Sometime in the 1970s, my Mom, a lifelong Republican, and my Dad, a Democrat-turned-Independent, heard young Sen. Joe Biden speak at a graduation ceremony. They were so moved by his embrace of common sense American values that he was their clear favorite in the run up to the 1988 Presidential election. Eventually it became clear to my parents that Sen. Biden had changed along the way. To this day, they lament the loss of one they believe could have been a great American leader. In doing a search for my parents’ “lost Biden” in the Congressional Record, I discovered some beautiful remarks that he made on the Senate floor on July 18, 1989 in response to the Supreme Court decision to strike down laws protecting the American flag:
…it is often pointed out to me by my colleagues and the press that France does not have a statute to protect its flag, the Union Jack in Great Britain does not have special status in terms of how it is protected, and I respond in the following way. You do not define a French person or an Englishman by what they believe, or what form of government they subscribe to. You define them based on their ethnicity. You can determine who is French, who is British, by their ethnicity. How do you define an American? Do you define Americans based on their color, on their religious beliefs, or on their parental and grandparental lineage? We are the most unique democracy in the history of mankind because we are the most heterogeneous nation in the history of mankind. And we have remained strong, vibrant, and vital in spite of that great diversity. These young people are taught in school as we were that our strength flows from our diversity. That is true ultimately. But initially, our diversity pushes us apart. It does not bring us together. The fact that we are black and white does not generate confidence. It generates fear initially. The fact that we are Christian and Jew does not send us running into one another’s embrace to herald our differences. Mankind fears that which is different, and we are very different, except in one very important regard. That is that we are, as a Nation, more or less united on the means by which we can realize our dreams and the rules and regulations which will guide us in our attempt to fulfill our dreams–the Constitution–a covenant, if you will, embodied in that flag, to the President’s right. That is the national symbol of unity, and we need unity in this country because we are so diverse. Symbols are important. We would have to be blind to world history to not understand that symbols are important. And I say to my friend, the Presiding Officer, that we have a symbol–unlike the Court’s inability to recognize it–that is needed to unite this Nation, this diverse Nation, and the symbol is the flag.
Just as my parents were left wondering what happened to Sen. Biden between his first term and 1988, I am perplexed as to how his views on unity, diversity, and the unique symbolism of the American flag could have changed so much since 1989 for him to join a candidate: -Who considers wearing a flag pin a “substitute” for “true patriotism.” -Who lamented to his San Francisco supporters that people in fly-over country “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” -Whose surrogates belittle small town America. -Who equates criticism of his economic proposals with racism. -Whose mentor trampled on an American flag for a photo-op. (Obama was 40 years old at the time, not 8.) -Whose treatment of his primary opponent created a gender based rift in the Democratic party. -Whose campaign threw 12,000 miniature American flags in the trash after a rally. -Whose tax policies reek of class warfare. Sen. Biden, I join many in both the Republican and Democratic parties to beg you to come on back from the dark side. The road to perdition is not a one-way street.