Saturday, June 29, 2019

An Opportunity Seized. An Opportunity Lost.

Politico reports

The mood in the spin room — among other campaigns, Democratic National Committee consultants, reporters and pundits— was that Harris dominated and tapped into Biden’s weaknesses.

“She exposes the cracks in Biden,” said one DNC consultant. “She brought it. Hard.”

Harris at Thursday night's debate contended

So, on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. I–there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a coworker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because she–because we were black. And I will say also that–that in this campaign, we’ve also heard–and I’m going to now direct this to Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.

Imagine you're a 30-year-old man who drinks more than most, holds down a full-time job, is in good health and a stable marriage, and on whom alcohol has negligible effect. An acquaintance and rival of yours asserts "I do not believe you are an alcoholic."

Your first- and accurate- thought is "he's accusing me of being an alcoholic."

Having planned this attack for months, the California senator continued "But, I also believe–and it’s personal."

(Well, isn't it always these days?)  And then

And I–I was actually very–it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.

And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.....

She does not believe Biden is a "racist," she told him, after which she implied that his opposition to busing to achieve racial integration (a policy at the time very unpopular with whites and not particularly popular among blacks) had oppressed that "little girl in California" and others. But not a racist.

In what should have called into mind a political party (and its leader) for whom facts are a nuisance, Harris added "So, I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."

"It cannot be an intellectual debate," pleaded the lawyer and former prosecutor, who prefers that it be an emotional one. Facts cannot come into play.

It worked, as the anonymous DNC consultant understood. It worked because Harris knew that none of the debaters, nor host, would call her out for suggesting (in other words) that the former Vice President is a racist nor that the interests of one little girl should drive public policy. ("You're not attacking me; you're attacking that little girl.")

Biden then played defense- defending what he maintains is a lifelong commitment to civil rights- rather than responding in what would have been a more appropriate and probably effective, albeit extremely risky, manner.

Never a hungry fighter, and perhaps still deluded into believing this is his race to lose, Biden failed to do what he should have done.  He should have turned the attack back on Harris.

Self-righteously (generally an effective posture, as Harris demonstrated), the former Vice President should have pointed out that at a time when the President they all want to unseat is an unmitigated bigot, Senator Harris is invoking the race card.  We've had too much of that the past few years, he might have noted, and this subject is too important to be trivialized by an unsubstantiated accusation. (It also was a pious accusation but that shot would have multiplied the risk to him.)

Of course, Biden didn't do that because it was a gamble and he would have broken a couple of rules of Democratic politics. He concluded the exchange by stating "My time is up. I'm sorry."

It was fitting, not only because he is probably finally beginning to realize that his time is indeed up. Harris could have pointed out that her opponent had played second fiddle to the man who had played second fiddle to Mitch McConnell.  In his story about two long-deceased segregationists, Biden pined for the days when there was "some civility" before politicians believed "you're the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy." And he believes, quite remarkably and dangerously, that this all started with Donald Trump.

Harris remarked "I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," which suggests that she either agrees with Biden's approach to governing the nation (unlikely) or was lying (likely). So instead, she went for the cheap shot, knowing she would, in today's politics, be immune from attack during the debate and then  lionized afterward.

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