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Democrats' behavior at the State of the Union was embarrassing

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the Democrats' behavior at the State of the Union was embarrassing.

I take a back seat to nobody in decrying President Trump's cynical and divisive performance. He repeatedly exploited Americans' divisions on race, guns, God, immigration -- anything to distract from the broken promises, vulgarity and worse that define his presidency.

But the Democrats, with their childish protests, took the bait. Symbolic dissent is fine, but this was a cacophony of causes: black clothing (for #MeToo), kente ties and sashes (because of Trump's Africa insult), butterfly stickers (for the "dreamers"), red buttons (for a victim of racial crime) and the more bipartisan purple ribbons (for the opioid epidemic).

Worse, dozens of Democrats refused to stand when the president entered the House chamber, forgetting that one stands out of respect for the office, not the officeholder. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., grabbed a middle-aisle seat only to turn his back on the president when he walked past. Democrats groaned, scoffed, heckled and made lemon-biting faces. Others simply boycotted. In short, they did the same sort of things they (and I) denounced Republican lawmakers for when they did them to President Barack Obama.

This matters, because as nasty as Trump's speech was, his first 20-or-so minutes contained an effective message -- false, but effective -- about how his plutocratic policies have boosted the economy and benefited working people. Democrats need a simple, clear and effective counter to that claim, and it is not to be found in the unfocused protests and reflexive petulance they showed Tuesday and again Wednesday.

Trump's message is straightforward: Businesses are coming home, jobs are increasing, wages are growing, and American confidence is returning. There's a simple counter to this, and it has the virtue of being more accurate than Trump's economic claims. (Like the rooster believing his cock-a-doodle-doo causes the sun to rise, Trump takes credit for the continuation of eight years of job growth.) It goes something like this:

Trump promised to bring change to Washington, but instead he brought more politics as usual. Breaking his promises to working people, he enacted a huge tax cut for billionaires and corporations that will enrich him and his big donors. To pay for the billionaires' tax cut, Trump and Republicans will have to make huge cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- on top of changes to health care that will cause millions to lose coverage and premiums to soar for everybody.

Is that so hard? Apparently.

On Wednesday morning, House Democratic leaders went before the cameras to give their thoughts on the State of the Union. They were discursive and aimless.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., denounced Trump's "racist, demonizing comments on immigrants" and the absence of any mention of Russian election interference.

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