"When 1972 met 2019." Spoiler alert: it does not star Billy Crystal or Meg Ryan

For better or worse, I was born and grew up as a white person. To speak on a racial issue probably leaves me open for criticism. I would counter by saying if it’s a racial issue, it involves all races; but again, I am white.


For better or worse, Kamala Harris, a woman of color, is a product of the era of social media.


And finally, for better or worse, Joe Biden is neither a woman, a person of color, or a product of social media.


This is trouble waiting to happen, and yesterday it did when Biden recalled the names of two ardent segregationist legislators with whom he had worked in the seventies. His point was that, though he and the two men in question agreed on virtually nothing when it came to race, they were able to compromise and move the average level of racial comity a bit higher. He did not lionize the men, far from it, simply said that compromise worked better than digging in.


Kamal Harris dug in. (She was not alone.) When asked if she was concerned about Biden’s comments, Ms. Harris tweeted: “Yes it concerns me deeply. If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.”


Maybe. But maybe also if people like Biden hadn't worked to win concessions from the other side, she still would not be in that elevator.


Now I don’t know if she could have phoned Biden, or attempted to phone him, or tried to reach out in some personal way. (Old tech.) But she tweeted, because that’s the age she lives in—that we all live in. When we oppose something, we tweet it right out, we wait for the approval of the masses, and we move on.


In the 70s legislators like Biden did not have that option: they confronted the opposition with strong arguments, provided some give and take, even overlooked the basic faults—even the bigotry—of their opponents to arrive at some middle ground. One of the men Biden cited, Sen. Herman Talmadge of Georgia, opposed Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, saying that “there aren’t enough troops in the whole United States to make the white people of this state send their children to school with colored children.” Not what you want on your tombstone.


But in fact there were troops...and good people. As for Talmadge, he was always an unsavory character and his terms were sullied by scandal. But he was still a senator and had to be listened to and dealt with. Biden did that, always speaking in favor of a more progressive approach. He never said he yearned for a return of racists like Talmadge, only that a return to compromise might move the currently frozen needle.


I’m not a Biden guy. Actually I lean a little more toward Harris, though I'm not yet convinced of anyone. My “vote” doesn’t matter at this point; but it was disheartening to see Harris, Booker, Warren, and others assail Joe Biden in the only language most Americans now speak: Twitterese. Maybe Joe is out of touch, still trying to recapture the time of face-to-face discussions, when you had to look somebody in the eye and explain why you said what you said, and when attempts at "getting to yes" did not buck up against our zero-sum society. I have assailed—and shall continue to assail—Trump many times for his total ignorance of negotiation and compromise. Asking Biden to apologize for having tried to reach consensus forty years ago by the only means available at the time would be the height of hypocrisy.



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