Biden’s fright night in Virginia

27 October 2021

2:07 PM

27 October 2021

2:07 PM

Cockburn lost a game of darts with Amber Athey at the weekend, so he got the distinct pleasure of trekking over to the Virginia Highlands Park in Arlington on Tuesday, to watch a cavalcade of Virginia Democrats — and President Joe Biden — stump for Terry McAuliffe, one week ahead of Election Day. (Amber, meanwhile, was indoors at a Loudoun County schoolboard meeting, which you can read about later.)

He joined a single-file line of Democrats at just after 5 p.m. that stretched the full width of the park. At its head, a group of Youngkin supporters were gathered on a verge, wielding signs that read “LET’S GO BRANDON,” “Virginia runs on Youngkin” and “More like Terry McAwful.” A McAuliffe canvasser sought to take advantage of their presence: “You’ve seen the Trump people up there — you gotta get out.”

As the line moved on, Cockburn took in the reactions of his fellow attendees to the Republican protesters. One man wondered aloud, “What happened to dignity and respect in this country?” as he looked on at a “FUCK JOE BIDEN” placard. Cockburn was thinking the same thing as he passed through the Secret Service security cordon and noticed a woman in an official Biden campaign “Will You Shut Up, Man?” t-shirt.

Virginia used to be most famous for its tobacco fields — now its biggest output seems to be wince-inducingly mediocre white male Democrats. Cockburn yawned his way through a laundry list of them as the 20mph winds brought out the worst of his sciatica. The highlight of the lower half of the bill was that Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Hala Ayala — who is hoping to become the “first woman of color” to win the position — was sandwiched between outgoing governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, two men with histories of dressing up like people of color. Cockburn imagines it took every fiber of Herring and Northam’s beings to stop them from reaching for the shoe polish this close to Halloween.

Speaking of spookiness, the specter of Donald Trump was the main scare tactic most of the Democrats deployed to give their gathered supporters the willies. “Donald Trump is on the ballot next Tuesday,”  said Arlington County board chair Matt de Ferranti. “Donald Trump said they were very fine people,” Terry McAuliffe said in reference to the Charlottesville aggressors. Neither of these things are true. Then again, nor are most ghost stories.

There were a number of lines throughout the night that Cockburn found curious. Ralph Northam declared an end to “men telling women what to do with their bodies,” presumably glossing over the fact that the Supreme Court judgment Roe v. Wade does exactly that. McAuliffe doubled down on that, saying that his opponent Glenn Youngkin wanted to “outlaw abortion in Virginia” — a claim which the esteemed Washington Post “gave two Pinocchios” last month.

But given McAuliffe’s torrid poll numbers, it’s not surprising that he’s going as negative as possible on his opponent. What’s more uncharacteristic is how readily Joe “Unity” Biden joined in when the President finally took the stage around 8 p.m.

In a mostly cogent speech that was briefly interrupted (at least twice) by immigration and climate activists, the 46th president dubbed Youngkin “an acolyte of Donald Trump” and mocked the Republican candidate for keeping the 45th president at arm’s length: “Now he dun’t want to talk about Trump anymore — well, I do.” Biden also alluded to how Youngkin wanted to ban “a woman’s right to choose” and cast mysterious aspersions about “private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump.” He saved his oddest Youngkin broadside for last: “Extremism can come in many forms. It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest…”

The repeated attempts to tie Youngkin to Trump really hammered home how McAuliffe and his party have failed to land a glove on the Republican candidate. When McAuliffe talked about how Youngkin “wants to bring his personal culture wars into our classrooms” and declared, “we will never let our children be used as political pawns,” he sounded awesomely out of touch: they’re not just Youngkin’s culture wars, and the kids are already political pawns, Cockburn thought.

The music blared back into action as the speeches concluded, and Biden was joined by the full Virginia Democratic ticket onstage. McAuliffe indulged in some of his trademark cringe dad-dancing — alone — before the politicians dipped down into the front row of the crowd to pose for selfies. Cockburn noticed that, once again, the music was played loud enough to make it especially difficult to ask Biden a question. Accountability’s for suckers.

As Cockburn trudged through the darkness, his cheeks chapped by the wind, he couldn’t help but wonder whether the real fright for the Democrats might be coming three days after Halloween…

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