By Jennifer Rubin

The Washington Post

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffe in boasting of his work “across the aisle” (actually, they were Democrats, making the story he told even more inapt) with segregationist Southern senators in the 1970s hasn’t gone away as his bobble over support for the Hyde amendment essentially did a couple of weeks ago.

Jennifer Rubin

The Washington Post reports on ongoing dissension on Biden’s team and reminds us of Biden’s all-too-chummy correspondence with Sen. James Eastland, D-Miss., 42 years ago (before South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was even born) over their shared opposition to busing.

The Biden story lingers because it touches on issues central to some Democratic voters – race and the choice between trying to work with recalcitrant Republicans or just running them over (e.g., eliminating the filibuster). The episode also implicates specific worries about Biden. Is he stuck in the past, less than light on his feet and too stubborn to accept wise counsel?

We should draw a distinction here. Biden’s record 40-plus years ago is likely not going to get used against him, provided he shows he has changed and does not insist he’d do the same today. It’s not the past but the present that will do him in.

The same challenge about reconciling his long record will arise on everything from his authorship of the 1994 crime bill to the Anita Hill hearings to potentially hundreds of other votes that in hindsight now seem problematic. If he cannot say and doesn’t believe that what worked in 1977 doesn’t work in 2019, and what legislation seemed appealing in 1994 doesn’t in 2019, he is in for a world of trouble. People understand that the world changes and people grow; what they won’t accept is someone in 2019 saying he’d behave as he did decades ago.

Biden’s handling of his decades-old conduct in 2019 raises questions, ironically, about the front-runner’s electability. (What if he does this in the general election?) These episodes can wind up bolstering Buttigieg’s (and other candidates’) argument that it is time for a new generation of candidates more attuned to 21st-century media, more adept in leading a diverse party and more capable of providing a contrast to a president pining for the good old days, which weren’t good for millions of women and nonwhite Americans.

We’ve now gotten to the stage where how Biden handles a flap (e.g., his ridiculous demand that Cory Booker apologize to him), how his staff reacts to the flap and how other candidates react to the flap have overtaken the original flap. This is how a one-day story becomes a one-week story and a series of debate questions.

In the era of President Donald Trump, there is a good argument to be made that the gaffe-outrage-media meme cycle we’ve seen in recent campaigns might be obsolete. There are so many news cycles and so many other stories constantly brewing (especially with more than 20 candidates) that a bad moment can get lost in the shuffle — if you don’t prolong it by a ham-handed response and stubborn insistence you were right all along.

Think if this had been Trump. He would have lashed out at the media for misconstruing his words, chided his opponents for boosting the other party, tossed out new material to distract the media and then denied he ever said he got along with segregationists. I don’t suggest Biden demonize the media or lie as Trump does, but he and his staff could learn a lesson about moving on and feeding the news cycle.

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