Joe Biden, having finally apologized, ridiculously, for his remarks about working with segregationists in the 1970s, is imploring his Democratic rivals to “talk about the future instead of the past.” But talk about the past is usually more probative than talk about the future when it comes to selecting a president.
Candidates who talk about the future can promise the moon. Talking about the past provides a good indication of what a candidate can and will actually deliver. It’s called a track record.
One might also ask why, if talk about the future is the name of the game, Biden talks so much about the past. No one forced him to talk about James Eastland and Herman Talmadge. No one even asked him about them.
Still, Biden is well advised not to dwell on the past. Any candidate who has been as consistently wrong as Biden about foreign policy/national security issues would do well to keep the past at arm’s length. So would any candidate seeking the Democratic nomination who has been as frequently moderate as Biden.
Unfortunately for Talkin’ Joe, he will be forced to keep discussing the past — i.e., to defend his record. The issue of busing probably hurt Biden only in the sense that it gave a rival the opportunity to elevate herself and make him look bad in a debate.
Criminal justice reform is another matter. Biden supported the tough sentencing regime that Congress had the good sense to impose in the 1990s. It was a rare instance of him being right about something.
But the left came bitterly to oppose tough sentencing (as did many conservatives). Thus, unlike with school busing, Biden is vulnerable to a relevant and potentially compelling attack on the issue of criminal justice — a matter of great concern to African-American voters, few of whom likely know of Biden’s position in the 1990s.
I can’t wait for the next debates.