At breakfast with a bunch of the New York gang after the last afterparty (including an increasingly regretful Grimm Reaper and Eliot Engel with no combover at all), I told Engel I had figured out his “gotta be in front of everybody/aisle seat” thing. It’s not, I announced (not just to him, but to Jerry Nadler, Nydia Velázquez and anyone else not face down in a Double Croissanwich), that he wants to be seen on TV or be close to political power. It’s that he likens The President of the United States to The Torah, the word of God that has guided the Jewish people for lo these thousands of years.
A Bronx kid like Engel would undoubtedly have clamored past the Yiddishe dowagers and delicatessen owners to kiss the Torah each time it came down the synagogue aisle on Sabbath or holy days of his youth. Eventually, the smart-as-a-whip (but not The Whip — that’s Uncle Steny) future politician would have realized an aisle seat GUARANTEED Torah access. And as his child’s belief in God morphed into a grown up belief in democracy, his feelings for The Word would — as any shrink will tell you — be transferred to the human representative of an American’s dreams and desires. “Ladies and Gentleman, The President of the United States.”
I swear I saw Eliot kissing a book and touching it to the president’s sleeve in the aisle before the SOTU address. You can probably find it at c-span.org or YouTube.
Or underneath the mistletoe.