We have a collective wish to return to post-pandemic normalcy as soon as possible. Our wish may produce results we never contemplated or intended, such as a return of in-person politics.
During the pandemic, politics has gone remote like work, church and family gatherings. Politicians, like the rest of us, have fled to Zoom.
When it’s safe to mingle again, politicians will once more knock on our doors, show up at picnics and invite us to their fundraisers. No hand will be spared from handshake and no baby will be safe from a random kiss. Masks and social distancing won’t discourage them. For those who detest politics, it may be a bittersweet reward for surviving a global pandemic.
In his engaging on-air manner, NPR’s Scott Simon mused over the weekend about the absence and return of in-person politics. Here are his musings titled, It’s hard to shake hands and kiss babies on Zoom:
If you’re fortunate enough to have a job in this pandemic, what’s fun after a day of Zoom conferences where people bark, “Am I on mute?” If you live in the liveliest city on earth, what about an effervescent evening of Zoom conferences, where you can hear candidates for mayor of New York bark, “Am I on mute?”
In the city that never sleeps, mayoral candidates never stop talking. There are more than 20 candidates for mayor of New York, and you can see 8, 10 and more, day and night, in Zoom panels, sponsored by political clubs, interest groups and community associations from the Bronx to the Battery.
“The candidates fill the Zoom cubes on my screen nearly every day,” Liz Kim of WNYC in New York, told us, “like the opening credits of The Brady Bunch.”
Candidates used to be able to say, “I’d love to join you in Throggs Neck at 7, but I have to be in Sheepshead Bay at 8…” But in 2021, candidates are just sitting on their couches. It’s impolitic to refuse any invitation.
Liz Kim says there was a chucklesome moment in a recent forum when each candidate vowed, “You’re overlooked, Staten Island, I won’t overlook you when I’m mayor, Staten Island”, then had to say, one by one, “Uh, sorry, but I’ve got to leave now…” so they could sign into another neighborhood forum.
Campaign events can be their own bubbles, but at least you can see neighborhood streets, homes and business districts, bright lights and boarded-up windows, and citizens in sweaters and snow boots in school basements, joking, joshing and gossiping.
I have always loved covering mayoral campaigns in great cities because they bring you into neighborhoods. Campaign events can be their own bubbles, of course, but at least you can see neighborhood streets, homes and business districts, bright lights and boarded-up windows, and citizens in sweaters and snow boots in school basements, joking, joshing and gossiping in a babble of languages in front of a hissing coffee urn, then rising to admonish candidates, face to face, about local corruption, systemic racism and the urgency of getting the snow shoveled off Atlantic Avenue.
“I miss spontaneous interactions with the public,” says Liz Kim. “I miss going up to people and asking, ‘What did you think?'”
She says every group you can imagine and a few you could never imagine have come up with an idea for Zoom sessions. “Candidates think they can’t say no,” she says. “Is that necessarily a bad thing?”
But there is something a little gloomy and regretful about a large and interesting field of candidates for mayor of New York, of all places, running for office in tiny Zoom screens. It might make you long for a safe return to in-person dining, in-person school and in-person politics.