PHILADELPHIA—Today in Philadelphia I had a bizarre and occasionally frustrating experience. I stood for half an hour in the humidity watching women with babies strapped to their torsos be told that they could not bring water with them to witness the president speak on behalf of the indisposed Democratic presidential nominee. When I finally got to the front of the line, there were two hang-ups, one more serious than the other. The first was my reluctance to give the Hillary campaign my name, email, phone number, and postal address again. I am already a paid-up member of the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum. I receive calls from Hill Dog’s moneymen at least twice a day (one time the ringer on my phone wasn’t turned off and the call woke up my daughter, who had just fallen asleep after an hour’s exuberance at the playground). Did I really need to double down here?
The answer was yes. Just before entering the Secret Service check-in area, I heard a svelte young Clinton volunteer shout, "Everybody have your white tickets ready." I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Excuse me, sir. What is a ‘white ticket’?"
He ignored me.
"What is a ‘white ticket’? I already signed in online."
"Please, hello, sir, I haven’t got a ‘white ticket’!"
I’m invisible, apparently.
Last week was Labor Day, you see, and in a belated spirit of solidarity with my fellow journalists on the other side of the aisle, I decided that today I would do what so many of them must and attend a campaign event as a member of the public sans press credential. I have gone to my fair share of Trump events and have never once been denied access, which is to say, a short line and a spot in the bleachers with a bad view. Today, in tribute to Buzzfeed and the Washington Post, I wanted to sweat my bum off in the 90-degree Philadelphia heat to show that I take our profession seriously.
Finally the line moved forward and a white ticket was demanded of me.
"I asked your pal here about it and he ignored me. I haven’t got one."
I was asked to move to the back of the line and fill out a piece of paper with all the personal information that the Democratic Party already has about me. Biff Diddle, wherever you are, I haven’t got your phone number—otherwise you would be receiving instant SMS updates about the state of the Hillary campaign.
Flash forward half an hour. I was once again in front of the line. I was just about dead from the heat. I had been invited to host a phone bank event approximately six times by the same Baby Boomer female volunteer who repeated the slogan "Gotta catch ‘em all!" approximately once every 30 seconds. Then, unlike roughly 99 percent of the people in front of me, I prepared for the Secret Service checkpoint like a professional, removing everything from my jacket pockets and opening my laptop so the agents could see that the screen was not open to a bomb-detonating program. Soon, I thought, I would be able to grab a bottle of water, and maybe even one of the beers rumored to be for sale, from the secure area outside the Rocky Steps at the art museum and go about my business fully hydrated.
It was not to pass. I dumped my numerous possessions in the grey plastic bins and held my arms aloft, only to be told that my lighter was not allowed inside the secure area.
"What is this about?" I asked. "I go through airport security twice a month at least. I have been to both political conventions. I have seen every candidate and even President Obama. I have always had a lighter with me."
"Sir, there are no lighters here," the woman said aggressively.
"Does the word ‘lighter’ appear on any of the lists of prohibited items back there?"
"Sir, you can leave if you need to," barked one of her male colleagues with a facial expression that screamed ’roid rage.
You know what? I thought. I will leave.
And I did, reader. Sort of. I walked outside the secure area and visited the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul down the road where lighters, by notice or fiat, are not prohibited. Then I doubled back when I realized that I could more or less see and hear the action without re-entering the secure area. Then I walked down to Filbert Street, the Beacon’s former mobile HQ, and drank more than a few Coors Lights before returning to the main event.
The president started a few minutes early. I could not tell whether he was sweating in his white shirt and purple tie, but other than that my view from the street was fine. It was quite a speech. He started with small talk about baseball and spoke glowingly of his "memories" of visiting the city during the Democratic National Convention. I know for a fact he left that event as soon as possible: I saw his helicopter fly above my head at the Hampton Inn and Suites from my poolside spot not two hours after he finished speaking.
My biggest takeaway from Obama’s speech was that he is a huge fan of Ronald Reagan, whom he referred to over and over again. Indeed, I will not shrink from saying that the president of the United States is probably more right wing than the current associate editor and roving correspondent of the Washington Free Beacon, at least if his remarks about the economy are any indication. For my part, I am not "more optimistic about our future than I’ve ever been." I am entirely immune to the rhetoric of "small business," and I found his claim that "people of all races" are doing better than ever dubious to say the least.
This was more or less the substance of his speech. Everything is fine. It’s as if the Bernie Sanders campaign never happened. Never mind that Hillary claims to disagree with the president on the TPP: She is the chosen one. Never mind how enthusiastic he actually sounds. "Can I just say I am really into electing Hillary Clinton?" the president said with all the enthusiasm of a shotgun groom. "Like, I’m not just going through the motions. I really, really, really wanna elect Hillary Clinton." Really?
By then, more than halfway through his remarks, he was still not sweating, which is more than could be said for me. He continued to lay it on thick. "I believe there has never been a man or a woman more qualified to serve as our president than Hillary Clinton." Not Washington? Not Lincoln? Not Roosevelt?
One got the sense that President Obama knew that we—that is, the press, with whom he expressed his annoyance more than once á la Trump—understood there is a lot of ground for the Clinton campaign to cover as far as the youthful progressive vote goes. But there was still no mention of Sanders’s contribution to the election. Instead Obama derided Twitter and booing and admitted that he benefitted from his status as a "shiny and new" candidate when he ran against Clinton in 2008.
"Don’t boo. Booing is easy. I need you to vote."
Then he talked about "workin’ people," which he pronounced without the "g," the same
"g" that had been there when he said the word "championing" only seconds before. He also tried to take Trump to task for idolizing Putin, the man he, Obama, has allowed to dictate his administration’s policy in Syria.
"Can you imagine Reagan idolizing someone like that?" he said. "He called America a ‘shining city on the hill.’"
The end of this speech was given over to a lame defense of the Clinton Foundation and bragging about how many countries Clinton has traveled to and saying that the Supreme Court "shouldn’t be about politics" and attacking the media for being credulous about Trump’s claim to have opposed the Iraq War—as opposed to Clinton, whose enthusiastic support of it is an undeniable part of the public record.
Like I said, he was really, really, really enthusiastic. You could tell.