harvey trip to Texas generated blowback for his failure to meet with victims of the storm. Four days later, he returned — and urged people at a Houston shelter to “have a good time.” He also cheered on volunteers and emergency workers and handed out hot dogs and potato chips to residents. Some critics said the president’s trip took on the tone of a victory lap for successful disaster management.

Trump has had trouble keeping facts right about the devastating storms under his watch.

In June, Trump said on a conference call that the Coast Guard had saved thousands of people while Houston was under water, including what he suggested were hurricane gawkers. “People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well,” the president said. There is no indication the Coast Guard rescued foolhardy storm watchers drifting off the Texas coast.

Then there’s Puerto Rico, flattened by Maria as a Category 4 storm nearly a year ago. Trump pumped two fists in the air when he landed in San Juan last October. The enduring image was of Trump at a San Juan church lobbing paper towels into the crowd as if shooting baskets. At the time, it seemed to reflect Trump’s brand of playfulness. Many people in the crowd smiled and raised their phones to record the moment. But critics quickly dubbed it inappropriate for the massive, grim crisis at hand.

A year later, the official death toll from the storm stands at 2,975. Even as Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas this week, Trump rejected that count and griped that it’s the product of Democrats trying to make him “look bad.” He also tweeted that San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, is “incompetent.”

“The victims of Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico in general do not deserve to be questioned about their pain,” said Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

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OBAMA

On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and became the costliest storm in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie invited Democratic President Barack Obama to view the storm damage, and when the president arrived, the two shared a friendly, widely photographed greeting. At one point, as the two shook hands, Obama put his left hand on Christie’s right shoulder. The resulting image was derided by some conservatives as a “hug” — and a potential re-election boost for Obama when he was being challenged by Republican Mitt Romney.

The storm is blamed for 182 deaths and cost about $70 billion in New Jersey and New York.

It was one of several natural disasters that gave Obama the opportunity to play the traditional role of comforter-in-chief.

A year earlier, a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, with winds up to 250 mph and claimed at least 159 lives. Obama visited the moonscape of rubble and tree stumps, and delivered an emotional memorial service speech in which he told the stories of heroic efforts by individuals during the storm.

“It’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place,” Obama told the crowd.

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BUSH

President George W. Bush, praised for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, stumbled during what proved to be the government’s inadequate response to deadly Hurricane Katrina four years later.

Heading back to Washington after nearly a month on his ranch, Bush had Air Force One fly over part of the devastation, giving him a view of it from high above. The moment was preserved in photographs and generated criticism that he didn’t come in person.

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” he told FEMA Director Michael Brown, three days after Katrina flooded New Orleans. The storm left 1,800 people dead and caused $151 billion dollars in damage. Much public blame went to the Bush administration for a too-slow response.

Together, the vacation, the high-altitude tour and Bush’s “Brownie moment” left a lasting impression that the president had been detached from the tragedy on the ground.

In his 2010 book “Decision Points,” the former president reflected on his mistakes during Hurricane Katrina, writing that he should have urged the evacuation of New Orleans sooner, visited sooner and shown more empathy.

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CLINTON

Bill Clinton, who famously claimed during the 1992 campaign “I feel your pain,” was a natural at connecting with disaster victims. As president, he visited Des Moines, Iowa, the next year to examine flood damage in the region. He shook hands with people who had lost their homes as well as National Guard troops.

During a visit to a water distribution center, a woman can be heard in footage preserved by C-SPAN telling him, “My house was flooded.”

“I’m so sorry,” Clinton replied.

A weeping woman in pink with a blue small cooler in her hand told Clinton, “My parents lost their home and I have not been home for like a week. I can’t take it anymore.”

He draped an arm around her and said, “Hang in there.”

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Sick of politics? Get in line

One of our writers decided last week to take a break from writing about politics. He said he’s sick of the whole damn mess.

Easy to understand why. The state of the nation, governed by the state of the sick political system that controls it, is enough to make anyone throw up their hands and cry uncle.

Politics, at its best, is a dirty, rotten business and our political system today is far from its best. As voters, we become accustomed to disappointment, disillusionment and disenfranchisement.  We expect to be disappointed and, even then, are disappointed when our expectations are met.

In 2008, many voters turned to Barack Obama as a bright hope for the future, a smooth-talking candidate who promised a break from the business as usual, money-talks, lobbyists rule form of government that dominated Washington.

He talked real good and rolled into office on a wave of hope and high expectations but the wave crashed into the rocks of political reality and the high expectations have vanished into a fog of broken promises, crushed hopes and unmet goals.

In reality, voters pinned their hopes to an inexperienced, one-term Senator from one of the most corrupt political organizations in the nation: The Chicago Democratic machine. In reality, the hope was just hype.

Now voters seek salvation in fringe movements like the Tea Party, another phony political movement that fronts for big money, hidden agendas and political consultants looking to make a buck.

If some of the Tea Party’s anointed candidates make it to office, things won’t change. As soon as they raise their right hand and swear to uphold the Constitution the promises of campaign 2010 will fade away and the special interests that control them will issue new marching orders.

It’s time to realize that the system itself is broken and that it cannot be repaired by simply feeding new cannon fodder into the grinding gears of politics.

The political system that controls our government cannot be changed as long as the decisions that drive that system are made by those who benefit most from it.

What’s the answer? Hell, I don’t know. I worked inside the political system for a decade and don’t have the answer. I went in an idealist who thought change was possible and emerged a drunk who did it for the money.

Politics is a powerful narcotic far more addictive than cocaine or heroin.

It controls those who fall under its spell.

Even worse, it controls this nation and its future.

And that should scare everyone.

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