As all who care are already aware, a fracas has sprung up during the past week regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks at a fund raiser regarding his relationship with segregationist U.S. Senators James Eastland (MS) and Herman Talmadge (GA) in the 1970s. While Mr. Biden’s comment, “[Mr. Eastland] never called me, ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son’,” was clearly a mindless choice of words, the purported outrage that has poured forth from other Democratic candidates and liberal talking heads regarding Mr. Biden’s remarks has conveniently ignored his other comments: that he and the segregationists “… didn’t agree on much of anything,” that he’d “… argue like the devil with them” and that Mr. Talmadge “… was one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” Some progressives, intent on a political holy war, seemingly reject Mr. Biden’s underlying point: the need for our representatives of different political stripes to make an effort to find some common ground.
I would submit that there is only one relevant question in all this – and that, of the most vital importance: Is Mr. Biden is a racist? If he is, his critics should forthrightly say so, and present their evidence. Apparently no one who knows Mr. Biden — including former President Barack Obama, SC U.S. Rep James Clyburn, GA U.S. Rep. John Lewis, or Rev. Al Sharpton — thinks he is a racist. I would therefore suggest that the exaggerated indignation over what was a tone-deaf choice of words is at least misinformed (it’s hard to see how CA Sen. Kamala Harris can sensibly accuse Mr. Biden of “speaking with such adoration” of, or “coddling” Mr. Talmadge, given the former Vice President’s reference to the late Senator as “one of the meanest guys I ever knew”), and probably opportunistic grandstanding (“I was raised to speak truth to power,” pronounced NJ Sen. Cory Booker while criticizing Mr. Biden – the same Mr. Booker who memorably if incongruously declared himself “Spartacus” during the Kavanaugh hearings).
The disagreement of some of Mr. Biden’s critics with the former Vice President’s larger point – the need to reach consensus, to find common ground among those with differing views — is wrong-headed both on principle and in practicality. Taking practicality first, as some Democratic candidates and progressive talking heads seem intent on Democratic political self-immolation, Republicans and conservative interests are clear-eyed as to who would be President Trump’s most formidable opponent in 2020. What follows are all from the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages this past Thursday:
Conservative Columnist Daniel Henninger noted a recent Fox News poll showing that Democratic voters favored “steady and reliable leadership” (72%) over a “bold, new agenda” (25%). “Mr. Biden may be doing so well in the head-to-heads against Mr. Trump because many voters simply want respite from the nonstop Trumpian atmosphere of disruption and volatility.… Joe Biden is offering a return to normalcy…. [I]f these polls are right, after four years of Donald Trump the prospect of being force-fed daily doses of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders is unthinkable for a lot of people.”
Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, noted Mr. Biden’s stated intent to win Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida, stating, “Republicans should pay attention….With the exception of South Carolina, Team Trump can’t take Mr. Biden’s targets for granted….The Trump Campaign must … disqualify any Democratic nominee with suburban Republican and independent defectors who swung the House to the Democrats last fall …”
The Journal editorial board itself noted about Mr. Trump’s formal launch of his campaign, “Mr. Trump may figure he can persuade some of those skeptics by making the Democratic nominee even more unpopular than he is. If the Democrats oblige by nominating Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, that might be possible. But that is making a bet on the other party’s mistake …”
Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker aren’t even figuring in the other side’s thinking, and these Senators clearly realize that if they can’t convert some of Mr. Biden’s African American support to their campaigns, their candidacies are finished. The wise heads politically leading the African American Community – and I would bet the majority of the politically savvy within the Community – appear at this point to be sticking with Mr. Biden because they recognize that he is both a genuine friend of African Americans and the best bet to rid us all of President Trump. There will be time to think about Spartacus later.
Finally, as to principle: Neither party is the font of all wisdom nor the den of all iniquity. Our system is one of “checks and balances” because it is based upon the premise, in practice as far back as Hamilton and Jefferson, that constructive policy depends upon trust between and the well-intended engagement of those with competing views. The collegiality that Mr. Biden urges will be an inherent part of whatever progress we hereafter make as a people and a nation. The avid progressives seeking a political crusade from the left are as misguided and potentially as destructive as the alt-conservatives waging such offensives from the right.
“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.’” Luke 5:30-32.
Although it seems more than a bit blasphemous to compare politicians’ political machinations to the Lord’s quest for souls, since we as voters cling to the hope that our representatives will do what they can to make the world better, perhaps the most effective methods to reach souls and achieve a better world are indeed similar. While the Democrats will probably get by this kerfuffle, I never discount their capacity to self-righteously self-destruct.