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.Subscribe
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.