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Like The Kentucky Derby: Democrats Face A Stampede, Not A Horse Race

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Like The Kentucky Derby: Democrats Face A Stampede, Not A Horse Race

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Regarding “horse race” coverage of presidential primaries, the current Democratic contest quite resembles the Kentucky Derby. Coming out of the starting gate, there are at least twice as many entries as there ought to be. The majority have no realistic chance.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio? Crackpot new age guru Marianne Williamson? Former tech executive Andrew Yang? I could go on. All such long-shot, 500 to 1, vanity candidates can do is make a cluttered, potentially dangerous mess of things. Rather like this year’s actual Kentucky Derby, I suppose—more stampede than horse race.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be leading the field heading into the first turn. Which most often means he’ll fade in the stretch. Wire-to-wire winners are rare in presidential primaries. The most recent was Hillary Clinton, hardly an inspiring example. Many Democrats have their money on Biden largely because everybody knows his name, and he’s personally popular. Never mind that he’s something like 103 years old.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Since the majority of Americans dislike Donald Trump, many Democrats think Biden’s the best bet to win next year, when his real age will be 78. Too old to be president, in my view as his marginally younger contemporary. And far too old for the even more exhausting job of campaigning. That applies to Uncle Bernie too, who’s a year older. For that matter, Trump himself is showing signs of wear.

But I digress. Democrats being Democrats, it’s considered discriminatory—the cant term is “ageist”—to mention the candidate’s advanced years. So instead, they decided to bicker about race, a topic that brings out the worst in almost everybody.

Joe Biden, see, was a U.S. Senator back in the 1970s, when Deep South segregationists, all Democrats, walked the earth and ran all the important committees. You wanted to get anything through Congress, you had to deal with them. Rattling on in his loosey-goosey way at a fund-raiser, Biden explained how the experience of working with odious specimens like Senators James O. Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) made him confident he could bargain with Trumpist Republicans.

Biden described his deep philosophical differences with the two, affecting a deep Southern drawl (rarely a good idea), and calling Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” He added that Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ”

Most people would call Eastland’s language patronizing, but short of offensive, which seemed to be Biden’s meaning. He certainly wasn’t bragging about “white privilege.”

“Well, guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done…But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Two of Biden’s more estimable rivals sensed a potential opening. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced himself hurt by the former vice-president’s flippant use of racist language and called for an apology. Biden then demanded a counter-apology for doubting his motives. Lame on lame.

See, I quite doubt anybody’s called Cory Booker “boy” since he turned twelve. He grew up a football star in a comfortable New Jersey suburb, played at Stanford, and became a Rhodes Scholar.

The first time he ran for mayor of Newark, incumbent Sharpe James called Booker a “faggoty white boy,” and accused him of “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark.” In 2012, he became a folk hero by running into a burning apartment building to carry a neighbor to safety. Fire officials said he could have been killed.

So I think Booker’s not somebody whose feelings are easily hurt.

Ditto California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose parentage is Indian and Jamaican. She objected to segregationists being referenced positively at all. If Talmadge and Eastland had their way, she observed, she could never have become a U.S. Senator. True, although they couldn’t prevent African-American Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA) from serving even then.

Harris spoke feelingly about seeing her mother, a medical researcher, treated “like she was a substandard person” by people who assumed “she was somebody’s housekeeper…based on how she looks.”

Painful, I’m sure. Unless your own mother was a housekeeper.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with Joe Biden. “I don’t think his remarks are offensive,” said legendary civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan.  We never gave up on our fellow human beings.”

This can’t be news to black voters in South Carolina, most of whom attending Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual political fish fry told Daily Beast reporter Hanna Trudo they regarded the whole thing as media nonsense. As a preacher she interviewed told her: “If you give the devil a ride, he will drive.”

IMAGE: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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