Some choppy waters this week for former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who more than ever looks like a ghost haunting a library. Johnson was recently hauled before a committee of Parliament where he was grilled about allegations that he’d attended parties with other government employees during Covid lockdown. The spectacle was so brutal that at one point the usually unflappable Boris lost his temper: “This is complete nonsense!” he barked.
The scandal, known as Partygate, arguably played a greater role in sinking Boris’s premiership than anything else — and occasionally its complex layers of events and regulations have forced investigators to inquire into the absurd. Was Boris aware that staffers sitting directly in front of him during a speech were drinking alcohol? Did he actively seek out a cake for an illicit birthday celebration? Or was it more like the cake sought out him, coming around the corner and ambushing him like a velociraptor?
It all sounds a bit silly, but then at least the UK takes its Covid hypocrites seriously. Here in America, not so much.
The most notorious stateside pandemic pretender was California governor Gavin Newsom. A scion of Napa Valley vineyards and San Fran progressive imbecilities, Newsom was caught in the fall of 2020 dining out at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant sans masks or social distancing. The most creative Breitbart reporter couldn’t have painted a better picture: a fantastically wealthy Democrat breaking his own draconian Covid rules accompanied by lobbyists at one of the fanciest restaurants in the country. N95s for thee but not for me. The image was so striking that Newsom was forced to apologize and later faced an election to recall him from the governorship.
Which he won handily. Today, Newsom is still the governor of California where he spends his days trying to ban the gas-powered car and averting his eyes from the long lines of U-Hauls clogging up the highways towards Arizona. He’s even being touted as a potential Democratic presidential candidate for 2024. And while he’s been coy about his larger ambitions, he’s also been relentlessly trolling Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a likely GOP contender for the White House. He’s faced no official inquiry, no serious accountability; there’s no reason to think he never will.
Even more egregious is Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who cracked down during the pandemic like few others. Yet there she was at a sports bar in East Lansing, surrounded by grinning and unmasked friends, in a flagrant breach of her own health department’s protocols. Whitmer did apologize after a photo of the night out emerged in May 2021, but then she was also no first-time offender. She’d already been caught jetting off to Florida while unvaccinated after encouraging others to stay home. And her glorious husband back in 2020 had visited his vacation home where he’d seemed to use his position to pressure a local marina into putting his boat out on the water.
All of these episodes caused brief stirs in the press, and Whitmer’s Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, made issue out of them on the campaign trail last year. Yet not only did Whitmer win reelection, Democrats took control of both the state House and Senate. And so Big Gretch is flying high: the Huffington Post recently crowed that Michigan is becoming another “anti-Florida,” a laboratory for progressive policies. And while such laboratories inevitably unleash monsters that rampage across their states and leave their economies in ruins, it’s hard not to marvel at just how little accountability Whitmer has faced.
In fairness, you could argue that neither Newsom nor Whitmer were quite as egregious in their hypocrisy as Boris. He was the elected leader of his country, yet seemed content to lord over a saturnalia while everyone else suffered. It’s also not like these hypocrisies aren’t relatable. Who among us, as the cabin fever of 2020 set in, didn’t itch to head to a restaurant with a pack of friends? Or hop a flight to somewhere — anywhere — other than the slowly sinking crater in the center of our couch? That need for social catharsis was a universal constant, and there are plenty who gave into it even when we weren’t supposed to.
But then that same social catharsis was also outlawed by the likes of Newsom and Whitmer, whose regimes fined people and even sent them to jail for violating their dart-at-the-board diktats. Whitmer in particular was busy on this front, having prohibited in the early days of Covid everything from buying paint to playing golf to visiting relatives. Yet there’s been no justice for her refusal to play by her own rules. Neither for Sheila Kuehl, the LA County supervisor who headed straight to a restaurant after voting in 2020 to ban eating at restaurants. Neither for Joe and Jill Biden who were caught violating DC’s mask mandates. And so on.
What’s been most striking about the Partygate saga is the genuine rage some Brits seem to feel towards their ex-PM, given that they were forced to batten down their lives, even blocked from visiting dying relatives, while the government showed hypocritical contempt. Far be it from me to say that what American politics needs right now is more white-knuckled anger. But it sure seems like those who were similarly egregious should never again be allowed within six feet of political office.