COVID Gives Joe Biden A Permanent Excuse To Stay Hidden
In 2020, Joe Biden earned the questionable distinction of presiding over the first presidential campaign perhaps in all of US history — though it’s possible I missed something from the Martin Van Buren era — to adopt the practice of habitually holding “public” campaign-style events that the general public was not actually allowed to attend. So far did the strange secrecy go, that basic informational details which interested citizens would have previously been able to easily obtain — such as the time and location of a “rally” — were kept conspicuously hidden. Unlike in past election cycles, Joe and Jane Sixpack could no longer attend such rallies to hear directly from a major party’s presidential or vice presidential candidate. Instead, access was limited to those with insider info; if you were just a normal person who wanted to go, as had generally been available to you for the past couple hundred years, you were out of luck.
This practice was purportedly adopted under the auspices of COVID, even though most campaign events were held outdoors and subject to rigorous “social distancing” procedures. Still, in order to merely begin the process of attending such an event, you needed to have some sort of inside “connection.” In October 2020 I attempted to enter a “drive-in” rally in Pennsylvania, featuring Biden and the wondrous musical accompaniment of Jon Bon Jovi. After a bit of nosing around, I got a campaign worker to spill the beans that attendance had been limited to “party officials and donors.” A police officer told me “registration” had not even been open to the general public. The event was cryptically announced by a local newspaper, which bizarrely had to cite multiple anonymous sources to report that the soiree would be held at a local high school — the kind of trivially basic information that would’ve been freely available in the past. But now suddenly the fact that Joe Biden would be appearing at Dallas High in Luzerne County, PA was some kind of explosive state secret.
Ultimately the general public — including myself, as I didn’t bother seeking out a dopey “press pass” — was prevented from getting into the event, which no doubt came as a devastating shock to Northeastern Pennsylvania residents longing for a plaintive acoustic rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” in honor of Joe Biden.
It was the same situation a week or so later when I tried to get into a Kamala Harris event in suburban Atlanta. Biden/Harris campaign volunteers told me they had been left in the dark about where her event was even being held, thanks to this policy of strange official secrecy. “It’s the same people going over and over” to these formerly public campaign events, one of the volunteers told me — meaning party officials, VIPs, and others “in the know” — while average people who’d donated their time to do canvassing and phone banking were excluded. I later figured out that Kamala’s old sorority members got inside info about the event, so if you were part of that particular little clique, attendance was theoretically available to you.
The bottom line was that in 2020, public campaign rallies — once open to the general population as a matter of course — had been quasi-privatized on “safety” grounds. I reported on this at the time and few seemed to care, or otherwise stupidly misinterpreted the significance. Conservative commentators made the mistake of assuming that sparsely-attended Biden/Harris events were indicative of some concerted coverup to hide the fact that there was no enthusiasm for Biden and he could never win the election. But what they were really seeing was a deliberate privatization initiative — part of a political strategy that wasn’t so much a coverup, but an overt and unhidden example of how powerful factions were using COVID as a pretext to shrivel the public sphere and keep the undesirables away. While also conveniently insulating themselves from scrutiny and — gasp — perhaps even the occasional heckling.
And so it has gone well into Biden’s first term, with a weird air of secrecy surrounding normal events of his that continue to follow this innovative quasi-privatized model. On October 25, Biden visited a New Jersey Transit maintenance facility in Kearny, NJ, which is about 10 minutes from where I live. Ever an intrepid journalist, I decided to go take a look. Ostensibly the purpose of Biden’s visit was to promote the gigantic “Build Back Better” mystery bill currently pending in Congress, but New Jersey also has state and local elections coming up next week, and Gov. Phil Murphy is running for a second term. So the idea was apparently to bring Biden in for an “official” visit to boost Murphy, as opposed to a traditional campaign stop, because the trappings of an “official” visit are more politically salient. Murphy’s main selling point for why he ought to be re-elected Governor of New Jersey seems to be that it would deliver a huge blow to a former president who’s been out of office for nine months, Donald Trump. He seldom mentions Biden, whose approval ratings even in New Jersey have dropped starkly, but this event was a brief exception.
So I headed over to the maintenance facility, and the police officer guarding an entrance pretended not to know that the President of the United States was inside, telling me only that he heard “some dignitaries” were on hand, and there was no chance in hell I was getting in. Attending a public event featuring the president (and governor) without submitting reams of paperwork ahead of time, and/or pulling some strings with your professional political network? Unfathomable.
A senior NJ Transit worker, who was absolutely adamant that he/she must not be identified because they could get in serious trouble for talking to the media, later told me that employees who ordinarily work in that maintenance facility were instructed by their higher-ups to stay home that day. No chance that they’d be allowed to attend this event, it was decreed, even though the event was taking place in their literal workplace — a public facility to boot. The justification? Who knows. Probably some half-baked combination of COVID, terrorism, and whatever other hyped-up existential danger is said to be lurking in the background on any given week. They won’t explain their reasoning if you ask; just as with all manner of completely arbitrary policies deriving from COVID which still remain in effect, people in positions of authority typically can’t be bothered to even offer a rationale for this or that leftover measure — content instead to blithely acclimate to the “new normal” rather than buck the bureaucratic inertia.
Just this afternoon I spoke to my local city council member here in Jersey City, who’s up for re-election next week, and she claimed to me that the primary reason for requiring children as young as two to wear facemasks when playing outside at recess — something I continue to see around town disturbingly often — is “psychological.” Or in other words, children that age need to be taught that wearing a mask for hours on end, each and every school day, is the “right” thing to do. It was a candid admission in a sense, to acknowledge that children’s health is not really the thing guiding this policy calculation — a recurrent pattern in COVID governance. Did you know that still, today — October 29, 2021 — Canadian citizens are barred from driving over the land border into the US, but they can fly into the US on commercial aircraft? So they can’t enter the US driving alone in their private vehicle, but they can go to a crowded airport and inhale whatever particles are floating around, and then head right into their US destination aerially. What’s the justification for that? More unspecified “psychology”? Don’t bother asking anyone, because I’ve tried, and they usually just shrug.
Watch the video of Biden at the NJ Transit event this week and it’s verging-on-creepy how few people are there in the room, other than the assembled “dignitaries” — members of Congress and municipal officials, plus a smattering of other Democratic Party hotshots with “insider” access. Very much in line with what happened during the 2020 campaign, supposedly on temporary “emergency” grounds — but as we all now know, that emergency has been extended indefinitely. Might it have been the case that even without COVID, Biden’s public events would’ve still been executed in this carefully choreographed, semi-privatized fashion? Very possibly. It’s not like presidential events are open-air, all-access affairs anymore regardless, including under Trump — whose “official” visit to a factory in Wisconsin I once tried to attend, only to give up after encountering endless mind-numbing obstacles.
But it’s still notable that the standard expectation is now that these events will be held as semi-privatized confabs, with the cameras rolling of course, and getting in as a member of the general public is just out of the cards. Even if you’re a public sector employee who works at that very facility — which you’d think would be a natural demographic for Biden to fill up his speaking events with. NJ Transit’s media relations wing received my inquiry asking them to confirm whether employees had been excluded from the Biden event, but then clammed up and never gave any kind of response. And I don’t blame them; participating in this all-encompassing slide into quasi-privatization is pretty embarrassing. Especially if you’re reduced to providing an explanation that’s vaguely predicated on some crank notion of “psychology.”