Having spent more than 30 years of my life in government, I am often asked to contrast the politics of the past with the current political climate. It is not hard to articulate the difference. The politics of yesterday was combative, but collegial. A handshake was how differences were settled and everyone kept their word. There was warmth between adversaries that is missing on today’s battlefield. And, hugging was allowed.
An example of the tone of a bygone era happened to me in the past week. I was in a Manhattan restaurant having dinner with my wife Suzan, when I spotted former Republican Governor George Pataki. During our years in government, we were rarely on the same side because I, as a Democrat, was a spokesman for my party. We rose to greet each other and exchanged the warmest possible hug. A nearby diner asked aloud, “Are you guys that friendly?”
This passing experience brings to mind the current attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden. There is no doubt that Joe Biden represents an era when warmth and civility were the order of the day. Back in the 1970s, Biden’s wife and child died in a terrible auto accident. I was one of many who reached out to him to express my condolences. From that time on, we had a passing relationship, mostly at fundraising events. In 1986, when I lost my wife Barbara, one of the first calls I got was from Biden who offered sincere words of comfort, followed by a number of follow-up calls.
Currently Biden is under attack by some women who claim that at one time he “invaded their space” with unwelcome gestures. None of the criticism rises to the level of claiming sexual harassment and no one has made that claim. By accident or otherwise, some of the people who have recalled these incidents are aligned with the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. But there is no doubt that there may be one who has an honest recollection of conduct that made her “uneasy.”
If former Vice President Biden becomes a presidential candidate, his fate will rise or fall based upon the current day rules that govern political interaction. He will have to tell Americans why he can do a better job than any of the 17 other declared candidates. Based on a lifetime of public service, he will have an opportunity to tell us what his vision is for our country. Biden comes from a different era in politics, but should he run, he could turn out to be the person with the best chance to unseat the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Former State Assemblyman Jerry Kremer is a columnist for Long Island Weekly and partner at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in Uniondale. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.