I’m not going to go biblical and self-righteously urge anyone who is without sin to cast the first stone. However, that is just what’s happened with Joe Biden over the past few weeks.
Biden has massive name recognition and the quasi-official imprimatur of centrist Democrats. That means he can bag a king’s ransom in campaign money. He’s got more official public experience than all the other Democratic contenders, which includes his well-regarded stint as Obama’s vice president. Even during his time as a nonpresidential candidate, polls showed him as someone who consistently topped the Democratic presidential contender field. He was widely believed to be the one, maybe only Democrat who could beat President Trump.
Then it happened, with people pointing fingers at Joe for being too touchy feely, a hugger and a grabber of way too many women. This is a mortal sin in the #metoo era, but it didn’t halt the Biden bandwagon.
What most may not remember is Joe committed perhaps his greatest political sins long ago in the two most potentially game-changing areas for a Democratic candidate: race and gender.
As a relatively young senator in the 1970s, Joe opposed busing so loudly that he even briefly joined with one of the country’s most virulent racists, Mississippi Sen. James Eastland. Decades later, Biden has never really done much in the way of an apology for that, but he really need not do that, since there are a lot of blacks who also had doubts about whether busing did anything to improve the quality of education for their kids. Yet, his opposition tags him as a guy who has a checkered racial past and raises suspicion that he may still harbor some racial animus. That’s a ludicrous stretch, but it’s a point that almost certainly will be dredged up during the campaign.
Then there’s gender. Joe can barely turn his head without someone hectoring him for not formally apologizing to Anita Hill. He’s expressed regret for how he did nothing to stop the manhandling of Hill when he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas SCOTUS confirmation hearings in 1991. His failure to formally apologize to Hill for that alone wouldn’t be much of a campaign killer if in the next breath he weren’t attacked for his opposition to abortion while in the Senate.
Biden eventually relented, had his epiphany on that issue and now is solidly pro-choice. As with busing, however, this will be trotted out again and again to paint him as a closet right to lifer or someone who can’t be trusted to be a staunch abortion rights fighter should the Supreme Court move to torpedo Roe v. Wade.
In any other season, Joe’s past sins on these issues might not be a potential deal breaker. What’s different this time around is that no Democratic presidential contender has a prayer of wining the Oval Office without energizing middle-income college-educated suburban women and African-American voters in five or six must-win states. An enthusiastic turnout from both groups is the only thing that can partially neutralize the big turnout Trump will get from his base of less educated white male and female blue collar and rural voters in those states.
The assumption is that Joe has enough working-class appeal to pry some of those voters away from Trump. That’s an untested and risky assumption. Countless surveys have shown that many of those voters aren’t in ecstasy over Trump solely because of his phony promise to bring back jobs. Their lovefest with him is based on race, or rather racial fear and naked bigotry. No amount of earthy tough talk from Joe is going to crack that with them.
So that brings it back to revving up blacks and educated middle-class white women to vote in big numbers. The great lesson that should have been learned from 2016 is that banking on their loathing for everything that Trump represents won’t ensure anyone storming the polls to oust him. Joe will have to convince them that he’s the real deal in the fight for racial and gender justice. This is a tall order that will get even taller if Joe’s past sins on race and gender are held against him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He is also a weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One and host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.