There’s no new thing under the sun, as Ecclesiastes tells us, and the politics of the nation proves it. A senator’s declaration that she was raped many years ago recalls the struggle of feminists to send women into combat. Some of the arguments survive to be ventilated again.
Joe Biden’s soon to be celebrated opposition to busing white kids to schools many miles away from their homes to rub shoulders with black kids, is coming back to haunt him now as he prepares a run for the White House. Almost nobody, black or white, any longer thinks that busing was a great idea, but the anger survives.
We rarely get fresh controversies in our politics, only golden oldies, recycled and tuned to the mystic chords of memory that Lincoln spoke so eloquently about. The only thing new is a stray sour note among the chords.
Martha McSally, the first female fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, confided to a television interviewer that as a younger member of the service she was raped by a superior officer, and didn’t know what to do about it. So she kept her peace for lo, these many decades, and now it can be exploited for a positive use. The #MeToo ladies may be impressed.
“It’s not just as a commander that I speak,” she told CBS News, “but it’s as a survivor that I just felt that I needed to talk about it.” She served in the Air Force for 26 years, with more than 300 “combat hours” in a fighter plane and became the first woman to command a fighter squadron. Now, she says, she wants to “give the perspective of why I am advocating that the command chain has to step up to do their part to rid us of sexual assault.”
Nobody says nice things about rape, the vilest of crimes that was once a capital crime, but since reduced to something like shoplifting. But eliminating sexual assault in the military services is likely more than even a U.S. senator can accomplish. Putting healthy men and women together in sustained intimate circumstances, military or otherwise, invites the he’n and she’n that can lead to abuse. We can all be grateful that Miss McSally has recovered sufficiently to perform the duties of a senator. Men, being men, sometimes act foolishly to protect women in combat, and the mere presence of female pheromones dancing lightly on the night air can be a distraction, or worse. It’s no longer fashionable to take that into account.
Ours is no longer a culture of moderation that gives much weight to common sense. It was not always so. Joe Biden, who could be the Democratic nominee for president next year, was a mere U.S. senator whose home state, like many other states, was fraught with angry debate over school busing, the proposition that black and white children should be sent to schools far from their own neighborhoods to promote racial diversity.
He was a leader of the opposition when he said, “I do not buy the concept [which says] that we have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race. I don’t buy that.
“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father or grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
Reasonable people recognize that “that was then, and this is now,” and say that Mr. Biden’s later work with civil rights advocates to desegregate Delaware public schools should be taken into account. Ralph Neas, the former director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, is one civil rights advocate who does. “We disagreed on busing,” he says, “but I always looked to Biden as a leader in the field of civil rights in other critical areas.”
The young firebrands in the Democratic Party who generally know nothing about the nation’s history but are eager to judge everyone else by their own ignorance, are likely to cut the old man nothing. They’re gearing up for a campaign to win reparations for descendants of slaves, and everyone with at least one blue eye should expect to eventually write a check.
Mr. Biden’s office says he will stand by his views on busing 30 and more years ago, and he should. If Donald Trump has taught the Democrats anything, it’s that plain speech, never apologizing, never explaining, never cowering in the corner, is what wins elections. Cowering is not pretty.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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