nd so it begins…
I heard a pundit last week offer a blazing truth on the current division in the Democratic Party. He or she (can’t remember which) said the “defining distinction” for “old line” Democrats, like Joe Biden, is still class; but for the “new” ones (including most everyone running against him in the primaries), that distinction is identity.
In other words, is the more important bias how you’re penalized financially…or is it how you’re judged by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.? Is the more important threat the one to your pocketbook…or to your feelings?
It would be nice to suggest that America can be equally offended by both—but then, we’re Democrats, and (in direct opposition to Republicans) we alwaysneed something to argue about. And fresh proof comes following the latest “gaffe” by Biden at a fundraiser. During his remarks, Biden reportedly said that there was a “civility” in the Senate in his early years there that allowed him to pass legislation by comingling with southern segregationists like former Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Egads!
The reaction from the self-professed “base” of the party was nothing short of apoplexy. Elizabeth Warren said, “it’s never OK to celebrate segregationists.” (There was no such “celebration.”) Cory Booker demanded that Biden apologize (for simply and accurately reporting history?) Bernie Sanders tried to draw a correlation by citing this as coming, “…at a time when the Trump administration is trying to divide us with its racist appeals.” (Get it? Two old white guys—they must both be racists.) But most unsettling of all was the panicked reaction of the formerly measured Kamala Harris, who lectured, “(he) doesn’t understand the history of our country.” (When Harris was a year old, Biden graduated from college with a double major in history and political science. When she was eight, he was elected to the U.S. Senate at age 30. He served in the Senate for more years than he had lived before that. He doesn’t just know history—he helped make it.)
So, you can probably tell that I take sides on this one. Not so much in favor of Biden, who is a fine candidate—as are several other Democrats, some listed above.
But what irks me about this is the sense that if you dare to have ever consorted with the “enemy”—people with the “wrong” philosophy--then somehow you have failed a purity test that disqualifies you from the presidency.
So, for the identi-logues, let me offer one bit of history.
During the short, Camelot presidency of John F. Kennedy, he proposed a Civil Rights Act that would have ended all forms of employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin. Many scholars believe it to be the most important piece of legislation ever drafted in American history. It was the steppingstone to the presidential candidacy of anyone since who wasn’t a white male.
It was also dead on arrival in the Senate. The segregationists at the time had it permanently frozen…much like grim reaper Mitch McConnell currently dooms any chance of Trump being ousted by impeachment.
Then came the national shock of the Kennedy assassination…but with it, also a faint glimmer of hope for that doomed bill (as well as the Voting Rights Act, and a couple little things called Medicare and the War on Poverty). That hope came, as brilliantly detailed in Robert Caro’s Passage to Power, with the masterful powers of negotiation and persuasion of Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson. Only he could have cajoled enough votes to make the Civil Rights Act a reality. And he did it by somehow wrangling votes from the most virulent racists to sit in Congress in the 20th century.
If you applied the same purity test to Johnson then that “modern” Democrats want to apply to Biden now…then the progress those bills represented would have been not only delayed…but perhaps permanently sunk. Do you think Nixon or Ford or Carter or Reagan or either of the Bushes would or could have pushed those things through?
What the imperfect Biden is preaching is the imperfect art of politics, where votes matter and feelings don’t. The chances of defeating Trump rest heavily on the ability of all the Democratic candidates to understand this distinction.
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