Joe Biden teaches the country an important lesson on compromise

Joe Biden teaches the country an important lesson on compromise
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Democratic candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE indicated to a crowd at a fundraiser last week that in the past he was able to work with segregationist Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. “I was in a caucus with James Eastland,” the former vice president said. “We got things done. We did not agree on much of anything. We got things done.”

There is rightly a great deal of consternation about these comments, and I can well understand why the left is outraged. In this day and age, the idea of working with segregationists is abhorrent, as it should be. Still, Biden was making a larger point that the foundation of our democracy involves working in the world that we live in, not in the world that we want it to be. There was not then, nor will there ever be, a panacea for systemic racism.

We must do what is right for democracy if we want to achieve meaningful progress. That means working toward reasonable compromises with those who do not hold our same beliefs. Indeed, it is much more difficult today. We do not, for example, have a Lyndon Johnson, either in Congress or in the White House, working with southern leaders to achieve comprises on national issues such as Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights, and voting rights.


Indeed, President Johnson played a central role in securing the vote of Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, the only southern senator to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was an extraordinary accomplishment, and no one would have ever faulted Johnson and his former colleagues for working across the aisle in order to achieve the kind of momentous lasting change that has made this country greater, stronger, and fairer.

Biden was making an important point about Democrats being able to work with Republicans on climate change and immigration, national issues on which there are reasonable comprises to be had if both sides are willing to work with rather than  against one another. I have great respect for what Biden is trying to do, and while his language was perhaps inappropriate and arguably distasteful, his larger point is important. We simply cannot demonize the other side, no matter how much we disagree with them.

To be clear, one of my proudest accomplishments was in the early 1970s working against the policies of Eastland and the politics in Mississippi for independent African American candidates for statewide office. I say this not to pound my chest here, but so there is no misunderstanding that the argument within this column tolerates segregation or racism in any way.

The larger point that Biden made of bringing the country together is key, and it should be noted by the Democratic Party as next year approaches. If the Democrats end up losing the presidential election in 2020, it will not be because of Biden using inartful language about compromise. It will be because of comments like the one that Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York made last week, when she compared detention camps on the southern border to concentration camps in the Holocaust, which is an argument that is both abhorrent and arguably obscene to try to make.

To be sure, Biden will pay the price for his remarks. With the increasingly socialist Democrats gaining popularity, his campaign misstep will make clenching the party nomination as a moderate that much more difficult. However, it is rhetoric like that of Ocasio Cortez that will really hurt the Democrats going forward. While Biden made comments in poor form, if the Democrats engage in fratricide within the party, then no one will win.

Ultimately, the point about needing to compromise and work across the aisle is critical, and one that I hope the Democrats heed going into 2020.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”