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American Politics Used to Be Socially Distant – The Wall Street Journal



William McKinley on the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio, during his campaign for president, 1896.


Courtesy Ohio History Connection

Many of the old ways of campaigning don’t seem to work in 2020. In an attempt to return to pre-pandemic days, President Trump’s reelection campaign tried to fill a 19,000-seat arena in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20 but wound up with thousands of empty seats—in part because many Republicans opted not to risk catching Covid-19 at a big indoor rally where masks were optional. Last week, Mr. Trump turned instead to somewhat less risky outdoor events, speaking to often maskless supporters at Mount Rushmore and a July 4 gathering on the South Lawn of the White House. Meanwhile, after months hunkered down at his home in Delaware, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is now regularly venturing out, holding socially distanced campaign events wearing a mask.

To try to save the 2020 presidential campaign, both camps might look back into American history to an old-fashioned idea: the front-porch campaign. Events with large crowds are likely to be severely curtailed this year, challenging two candidates who have relied on old-school stump speeches. The Democrats’ Milwaukee convention may be held online, and the main events of the Republicans’ convention have already been moved from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., because North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, asked for various health precautions. This week, officials floated the idea of holding much of the GOP convention in an outdoor stadium as new cases continue to skyrocket in Florida.

Yet strange as it may sound to modern ears, social distancing often worked in earlier eras in American politics. Throughout most of the 19th century, presidential candidates remained at home while working behind the scenes to circulate their ideas. The ways they remained visible—while staying invisible—could help the 2020 candidates spread the word without spreading the virus.

George Washington recoiled from close contact with his fellow citizens.

The U.S. disdain for campaigning began with George Washington, who did so much to define the office of the presidency. He embodied democracy for millions of Americans, but he recoiled from close contact with his fellow citizens. A persistent legend from the Constitutional Convention records that he gave an icy stare to a New York delegate, Gouverneur Morris, who dared put his hand on Washington’s shoulder.

That refusal to glad-hand made political life difficult for Washington’s successors, who had to find ways to reach voters while respecting the precedent of Olympian aloofness he had set. The spread of printing technology helped, often favoring candidates who looked hale and active. Andrew Jackson triumphed in 1828, in part, because of a flood of pictorial images showing him acting vigorously, often on horseback. (His foe, President John Quincy Adams, preferred the pleasures of a library.)

A woodcut of an emblem for William Henry Harrison and John Tyler’s election campaign, 1840.


Glasshouse Images/Everett Collection

That lesson was digested by Jackson’s Whig opposition, who in 1840 inundated voters with virile images of their elderly candidate, William Henry Harrison, outside a log cabin, tippling from a jug of hard cider. But the 68-year-old Harrison’s death after just a month in office, from a cold that worsened into pneumonia, deepened fears of personal contact with voters. Nine year later, Zachary Taylor also died in office, perhaps from cholera. The pressure to campaign without campaigning only increased.

The 1860 campaign brought political imagery to a new level. Cheap printing now made it possible to blanket the landscape with cartoons, speeches and sheet music.

Abraham Lincoln, the greatest orator in American history, won that year without giving a single speech, except a brief throat-clearing in Springfield, Ill., in which he asked “that you will kindly let me be silent.” Instead, Americans responded to images of the Republican candidate advertising his humble birth, as well as to prints of a strapping “Railsplitter” wielding an ax, popping a few buttons open on his shirt. They were also galvanized by Lincoln’s words, edited with extreme care by the candidate. (When a New York editor presumed to improve a speech, Lincoln replied that he didn’t want the punctuation or spelling adjusted within “a hair’s breadth.”) Message discipline helped Lincoln prevail; “his self-control was simply wonderful,” wrote his secretary.

A portrait of Abraham Lincoln entitled ‘The Railsplitter,’ circa 1860.


Stephen Jensen/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

As communications technology advanced, the taboo against in-the-flesh campaigning began to give way, but before it did, party bosses came up with an inventive way to get homebound candidates before the public. The idea for the “front-porch campaign” stemmed from a simple insight: Candidates could see large numbers of people from their own residences. Advanced coordination, made possible by the precision of railroads and telegraphs, allowed large numbers of visitors to show up for their moment before the porch, then clear out before the next group came in.

In 1880, James Garfield welcomed Americans to visit him at his farm in tiny Mentor, Ohio (population 540), and roughly 15,000 did over several months, thanks to a new railroad spur. Some meetings were electric, as when a delegation of Black Americans arrived and the nominee affirmed his belief in equal justice. Garfield won by less than 10,000 votes, suggesting that his remarks made a difference.

In 1888, Benjamin Harrison took the front-porch campaign to a new level, giving more than 80 speeches from his porch in Indianapolis, before 300,000 people. (It helped that his home was close to the train station.)

In 1896, more than 700,000 people came to Canton, Ohio, to hear Republican candidate William McKinley.

In 1896, William McKinley conducted the greatest front-porch campaign of all. More than 700,000 people came to Canton, Ohio, across a long Indian summer to hear the Republican candidate speak in a neighborly way about the issues. For those who couldn’t make the trip, a printed version of McKinley’s every utterance was shipped around the country by his ruthlessly efficient campaign manager, Mark Hanna.

It worked, but the theater of politics was changing, growing more hands-on. McKinley’s rival in 1896 was a new kind of Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, who began to campaign in earnest, giving more than 600 speeches, to a total of some five million people. Bryan lost, but the front-porch style of politics was growing old as Americans thronged cities and a new century approached.

Theodore Roosevelt speaking to an audience during the campaign of 1900.


Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Four years later, after Theodore Roosevelt became McKinley’s vice president, he too began to campaign hard, making 480 appearances in 23 states. American politics would never be the same. Our campaigns have been full-throated, immersive spectacles ever since, except for 1944, when a fading President Franklin Roosevelt barely left the White House while running for a fourth term.

Amid the pandemic, the old front-porch campaigns might prove helpful again. In this terrifying time, Americans want authenticity and answers from candidates who understand their household concerns. It makes sense to hear those messages from candidates speaking from kitchens and living rooms, like anyone else.

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have profited by speeches to large crowds. But smaller, single-topic conversations can allow deeper explorations of the themes that now worry so many Americans—not just health and joblessness but all the other questions that divide us, from racism to climate change to immigration.

For the millions who have discovered Zoom and similar videoconferencing platforms in recent months, it has often been heartwarming to hear from friends and colleagues, speaking over a new kind of digital back fence. A digital front porch might present a winning opportunity for a campaign nimble enough to see it.

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down



Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government



Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.


“We’ll be back, soon.”


“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”


“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”


“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”


“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”


“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”


“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”


“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”


“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”


“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”


“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”


“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”


“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’



British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.


Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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