OXFORD — “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
That oft-quoted line from William Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun” has never seemed truer than now.
Politicians of all stripes — state and national, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican — are being reminded of and called upon to apologize for things they did decades ago, some of which were acceptable at the time but taboo in this era of political correctness and the Me Too Movement.
In the cases of a few prominent Mississippians, including gubernatorial candidates Jim Hood and Tate Reeves and attorney general candidate Andy Taggart, it’s old school yearbooks including pictures of skits or social events offensive to African Americans.
For former Vice President Joe Biden, who is testing the waters for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, it’s addressing claims by certain women that he made them uncomfortable in the past by being too touchy-feely.
But a recent report by The Hill website indicates that Biden is seeing growing enthusiasm among donors despite the controversy surrounding women who have accused him of inappropriate touching.
Some think that’s just “Uncle Joe’s” way to express affection and are willing to give him a pass. After all, President Trump, when he was a candidate, got by with a lot more serious accusations when it came to women.
Affectionately invading personal spaces isn’t the only past that is being brought up against Biden.
That comes with the territory for a potential presidential candidate with a record as long as his. He was a U.S. senator for decades before becoming Barack Obama’s vice president.
CNN has dug up some old letters from Biden’s past revealing that, while he supported school desegregation back in 1970s, he opposed federally mandated busing to achieve it.
“Biden, who at the time was 34 and serving his first term in the Senate, repeatedly asked for — and received — the support of Sen. James Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a leading symbol of Southern resistance to desegregation,” CNN reported.
Another issue that Biden has confronted was his role in questioning Anita Hill during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas, when she testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, and he now says he owes Hill an apology for the way she was treated by the committee.
While he is at it, Biden also should apologize to Judge Charles Pickering of Laurel.
Pickering, now retired, was appointed a federal district judge by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and his nomination sailed to confirmation with a unanimous Senate vote.
Eleven years later, in 2001, President George W. Bush wanted to elevate Pickering to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But Pickering’s nomination, which was held in limbo for four years, was never confirmed amid false claims that he was a racist.
He probably would have been confirmed had there been a full Senate vote, but Democrats, including Biden, were able to prevent that.
Their opposition was fueled by liberal groups opposed to Pickering because of his conservative leanings, including being opposed to abortion, but the thrust of their argument was about race.
They misrepresented the context of a cross-burning case in which Pickering reduced the sentence of a defendant. He did so because other participants in the cross burning who seemed more culpable had escaped jail sentences for the crime because they plea-bargained.
Ignored by Biden and colleagues was Pickering’s record as a prosecutor and witness against Ku Klux Klan violence in the 1960s, as well as sending his children to desegregated public schools when many of his contemporaries were fleeing to private academies.
But despite Biden’s role in keeping a good man off the appeals court, I still prefer him over the other candidates announced so far in the Democratic field, including the other old white guy in the race.
I’m more concerned about what they might do if elected than what they did 20 years ago.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.