By the time I got home from President Joe Biden’s Scranton speech last month, I stood with my official White House issued Gonzo Today press credential hanging from my neck, fuming in the kitchen, threatening to tear off my white dress shirt without unbuttoning the buttons.
My fingers hurt so much from trying to undo the tight plastic fasteners on my starched Van Heusen I worried I wouldn’t be able to open my beers.
But my wife Stephanie talked me down from the madness of Biden’s talk at the trolley museum, gently unbuttoning my long-sleeved professional attire. Despite her expertise in soothing the savage beast, I overflowed with a torrent of reaction to the worst of what I had just witnessed: the presidential incoherence, the privileged child, the cupcakes and the masks.
Standing outside in beautiful fall weather before a mostly white male invitation-only crowd of political apostles, the President of the United States took off on yet another irrational flight over the cuckoo’s nest. Pleased with himself and his captive audience of about 100 VIPs, Biden expected applause and got it, telling one disjointed story after another, recalling with a doddering sense of nostalgia his Scranton roots.
Accuracy is not next to godliness for Biden. Was he exaggerating or was the President simply “building back better,” the official theme of his speech and proposed signature legislation.
I won’t ask the White House for clarity.
Overbearing staff there defy explanation.
I also won’t ask my shifty Scranton Hill Section neighbor U.S. Sen. Bob Casey or faltering congressman, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, to interpret their leader’s moral message. These two Democratic Party company men long ago stopped responding to my phone calls, emails and legitimate questions as an aggressive member of the press.
That’s OK. I’m not talking to them, either.
I’ll talk with Biden.
But Biden’s handlers don’t want him to talk to me or you unless you’re linked to lobbyists, campaign contributors or other bloated plutocrats who can do them ample political good. I asked twice in writing for a five-minute interview with Biden.
Overweening White House weenies ignored my requests.
That’s one reason I’m dangerous. I’m a longtime Democrat, a Scranton resident who voted for Biden. I’m also a harsh critic and caustic member of the press who believes American civic activism and journalism must hold elected and appointed officials accountable.
If I supported Donald Trump and his maniac army, Democrats could just write me off, marginalize my public policy concerns and point to me like I just flew in after hanging upside down in a cave.
But I’m one of them.
If the Democratic Party elite view me this way, how do they view you? No wonder good Americans who want to believe in good government feel marginalized, abandoned and discouraged by the system.
Biden’s jumbled trip down memory lane last month angered me. Only minutes into his speech, he launched into a raving mad story about riding the Amtrak train, a twisted tale he has told many times on the campaign trail that CNN debunked back in June.
I hate to do this to you, but you need to know just how unbalanced Biden sounded as he stumbled through his wilted thought salad that made me squirm. What follows is the President’s word-for-word ramble straight from the White House transcript of Biden’s speech. You are free to open a bottle of wine, eat an edible or brew a soothing cup of chamomile tea as you read on.
“And I — I just want you to know that Amtrak is here. They can tell you that you could — you should name half the line after me. (Laughter.) I am most railroad guy you ever going to meet: 2,100,000 miles on Amtrak. Hear me now? Not a joke. (Applause.)
What happened was when you are a President or Vice President, they keep meticulous mileage of when you fly an Air Force aircraft. And so, about — I guess it was seven years into — to my tenure as Vice President. And I used to always like to take Amtrak home on Friday. My — I’d try to go home and see my mom, who was living with us at the time after my dad passed, and I’d try to get home.
And the Secret Service are wonderful. They’re the best in the world. They never liked me taking Amtrak because it stops too often and too many people get on and you don’t know —
And — but, I — there was a — but I — it turned out I was about number three in seniority on the road at the time, if you — well, in terms of the actual time on the road.
And a lot of the folks in Amtrak became my family. Not a joke. I’d ride every day. I commuted every single day for 36 years as pres- — Vice President of the United States. After my wife and daughter were killed, I went home to see my family and never stopped going — doing that.
And so, Angelo Negri was from — you remember Ang? Ang came up to me one day when I was — when they just had announced that I had flown 1 million some — X-number of miles on Air Force aircraft. And Ang comes up, and I’m getting into the car, and he goes, “Joey, baby. What do you…” And I thought the Secret Service was going to shoot him. (Laughter.) I said, “No, no, no, no. He’s good. He’s good.” It’s a true story.
And he said, “I just read — big deal. Big deal…” — whatever is was — “…1,200,000 miles Air Force. You know how many miles you did Amtrak?” And I said, “No, Ang. I don’t have any idea, pal.”
He said, “Let me tell you. We were at the retirement dinner.” And he said, “We added it up. You averaged a hundred- — I think it says — -twenty-one days a year. One hundred and twenty-one days. Your 36 years, plus as Vice President. Boom, boom. You have traveled over 2 million miles, Joe. I don’t want to hear any more about the Air Force.” (Laughter.)”
In the name of God and all that’s holy, stop!
Here’s the CNN link that examines Biden’s story.
With know-it-all White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki looking on (I didn’t see her but her photograph appeared the next day in the Scranton Times-Tribune), Biden seemed thrilled to regale the happy yes-people who filled several rows of seats cordoned off from the working press with his endless saga.
Then Biden got worse, calling Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti “Madam Mayor” while praising her and the job she’s doing. For Biden to address Cognetti, easily the most competent public official in the history of the city, with such an antiquated 1950s term, the President again shows his oblivious Father Knows Best obsolescence. Scranton’s no longer the lost land of Leave It to Beaver. Or is it? Even when Biden’s complimenting Scranton’s first woman mayor he’s insulting her.
A United States president exhibiting blind benevolent sexism is not good for anybody’s progress, including the future of the lone child who sat among invitees with his state representative father – my state legislator Kyle Mullins, another anointed golden boy Democrat who got my vote when he ran for office.
Mullins flouted all sense of ethics by using his public service position to benefit a blood relative. Why didn’t Mullins give a deserving Scranton child from any number of different cultures a chance to see and meet the President? Why push his own little prince to the front of the line instead of helping a needy youngster he’s paid well to represent?
I’ll tell you why.
Because Mullins flaunts real Scranton values of privilege that control access in politics and business – connections Biden purposely overlooks whenever he romanticizes Scranton values he claims built his “character” yet are non-existent for people who lack inner circle political clout.
Then came the icing on the cake, or should we say cupcakes.
A traveling national pool reporter, in one of the last official emails of the trip, singled out a Scranton business, providing free advertising and promotion other Scranton businesses might love to receive.
“Served on board during dinner were a variety of mini cupcakes from Cupa Cake, a Scranton bakery, including carmel apple, pumpkin, birthday cake, mint fudge and almond joy,” wrote pool reporter Emily Goodin, Senior U.S. Political Reporter for the Daily Mail who traveled on Air Force One for the Scranton pep rally.
How did those Scranton cupcakes get onboard Air Force One in the first place? Did Secret Service agents clear the confections? Are those tasty hometown treats politically connected? Did somebody sitting in the VIP section have a cupcake cousin with sticky fingers stuck in the sugary batter?
If the peasants have no bread, let them eat cake!
What’s far more sour than sweet, though, is the way the highly-controlled “Build Back Biden” celebration concluded with the whole cast of characters converging near the front of the stage.
Warmup speakers had included Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Casey, Cartwright and Cognetti. Each wore a mask he and she removed when speaking. Each replaced the mask when finished until they took their seats in the audience. Sitting unmasked for the one-man show, they laughed, applauded, listened and nodded to Biden’s words.
Except to take an occasional breather far away from anyone, I wore my mask for the entire event.
After wrapping up his almost 50-minute speech, Biden came ambling unmasked off the podium and into the swarming crowd of well-wishers. Maybe because they felt immune in the open-air setting, Wolf, Casey, Cartwright, Cognetti and the rest of the pack (except for three masked people I counted) gushed and rushed minus masks, kissing, hugging, backslapping and schmoozing in a risky space – a cramped pressed flesh, high-spray droplet-laden petri dish of a viral zone that easily could have become coronavirus toxic for them and others near them – including the President.
Such self-absorbed herd disunity exhibits the lengths to which political animals run amok will go to contaminate the body politic with reckless judgement. Were all VIPS vaccinated? If not, were those miscreants tested? Was anybody carrying the disease? Did anybody think to ask?
“Do as I say, not as I do” Scranton politics is downright infectious.
“Not a joke,” Biden said at one point during his speech.
I’m not kidding, either.
Nobody cognizant enough to face stark reality in Scranton is laughing.