The Holier-than-thou syndrome and Biden’s latest “controversy”

Joe Biden said that as a senator he’d been able to work with colleagues he’d disagreed with, even segregationists like Mississippi’s James Eastland. For this Biden’s been attacked by rivals Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker.*

Shame on them. Here we go again, with holier-than-thou Democrats trying to tear down the very decent man who is the party’s best hope for saving America from Trump.

Holier-than-thou. Preening as moral avatars by impugning the moral bona fides of others. Drawing a cordon sanitaire to consign others to outer darkness. Casting them as moral lepers (or at least “insensitive”) to validate your own supposed virtue.

This is the face of political correctness. Its bounds of moral acceptability are narrow. Fall afoul of them, and you’re a pariah; with no right to your opinion. Certainly not to be heard. Maybe to be punished. (I recently wrote of a similar attack on Tom Brokaw for allegedly “racist” comments.**)

Between that Scylla of intolerance on the left and the Charybdis of hatefulness on the right, will America be sunk?

Back to Biden’s comment: so now it’s not enough just to disagree with racists, even to condemn their views. You’re not allowed to engage with them at all. To cooperate even on things unconnected to race.

Such moralistic exclusionism has ground our government to a halt. In the past era Biden was referring to, the Senate could still actually function, political adversaries could pragmatically set aside their differences on some issues to collaborate on others. Legislation happened. Problems got addressed. No longer.

The self-congratulatory moral sanctimony of our Bookers, Harrises and Warrens may feel good, to them and their rabid cheering section, but what does it actually achieve? Does it shame the politically incorrect into reconsidering and recanting? Hardly. It does the reverse. They themselves now feel equally morally entitled to damn their own ideological foes. The resulting polarization is tearing America apart.

Biden seems to understand this. When he previously spoke of keeping — oh no! — Republicans in our civic fold — a hard left commenter on my blog predictably flayed him.

We keep talking about “our democracy.” What does democracy really mean? Is it just elections, majority rule? No, what’s more important is democratic culture and attitude; crucially, the concept of pluralism. And it doesn’t mean just ethnic or gender diversity, but mainly diversity of ideas. That there’s space in the public square for more than one viewpoint. That people you disagree with have an equal claim to participation, equal legitimacy; even to win sometimes.

Political correctness rejects that kind of pluralism, seeking the delegitimization of certain viewpoints, their banishment from the public square. Communism had the “dictatorship of the proletariat;” today’s left seeks the dictatorship of, well, the left. Biden’s comment about working even with segregationists, in contrast, epitomizes democratic culture. That’s how democracy works — indeed, how it must work. If it is to work at all.

* Biden noted Eastland didn’t call him “boy.” That in particular irked Booker because Southern racists disrespectfully called black men “boy.” Was Biden’s comment disrespectful? Toward Eastland, maybe. Biden was in fact acknowledging how segregationists did disrespect black men.

** Here’s a link:


2 Responses to “The Holier-than-thou syndrome and Biden’s latest “controversy””

  1. Paul J Landsberg Says:

    Frank, I gotta disagree with you on this one. Mostly because Biden’s brave show of “I can work with Republicans” is a throwback to when a single Republican would cross the aisle and negotiate. Wait, I mean truly negotiate, I don’t mean the old “I have 2 hostages and you get to pick which one I kill.” Can you point to a single Republican today who is willing to work with the Democrats? If such a magical creature exists, it will surely get primaried quickly.

    I don’t know if I have said it in your comments but the Republicans take no prisoners, pass no legislation brought forward by a Democrat, do not even put forward to vote a Supreme Court nominee put forward by a Democrat president, and so forth, has been rewarded time and time and time again at the voting booths. To me the voter reality is that a sheer lack of compromise has won the Republicans more seats and more votes.

    And I don’t buy into this whole nonsense fantasy that the moment Trump is gone, all those Republicans who where demonically enthralled will awaken to the joys of bipartisan and effective government and leadership.

    Should Biden be pilloried for harking back to saner days? Probably not. However, his track record of working across the aisle is pretty useless given the current state of the soul of the Republican Party.

  2. Roger Says:

    btw, this piece got picked up TODAY in Medium

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