Joe Biden is under fire for boasting about his ability to work with, and be civil towards, racist Senators back in the 1970s. Cory Booker has called on Biden to apologize for the remarks.
Biden declines. “Apologize for what,” he asks.
Biden is right not to apologize. There was nothing wrong with working with fellow Democrats, even Dixiecrats, on non-racial issues as to which they agreed. Nor was the anything wrong with maintaining civil relations with fellow Senators.
Biden is also smart not to apologize. An apology would be an admission of error where there was none.
In addition, it would set a bad precedent. If Biden is going to apologize every time he makes an impolitic statement, he’s going to look weak and utterly non-presidential before long.
Biden is also smart to go on a “civility kick.” He understands that most Americans don’t like President Trump’s uncivil manner. If they did, Trump would have a higher approval rating, given the strong state of the American economy.
Few of Biden’s rivals are positioning themselves as a civil alternative to Trump. Arguably, Pete Buttigieg made a run at it, which may partially explain his emergence from obscurity. But candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris provide little reason to believe they can make our politics more civil. Nor would providing such reason bolster their chances of emerging from the pack in Democratic primaries.
Biden doesn’t need to emerge from the pack. He leads it. Thus, it makes great sense from him to push “civility” and to tout his ability to work across the aisle.
Biden’s mistake was in the examples he chose. Instead of talking about his ability to work with Reagan and Bush I and II Republicans, he chose figures justifiably despised by the Democrats’ core constituents and many others as well.
Doing so helped Biden make his point in the starkest terms, but not without a price.
Still, Biden did nothing he should apologize for, and apologizing would only compound his error of judgment.