June 28, 2019
There is an expression frequently used to describe important people with progressive ideas who were nonetheless restrained by the prevailing social opinions and practices over which they had little or no control.
That expression is “They were a product of their times.” It is usually not meant as an insult, but it is sure as shootin’ a death knell in politics. Politics is all about changing the times because there is always something that needs changing. Those who advocate the status quo are soon relegated head first into the ash can of history.
Close to home, Katharine Reynolds, in many respects the very epitome of a woman ahead of her times, is described as a product of her times because the South was in the iron grip of Jim Crow and it would take years and most of America to say enough is enough. Sometimes there is only so much you can do.
That’s what I believe Vice President Joe Biden was subjected to last night during the debates. He is a product of the past and younger people like Congressman Eric Swalwell want the torched passed. As attractive a young man as Swalwell is, when he calls for passing the torch, he is a making an assumption that it is still burning. I doubt very much if anyone would want to accept a burned out torch. I wish there was a way to recognize that VP Biden helped light that torch and kept it flickering in so many ways.
Biden’s huge mistake with his comment about working with segregationists was that he seemed to long for the civility of the past when those of differing ideologies could find common ground. On one level, that’s how democracies work best when those differences are legitimate and integrity can be preserved. But, on occasion, the only response must be to condemn and castigate; that, too, is a function of democracy when confronted by challenges so far outside the norm and so antithetical to decency that there is no common ground. That is what our system is caught up in today. We can defend and preserve democracy in America only by abandoning those parts of the system that promote greed, disparity, and intolerance. Yet, while I am completely in agreement with Sen. Kamala Harris in asking the former Vice President, a man who I respect and admire, to apologize for his comments, I find it ironic that she could say in another setting “There are no segregationists in the Senate today.” without acknowledging that there aren’t in large part because of Joe Biden.
Nonetheless, there is a time in the life of every person when they must recognize that the times have changed and there is nothing to be gained by nostalgia. Bernie Sanders is a living example of the courage and tenacity it takes to stay the course. He, too, is a product of his times but he was never nostalgic about them, even when he had to make choices he might not have made in other times. Despite racing so far ahead of his time that had he ever looked over his shoulder early on he might have been discouraged when he saw very few, in any, following. Those following who finally caught up with him were not the ones he started the race with because they couldn’t keep up or wanted to drop out. It was the young who entered the race later, with the vigor and stamina required to make the times catch up with them and they want the baton passed even as they are prepared to let Bernie keep carrying the torch for a while.
We are all a product of our times. The trick is in not clinging to them as if they were something more than the product of birthdays.
© 2019 WD Publishing