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Current Affairs - September 17, 2020

"The reason Sabbe [a voter looking for a place he can pick up a sign] can’t find a dedicated Biden campaign field office is because there aren’t any around here. Not in Macomb County, the swing region where Sabbe lives. It’s not even clear Biden has opened any new dedicated field offices in the state; because of the pandemic, they’ve moved their field organizing effort online. The Biden campaign in Michigan refused to confirm the location of any physical field offices despite repeated requests; they say they have “supply centers” for handing out signs, but would not confirm those locations. The campaign also declined to say how many of their Michigan staff were physically located here. Biden’s field operation in this all-important state is being run through the Michigan Democratic Party’s One Campaign, which is also not doing physical canvassing or events at the moment. When I ask Biden campaign staffers and Democratic Party officials how many people they have on the ground in Michigan, one reply stuck out: “What do you mean by ‘on the ground?’” 

... Now, before we get to the question of whether public safety necessitates abandoning all canvassing, can we at least admit that declining to confirm the locations of the places where swing state voters can pick up a sign is extremely not good? (The exact same complaints were made about the Hillary campaign.) A friend of mine drove down the west coast of Florida last week and said that every community he passed through had one of these Trump stores located prominently: 

You know what Biden should do? Go rent the stores directly opposite and put up a big sign with the death toll from coronavirus and the wildfires, and big quotes from Donald Trump lying about the virus. Will they do that? No. Do they have any of these places? Well, if they did, I bet they wouldn’t confirm their locations!

Let us talk about the coronavirus pandemic. You and I both know that the coronavirus is a serious public health crisis that also can provide a convenient all-purpose excuse for things. “Sorry, coronavirus” is a useful get-out-of-jail-free card. The Biden campaign can respond to any criticism of its ground operation (“What’s a ground operation?” a Democratic official literally told TIME) by invoking the pandemic.

But it is not enough to mention coronavirus. We also have to think about whether and how the public health explanation works. It does not, for instance, work as a defense for lacking places to pick up campaign signs. If you can get a Starbucks coffee during a pandemic, you can get a Joe Biden campaign sign. AOC is organizing regular census tabling events in her district, volunteers all masked and socially distant, because they’re important.

How about in-person canvassing? As I say, the assumption is that it’s nuts, but we need to question our assumptions. Indoor campaign events with crowds are obviously unsafe, which is why it’s totally irresponsible for Trump to keep doing them. Knocking on doors isn’t nearly as dangerous. When canvassers wear gloves and masks, and step well back from the door, short in-person interactions actually pose very little risk. Not zero risk, of course, but some activities are so important that we believe small amounts of corona risk make them worth it. This was true for street protests and it is true for canvassing. ...
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