When The New York Times last week put a spotlight on Southwest Michigan for a story about the 2020 presidential race, it provided a good example of what is wrong with politics in America.
The Times story on Wednesday was exploring the electability of former Vice President Joe Biden. It pointed out a minor controversy that arose in October when Biden, in a speech to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan, said some kind words about U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph.
Biden, a Democrat and former senator, and Upton, a Republican, served in Congress together for many years. Their relationship got closer when Biden, who had lost his son, Beau, to cancer, strongly backed Upton’s 21st Century Cure Act, a major health reform bill that was passed by Congress and signed in December 2016 by President Barack Obama, with Biden and Upton by his side.
So when Biden visited Upton’s congressional district for his Economic Club speech at Lake Michigan College, and knowing Upton was in the audience, it was natural for him to include a shout-out to his friend. In the speech, Biden called Upton “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with” and said Upton “is the reason we’re going to beat cancer” because of his support for medical research.
Local Democrats were not happy that Biden made such glowing remarks about Upton just three weeks before the November election when Upton was in a tight race with Democrat Matt Longjohn. They considered it ostensibly a campaign endorsement of Upton. The Times reported “Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans.” The story also noted that Biden knew he would be speaking to an Economic Club audience that leans Republican, and it pointed out the club is underwritten by foundations with links to the Upton family.
The overall theme of the article: Is Biden too bipartisan (hanging out with Republicans and saying nice things about one of them) to win the Democratic nomination for president?
Biden reacted to the Times story on Thursday in a predictably sardonic fashion: “I read in the New York Times today, one of my problems if I run for president is I like Republicans. Well, bless me father for I have sinned.”
Sadly, though, “sin” is just how some Democrats view Biden’s remarks, and to many of them, that sin is unpardonable.
This little episode won’t make or break Biden’s presidential bid, but it offers a sad picture of the political climate we are in. And though we’re pointing fingers at Democrats in this example, this truly is a bipartisan problem.
The heated rhetoric in national politics, fueled by social media and laid bare in the unconventional presidency of Donald Trump, has made bipartisanship a dirty word. Many Republican and Democratic partisans – maybe not the elected officials themselves, but certainly many of the activists and constituencies they are trying to attract – see the other side as evil. You don’t make friends with evil people. You don’t compromise with them on issues like border security and government shutdowns.
And when visiting their hometowns, you better not say nice things about them in public speeches.
(An opinion of The Herald-Palladium editorial board.)