National Opinions

The new litmus tests for future presidents could backfire against Democrats

WASHINGTON -- It may be a truism-in-the-making that one’s political career is over when, as a candidate, you must first apologize for your sex and race, which can mean only one thing: Young or old, you’re a white guy.

Heaven forbid you should also be long of tooth and taupe of hair.

The Old White Men meme, usually used to describe the Republican Party, seems to have finally won the day. Because the GOP has become increasingly older, whiter and male the past several decades — and since the Republican Party recently has done little to recommend itself to women and minorities — the widely accepted inference is that OWM are inherently bad, if not evil or criminal.

Conservative white women don't fare much better, but at least they're female and, as such, may be viewed as having suffered the boot of the white male until relatively recently. Ah, but that's ancient history, right? "Women Rule" today, according to another popular meme. And, in light of the 2018 midterm results, it may well become true.

In an unexpected twist in the 2020 election season, even some white male Democrats are facing a newly evolved Court of Prior Offenses, which, apparently, can include being born white. If you were born of white privilege, you're in for a bake sale's worth of humble pie.

Plainly, we've crossed a Rubicon of sorts. In this time and place, the emerging battle lines aren't just demographically defined but constitute a historical reckoning. It isn't enough that women and minorities ascend. It is now seemingly necessary that the oppressor pay for the sins of his forefathers. No one reading this needs a lecture about colonialism, slavery, genocide or Jim Crow, to mention a few index items.

But all of that history -- combined with the emergence of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, an increasingly diverse society and, notably, the Worst White Guy in Modern America, Donald Trump -- has coalesced to produce a new litmus test for future presidents: Are you a white man? And, if so, are you sorry?


So, these two white guys walk into a bar, where Brenda Lee is on the jukebox singing, "I'm Sorry." Not really, but Beto O'Rourke and Joe Biden have both begun apology tours that could become their undoing.

In a recent interview, O'Rourke acknowledged "the truth of the criticism" that he was born of privilege and, as a white male, had more opportunities than others. He already had apologized for writing prose as a teenager about running over children. He also apologized for making an offhand remark about sometimes helping his wife with their three children. Note to Beto: This will never end. Once you start apologizing, especially for things over which you had no control, you are more likely to be perceived as weak -- and not real smart.

Biden is remorseful for everything -- for supporting a 1994 crime bill, for having called Vice President Pence a "decent guy" -- and especially for his role in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings long ago. Then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden regrets the way Anita Hill was treated -- with tough questioning and, as I recall, a hostile environment. All those white men and this lone, black woman. As they say, it wasn't optically optimum.

Additionally, Biden is very upset about what he terms "white man's culture," referring to the environment in which women have been afraid to speak up in cases of sexual harassment. Well, OK, but if we're going to blame White Man's Culture for all of that, then we ought to add a footnote about the genius of the founders, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and, if we're still allowed to use the term, Western civilization.

Trump's success, unfortunately, is based in part upon his attention to white voters who feel marginalized by a culture they increasingly don't recognize, including the blue-collar white guys who used to vote Democratic.

This is not calculus, but it was a calculation that Trump got right. With the end of the Mueller investigation and the wackiness emanating from the far left, he may be poised to win again. If Democrats want to woo renegade Republicans and independents -- and evict Trump from the White House -- they'd best focus on uniting their constituents under a banner of shared values rather than encouraging good men to apologize for being born.

Besides, as most men know, saying you’re sorry is never enough.

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Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture for the Washington Post. In 2010, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “her perceptive, often witty columns on an array of political and moral issues, gracefully sharing the experiences and values that lead her to unpredictable conclusions.”