WASHINGTON — Joe Biden, the perennial presidential candidate, revealed a character flaw deeply hidden from all except those who know the 76-year-old Democrat of Delaware well.
The early 2020 campaign already told us the secret truth from that well: Biden can't apologize for anything. It's embedded in his constitution.
Such an ego is not OK in an old person governing a country rocked by change, roiled by inequity, divided by Civil War lines. President Trump has, in a way, started a new civil war. To heal scars, the next president must be wisely willing to bend, turn and sail with the wind in new directions.
The grace to fess up and learn from the past is crucial, as young President John F. Kennedy did days after the Bay of Pigs operation went south, saying, "Victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan." All along, Biden's bright genial manner masked a failure to admit to poor judgment.
Hear him for his cause, a few days ago: "I make no apologies for my last position, and I make no apologies for what I'm about to say."
That was the former vice president's about-face of affirming the Hyde Amendment (restricting reproductive rights) one day and then opposing it the next. The stumble horrified his campaign before he stepped foot in Iowa. Despite the bravado, there's talk among Democratic strategists that Biden's not ready for a game bigger than Delaware — the only place he's ever been a winner.
No humility in the retreat or much explanation of why Biden embraced the Republican Hyde position for decades. Denying federal funds for reproductive health care harms poor women and military women overseas. Biden camouflaged the class point by an odd leap to women's "ZIP codes," which he crafted out of thin air shortly before the announcement.
Nothing seems worth saying sorry in his public career. But Biden has made grave mistakes — with consequences to this day — that call out the issue of forgiveness.
Advisers on his third presidential campaign will wrestle with the two that can't be shrugged off with a smile and "Aw, shucks, folks." We know them well: his "aye" Senate vote on the Iraq War in 2002 and his inept conduct of the Anita Hill hearing on Clarence Thomas' fitness for the Supreme Court in 1991.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., is running himself, as a critic and veteran of the Iraq War. At 40, Moulton is sounding the call for Biden to seriously apologize for having supported that tragic war of aggression. Biden has only conceded that it was a mistake to trust then-President George W. Bush. That's not good enough. It takes courage to vote against any war in the well of the Senate. Biden never became a profile in courage.
The Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings were the worst government farce that ever happened while the nation's eyes were watching. Biden, then the wishy-washy Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, let Republicans railroad Hill, the dignified witness of Thomas' alleged sexual harassment as her boss. One trio of senators was so bad that I called it "Thunder, Lightning and Rain" while watching transfixed from San Francisco fog.
Biden loudly assured Thomas he'd have "the benefit of the doubt." Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., later spoke up: No, the country does.
Some say 1991 is history, yet the angry Thomas remains on the court's right wing.
But Biden recently refused to apologize for his treating Hill like the help. In fact, he said, "I'm not sorry for anything I've ever done." That did it.
Biden's strategy, more than that of other candidates in the crowded field, relies on "electability" style more than substance, winning personal connections with voters. Everybody likes Joe, especially Joe.
Then again, the last time he ran in the Iowa caucuses, he didn't clear 1 percent.
Biden is prouder than we knew, even Washingtonians who have lived here as long as he has, since the 1970s. That's when he first became a senator. President Obama's defense secretary, Robert Gates, observed Biden was wrong on almost every foreign policy crisis over four decades, which buttresses alarm bells at home.
Politics means having to say you're sorry, if you're running for president for the third time.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website, creators.com.
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