The difference between black and white and grey

Although I can’t anticipate everything that will be broached in the Democratic debates this week, I’m sure Joe Biden will get a lot of heat for his recent boast about his ability, in his early years as a Senator, to get along with segregationist Senators James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.). In his telling, he also joked that Eastland never called him “boy”, just “son”.

That boast and the “boy”/“son” comparison immediately short-circuited the entire Democratic grid. 

New York’s Mayor and Democratic Presidential candidate Mayor Bill de Blazio: “Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to ‘the pursuit of dead n—–s,’ ” 

California Senator and Democratic candidate Kamala Harris (“If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.)

New Jersey Senator and Democratic Candidate Cory Booker: “Vice President Biden’s relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone.”

de Blasio and Harris are absolutely right. Eastland and Talmage did carry the standard for repulsive beliefs.

But Cory Booker’s was absolutely wrong. Biden’s relationships with Eastland and Talmage were, in fact, a model for making this country “safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone.”

Here’s why.

First, Senators don’t get to choose other Senators; their voters do. So if 1970’s voters in Mississippi and Alabama were racist (which they were), they would probably send racist Senators to Washington (which they did).

Second, Biden had two choices: work with Eastland and Talmadge on issues that didn’t involve race or refuse to work with them on anything because they were racists. If you look at Congress today and over the last few administrations, you can see the cost of refusing to work with people whose beliefs you abhor: dysfunctional government.

Congress in the 70’s, in contrast, got things done.

Biden’s comment about being called “son” instead of “boy” showed he’s either inured to racism at a base level or has never understood it.  

It marked him as “The White Man” in the race and will stick to him like dog poop on a shoe.

But that doesn’t negate his point about reaching across the aisle – in politics or life.  

Which brings up a much larger question: when is someone’s political, religious, or secular beliefs so abhorrent that we stop discussion and go to war? That is not an idle question: Oregon had to shut down their state house last Friday “due to a militia threat”. Why? Because of disagreement – not over racism – but over a climate change vote.

Republicans and Democrats used to get to know each other outside of Congress – at cocktail parties and such. That’s the atmosphere Biden was citing. Now they don’t mingle. So the only thing they know about each other is that they are either friends or enemies. There is no trust and no way to build it. 

Which makes governing almost impossible. Not all differences in today’s world are as black and white as racism. 

I have no use for Donald Trump as a person or President, for myriad reasons. Ditto Pence, McConnell. I have friends who do like all three, though. These friends are honest, kind people. Should I reject their friendship because of their politics? Should they reject me because of my politics?

A lot of people today would say yes to both questions. But that would obviate the other qualities that we like in each other. Our choice of friends would be reduced to one area: political preference.

Here’s an irony: my other friends, those who also dislike Trump, Pence and McConnell, are also honest, kind people. Really. Both groups have very similar values outside of politics. 

Would Biden have hung out with Eastland and Talmadge if they weren’t Senators? I doubt it. But the fact that he had to look past their racism to other qualities, or not do his job, allowed him and them to govern.  

What we lack in Congress and in personal relationships now, is that. Not all differences are as black and white as racism, Nazism, etc. Disagreement over climate change is just one example. And refusing to debate leaves one ugly alternative. 

I don’t know whether Biden will or should be elected. I just hope that whoever wins has the ability to see the difference between black and white and grey. 

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)