I’m not going to go biblical on anyone and self-righteously admonish that he or she who is without sin should cast the first stone. However, that is just what’s happened the past few weeks with Joe Biden.
He will, as I said a few months ago, officially jump into the 2020 presidential race this week. There was seemingly never any reason for him not to challenge President Donald Trump.
He has massive name recognition. He has the quasi-official imprimatur of centrist Democrats. That means he can bag a small king’s ransom in campaign money.
He’s got more public official experience then all the other Democratic contenders. That includes his well-regarded stint as President Barack Obama’s vice president. Even during his time as a non-presidential candidate, polls showed him as the Democrat who consistently topped the presidential contender field. He was widely believed to be the one, maybe the only Democrat, who could beat Trump.
But then it happened. First there was the accusation that Biden is way too touchy and feely, a hugger and grabber of way too many women. This is sacrilege in the #MeToo era. While that raised more than a few eyebrows and threw a little cold water on the Biden bandwagon, it didn’t halt it.
But Biden’s past is a far different story. His alleged political sins have been thrown up in his face and he’s been ruthlessly pounded for it. He committed his two greatest sins in the two areas that are the most volatile, sensitive and potentially game changing, for any Democratic presidential candidate: race and gender.
As a relatively young senator in the 1970s, Biden loudly opposed busing. So loudly, that he even briefly made common cause with one of the most virulent and outlandish Senate racists, Mississippi Sen. James Eastland.
Decades later, Biden hasn’t really done much in the way of an apology for it. He really doesn’t need to, since there are a lot of blacks who also had doubts about whether busing did anything to improve the quality of their kids’ education.
Yet, his opposition tags him as a guy with a checkered racial past and raises suspicion that he may still harbor some racial animus. That’s a ludicrous stretch.
Yet, it’s a point that almost certainly will be drudged up again at times during the campaign.
Then there’s gender. Biden can barely turn his head without someone hectoring him for not openly, publicly and formally apologizing to Anita Hill. He has expressed regret for how he did nothing as Senate Judiciary chair during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991 to stop the manhandling of Hill during her testimony before the committee.
His failure to formally apologize to Hill for that alone wouldn’t be much of a campaign killer if almost in the next breath he wasn’t singled out for his dogged opposition to abortion for years in the Senate.
Biden eventually relented, had his epiphany on the issue and now is solidly pro-choice.
Yet, as with the busing issue, this will be trotted out again and again during the campaign to paint him if not as a closet right-to-lifer, someone who can’t totally be trusted to be a staunch abortion rights fighter if the Supreme Court eventually moves to torpedo Roe v. Wade.
In any other season, Biden’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 mid-income, college-educated suburban women and African-American voters in the five or six must win states.
A big, enthusiastic turnout from both groups is the only thing that can in part neutralize the big turnout Trump will get from his base in those states. They are less educated white male and female, blue collar and rural voters.
The assumption is that Biden has enough gritty, working class appeal to pry some of those voters away from Trump. That’s an untested assumption, if not a downright risky assumption, if there ever was one. Countless surveys have shown that many of those voters aren’t in ecstasy over Trump solely because of his bring back the jobs phony promise. Their lovefest with him is based on race, or rather racial fear, panic and naked bigotry.
No amount of earthy, tough talk from Biden is going to crack that with them. So that brings it back to revving up blacks and middle class, educated white women to march to the polls in big numbers. The great lesson and mistake that should have been learned from 2016 is that banking on their loathing for everything that Trump represents won’t ensure their storming the polls to oust him.
Biden will have to convince them that he’s the real deal in the fight for racial and gender justice. That is a tall order that will get even taller if Biden’s past sins on race and gender are held against him. Let’s hope the rocks stay on the ground.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.