“Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”

Dan Coonan is a lover of history and politics and is a passionate moderate. He has worked in intercollegiate athletics for twenty years and served as Chairman of the Board of a nonprofit homeless shelter network.   Email:  dpcoonan@gmail.com

Dan Coonan is a lover of history and politics and is a passionate moderate. He has worked in intercollegiate athletics for twenty years and served as Chairman of the Board of a nonprofit homeless shelter network.

Email: dpcoonan@gmail.com

Let me start by saying I voted for Joe Biden for President – not in any of those years when he actually ran, but in 2016 when I “wrote him in” because I could not stomach the other two alternatives.  I am a passionate moderate.  It was either Biden or McCain.

I have a problem with Uncle Joe these days and it’s not because he opposed federal busing decades ago.  His takedown the other night by Kamala Harris helped expose another perhaps fatal political flaw, and that’s the one that has me twisted up inside.

When Harris called him out for opposing busing in the seventies, his knee jerk response was that she was “mischaracterizing his position.”  She wasn’t.  He actively worked to defeat busing, solicited the assistance of some of the most racist senators in that effort, and even years later in his memoirs called busing “a liberal train wreck.”  Any reasonable analysis suggests he strongly opposed it.  Why couldn’t he just own that position in that moment?  He obviously felt very strongly that busing was wrong, and in that position both public opinion and history may in fact even be on his side.  His choice not to articulate his own views for fear of ostracizing the far left of the party is revealing.  He even suggested in his brief response that her type of busing “was one of the things I argued for.”  

To make matters worse he threw in a causal reference that he had left his law practice to become a public defender, whereas she had chosen to be a prosecutor - as if being a prosecutor is something that disqualifies one from earning the Democratic nomination for President.  As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that pushed to enact the 1994 Crime Bill, does Joe Biden really think that?  That’s what he implied.

As I look at his lifetime record of public service, I am less willing to call him out for certain positions taken last century that may no longer hold up when viewed through a 2019 lens.   However, I don’t give him a pass on his inability today to acknowledge that he may have ever been wrong.  

A very disturbing trend has emerged.  Much like the person he seeks to displace in the White House, he seems utterly unwilling and unable to say, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”

His law school plagiarism, where he lifted verbatim substantial passages from a published law review article, he defended as a simple mistake in the citation process with no malevolent intent.  The school described this as five pagesof plagiarized work. Years later, after lifting both words and life narrative from British Labour politician Neil Kinnock for his own speech, Biden refused to admit that he had done anything wrong, suggesting that many other famous and respected politicians often do the same.

Equally concerning is his refusal to admit he did wrong by Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings.  As Senate Judiciary chair, Biden excluded witnesses who would have supported Professor Hill’s allegations, and yet he allowed Senate colleagues to relentlessly attack her in the hearings.  When specifically asked today if he owes her an apology, the best response he can muster up is to say he wishes he “could have done something” to provide for her the hearing that she deserved.  Again, he was chair of the committee and presided over the hearings. Is it so unacceptable for him to say to her now that he should have personally done more for her when she was dragged into that mess? 

Lastly, I really take issue with his response to the women who have come forward to say his overly touchy behavior made them very uncomfortable, the evidence of which is clear in so many the videos through the years.  His response suggests simply that he thinks society has changed, as if it were ever appropriate to “eskimo kiss” a woman you just met or gently massage the shoulders of the wife of a presidential nominee at an announcement ceremony at the White House.  He refuses to apologize to any of them, saying instead very emphatically that he is not sorry for any of his intentions.

 Biden’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge errors or apologize when necessary reminds me all too much of our current president.  As much as I wanted the Democrats to align behind him as a moderate candidate, his “Kamala moment” the other night made it clear that he is not the answer.  I no longer believe he is the best chance to win – it’s time we have a president who is willing to take responsibility for his or her actions. We need more, not less accountability in our politicians.

I don’t know yet if Kamala Harris is the answer, but she commanded that stage the other night in a way I would have expected he would.  She demonstrated the passion, the fire, the intellectual chops, the quick wit and the gravitas that it will take to pull this off.  He failed in each of those critical elements.

Perhaps most revealing for Biden himself was when Chuck Todd granted him thirty seconds to respond to Kamala’s take down, and he cut himself off about twenty-one seconds later.   Rather than state that he did oppose busing and still does, it appeared he just wanted to escape mentally.  His last words, I suspect, will live on in political debate infamy.  As he cut himself off and said, “My time’s up.  I’m sorry.”

Maybe that’s the honest, meaningful apology we’ve all been waiting for.