What all our politicians need, if not necessarily deserve, is a reliable statute of limitations.
Blaming a newborn male child, trying to get accustomed to his cradle (which is not nearly as comfortable as the digs he just left), for stealing a randy glance at the babe in pink in the cradle next to him, should not prevent his running for president of the United States three or four decades on.
Nevertheless, that’s where we are, circa almost 2020. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings set the new standard that it’s never too late to punish a sin of the past, even if the sin didn’t happen. He was accused of harassing a young woman at a party when they were in high school. She doesn’t remember when it was, where it was, how she got there and how she got home or even whether she went home that night, and Mr. Kavanaugh doesn’t remember it at all because he says it never happened. But it almost prevented his taking his place on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In our present day, no sin or shortcoming is so far in the past that a man is entitled to forget about it. That randy kid in the cradle had better mind his manners. It’s a mean and remorseless world he has just been born into.
Robert O’Rourke, better known as Beto and the latest Democratic presidential dreamer, was counting on a great opening day last week in Iowa and spent the day apologizing for a “joke” mocking himself. He praised his wife, Amy, at several campaign stops for having raised their children “sometimes with my help.”
The harpies pounced. Iowans chuckled, but the “joke” offended harpie world (everything always does) as a remark “insensitive” to the challenges faced by single mothers. Instead of telling the harpies to pipe down and get a life, as a pol would surely want to do but would not dare, Beto offered the most abject, servile and hang-dog apology for something that needed no apology since Barack Obama’s infamous apology tour of the Muslim world to beg forgiveness for America’s sins and shortcomings.
Beto dropped to his knees to beg pardon of everybody everywhere for his white privilege, though no one had accused him of being a white boy. “Not only will I not say [that joke] again, but I’ll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage and the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege.”
Sadly, there was more. He tried to explain two arrests when he was a younger man, one for drunk driving and the other for breaking and entering. He apparently was just no darn good, though he isn’t ready yet to put it that way. That was what he was trying to say in “a ham-handed way” with the remark about the way he abandoned his children to their mother’s care. But harpies are not famous for their appreciation of humor or wit.
Bernie Sanders may be getting fair warning that he may not have as many people looking out for him this time. Tapes and printed interviews are emerging from the archives of Bernie’s past as a socialist that only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the famous “AOC,” could envy or appreciate.
“I favor public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries,” he told the Burlington [Vermont] Free Press in 1976. Like AOC, he is particularly out to settle scores with the oil and energy industries. “It is extremely clear,” he wrote in an open letter to his senator in 1973, “that these [energy] companies, owned by a handful of billionaires, have far too much power over the lives of Americans to be left in private hands. The oil industry, and the entire energy industry, should be owned by the public and used for the public good — not for additional profits for the billionaires.”
Like most of us, Bernie often discovers that he talks too much; a flapping tongue can get a man in trouble. When he became a U.S. senator, he began to back away from some of the foolish things he wished he hadn’t said.
But in the age of the Internet, where every burp and hiccup is recorded and archived (why no pundit in his right mind would ever run for anything), a candidate can never be sure that one of those burps and hiccups will return from the past to bring him severe heartburn. The man who would be king (or even president) faces the hard reality that there’s no statute of limitations. In a reasonable world there would be, but none of us lives there.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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