If you want to progress in politics these days, you’d better first start scoping out an apology tour.
In America’s new victim culture, politicians are on the defensive like never before – for anything they’ve done going back a half-century.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and candidate-in-waiting Joe Biden have been prostrating themselves for past sins every second day of the week. Before them, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have had to repent or fight off calls to do so.
Everyone’s head is in the past, having to answer to what one observer called the Court of Prior Offences. They never got Bob Dylan’s message, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
The remorse-of-course reflex is abetted by a media overrun with overreaction. Ms. Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, was called on the carpet because some employees said she was hard to work for. For this, she was subjected to a New York Times investigation. It revealed that she, good heavens, had occasionally hurled objects in frustration. This and other gut-wrenching disclosures, such as a high staff turnover.
Ms. Klobuchar possesses a bad temper, has been a tough boss. So was Peter the Great and a few other notables, none of whom were subjected to gender bias.
Texan Mr. O’Rourke, the Jack Kerouac of the Democrats, has been on quite the mea culpa binge. He’s had to apologize for writing a Broadway musical review at the age of 19 in which he said the actresses’ only qualifications appeared to be their curvy physical dimensions. That came after an “I’m sorry” for some bad fiction he wrote about the murder of children. He was 15 when he penned that one.
Worse was Mr. O’Rourke having to bemoan the fact – admit there was “truth of the criticism” – that he was born to money and privilege. As if that was his fault.
Vying with him for the longest running apology tour is Joe caught-in-a-time-warp Biden. He came out in support of anti-busing legislation 44 years ago, which made him appear against racial integration in schools. He’s had to express remorse of course for being unsympathetic to Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Supreme Court fight in 1991. More recently, he had to apologize for calling Vice-President Mike Pence a “decent guy.” And this week, more troubling is that he finds himself under the gun for revelations of inappropriate touching of women while campaigning for them.
The latter didn’t cause Mr. Biden problems in previous campaigns. But it’s a new era. The ascendancy of women and minorities is long overdue. The bar is higher. Standards and mores may have been different in his time. It doesn’t do him much good now.
The big exception to crouching, defensive-minded politicians is Donald Trump. No one can imagine him on an apology tour. Attempts to shame him are met with defiance. There’s not much about him you want to emulate, but Democratic candidates could use some of his audacity.
The #MeToo movement, which now threatens to ensnare Mr. Biden, prompted an apology as well from Bernie Sanders when it was revealed that some of his staffers had allegedly engaged in sexual harassment in the 2016 campaign. The spirit of #MeToo prompted not only the apologies for what Mr. O’Rourke did in his teens but also on account of what he said recently about his wife. Campaigning in Iowa, he said she had been raising their three children, “sometimes with my help.” He was joking, but the climate is so sensitive that he had to come forward with a statement of regret for saying it.
In the new culture, the Court of Prior Offences can spell trouble on so many fronts. If you’re of affluent background, it’s not good. If you’re white and male it’s a handicap. If you’re well educated, you’re an elitist.
Mr. Biden is the one with the most difficulty. He leads in the polls but his candidacy could be derailed before it even begins. He defends himself against the women’s claims, saying he was just a touchy, feely old pol. "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately.”
Most everybody who’s ever followed Mr. Biden believes this. They believe there was no malevolence in the hugging or kissing, no sleazy intent. But given the new climate, that may not be enough.