Political Apologies and American Democracy
Although President today, Joe Biden's tenure as Vice President shows us what it's like to have to extend a series of political apologies for various gaffes.
Were there signs that the proud and charismatic man would be required to make so very many mea culpas while in office? How about now that he is President?
Let's take a look back at when, then Senator Biden, in an interview with the New York Observer, made the following comment about Democratic Senator (and 2008 Presidential candidate) Barack Obama,
... you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean that's a storybook, man.
That comment produced a whirlwind series of political apologies on several syndicated radio and TV talk shows.
Interestingly, most of the coverage regarding the matter failed to bring up Biden's prior racial gaffe in a comment about the Indian-American community—"You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." But that's another story.
Now, Obama's immediate reaction to Biden's 'clean' and 'articulate' comment was to dismiss the remark by pointing out that he wasn't personally offended, which no doubt offended many prominent 'clean' and 'articulate' members of the African American community who, for very good reasons, were offended by Biden's comments.
Once Obama's handlers realized the implications of simply brushing off Biden's comment Obama issued an official statement that was a little more specific (and a lot more acceptable to the African American community...
I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.
In theory, the next step would have been for Senator Obama to extend political apologies to Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and then presidential candidate Alan Keyes for failing to identify so many other clean and articulate African American 'Republicans' as well.
For his part in this political mess Biden appeared on Al Sharpton's syndicated radio show to defend himself,
Al, I wasn't in any way criticizing you or Jesse. I was not making a historical reference. I said what I said, and then there was a comma, and I said, 'and clean,' meaning fresh, new, exciting... The truth of the matter is you're one of the most articulate people in the country.
The saddest part about Biden's groveling and repeated political apologies, however, was that Biden, a senior and very distinguished Senator from Delaware, has one of the most active voting records in the Senate supporting civil rights legislation.
He must have surely wondered how this one statement could get him into that kind of trouble with a community he has spent so much time defending.
But that is the nature of American politics —one misstatement, which ironically was a poorly worded attempt to complement another candidate for the presidency, became more relevant to Biden's presidential hopes than years of solid support for civil rights.
It speak volumes about the health of American democracy. But perhaps there's still hope.
In the last quarter of the Obama Presidency, Vice President Biden is quoted in an article at The New Yorker saying,
For all my skepticism about taking the job, it's been the most worthwhile thing I've ever done in my life...I can die a happy man not being President.The Biden Agenda | Evan Osnos | July 28, 2014
Presidential Political Apologies
Fast forward to 2019 and Joe Biden once again runs for President at a time when American democracy ails far beyond what we could've imagined, and in more serious ways.
Perhaps part of the reason he won in 2020 and is now President of The United States is because the American people longed for the good old days where misstatements were analyzed, discussed and rebutted publicly in a civilized and mature manner.
Where being and acting presidential found renewed importance, especially at a time where Social Media has become the Wild West, void of any regulation.
Social Media, The Presidency & Political Apologies
2016 brought us a POTUS who actually tweeted out policy. His supporters and 'bots' cheered him on and retweeted while those who opposed his words and actions lambasted him.
Both groups amplifying each and every one of the 280 characters they support.
Malicious outside forces push one side or the other to serve what best suits them at any given moment. Inside greed and a desire for power destroys the country from within.
By doing so, both groups target and undermine the very essence of what it is to be American and what America stands for.
Social media then stirs the pot. And so it goes... Tweet and repeat.
Ironically, the man who made so many political gaffes and has issued subsequent apologies for most of them is now President.
The 'former guy' who has never apologized for anything has been banished from most major social media platforms, is under criminal and civil investigation, and issues post-presidency statements to a small audience of his most ardent supporters.
The question now is whether American democracy will prevail in the time of Social Media.
And so it goes... Tweet and repeat.
Read more on how perfect political apologies are anything but...