Sunday, August 08, 2021


I have positive feelings about Barack Obama, but maybe his scaled-back but still supersized birthday party wasn't the greatest idea while the Delta variant continues to rage, not when the right-wing media is eager to leap on anything that looks like Democratic COVID hypocrisy. The New York Post has already pounced:
Rapper Trap Beckham and manager TJ Chapman discreetly snapped pics of the event’s high-end food, drink and swag offerings and talked to their followers as the party unfolded, according to screenshots of the posts, which were later deleted under the event’s photography ban....

... By 1 a.m., the “scaled-down” shindig had officially petered out, as throngs of famous guests and workers clogged the roads of small-town Oak Bluffs, creating a “s–t show” of traffic congestion on the resort island, police said.

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Jennifer Hudson, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Bradley Cooper, Don Cheadle, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, Bruce Springsteen Erykah Badu, Steven Colbert and John Kerry were just some of the celebrity guests at the seaside affair.
I get it. He was president. He has a lot of famous friends. It was his 60th birthday, and the books he and his wife have written are genuine blockbusters that made the two of them a lot of money.

I also know that even the larger party that was originally planned was intended to be as safe as possible:
Among the safety measures said to be put in place: The party will be held outdoors and all guests are asked to be vaccinated. Invitees also must submit their negative test results to a COVID-coordinator within a certain time window before the event.
But when opponents of public health are looking for any evidence that advocates are bad people, why make it easy for them? Why hand them the opportunity to make "Maskless Obama" a trending topic on social media?

I don't know why it's so hard for Democrats in politics (or recently retired from politics) to model good behavior on COVID. Right-wingers eagerly compile lists of people they call "COVID hypocrites" -- just before Obama, there was D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser going maskless at an indoor wedding reception shortly after she reinstated a city mask mandate. When California governor Gavin Newsom was seen indoors at an expensive restaurant dinner with lobbyists last November, it reportedly jumpstarted a moribund recall effort than now threatens to remove him from office before his term ends.

I know that a lot of Democrats like the fact that Barack Obama and the previous Democratic president enjoy living the good life. Bill Clinton also wrote a massively successful memoir which brought in a lot of cash, and he jet-sets around with rich friends, too. And I know that the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee before Clinton, Mike Dukakis, was attacked as a prissy virtue-signaler because he didn't have swagger and rode public transportation to work when he was governor. (I saw him once, on a Green Line trolley from Brookline.)

But the dominant message of right-wingers today is that their Democratic enemies are "elitists" who have contempt for ordinary Americans. I realize that these people are hypocrites themselves -- they love an ex-president who lives in gilded pseudo-splendor, and they hang on every word uttered by a preppy heir to a frozen food fortune. Still, why give them ammunition? Why confirm the suspicions they're trying to spread that we're not really worried about the virus and its variants -- we just want to create a pandemic panic as a means of social control? I know we'll never persuade the hardcore right that our concerns are sincere and justified, but how many people on the fence do we lose -- people who are middle-of-the-road or apolitical, but who live in the parts of America where right-wing news is the mainstream?

Not every ex-president can be Jimmy Carter. But what if Obama had canceled his party and decided to be Carter for one day? He could have spent his birthday encouraging vaccination, maybe in a community where people are vaccine-hesitant rather than vaccine-opposed. Perhaps he could have told all the famous invitees to cancel their flights to Martha's Vineyard and do something similar on his behalf.

We're serious about the pandemic -- but I wish some of the most famous among us would spend a bit more time walkng the walk.

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