This week marks the end of Democratic civility as the 23 presidential candidates take their places on debate stages Wednesday and Thursday.
Actually the end began last week when Cory Booker led a sad barrage against Joe Biden over a story we think was taken out of context — or at least received a reaction completely without the benefit of context.
Biden is lifelong politician long seen as one who could find a path to consensus — something that polls consistently indicate Americans want to see in their elected officials. Biden, by and large, has been and is the antithesis of today's ultra-partisan stonewalling.
On Tuesday, speaking at a fundraiser in New York City, Biden talked about the need to "be able to reach consensus under our system."
As examples, Biden noted that he served with the late Sens. James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democrats who were staunch opponents of desegregation.
He made his case that they were racists by saying of Eastland, "He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'" It should be clear — not OK, of course, just clear — that Eastland would have been more respectful to Biden because Biden was white.
Biden called Talmadge "one of the meanest guys I ever knew. You go down the list of all these guys. Well guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. 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."
Booker — a Democratic presidential candidate polling at 2-3% compared to Biden's 26-32% — quickly charged in a statement: "You don't joke about calling black men 'boys.'"
It wasn't a joke. That was exactly the very poignant point Biden was making: Racism is wrong, but we still have to be able to talk to racists to grow our country beyond that sad human failing.
Many more Democratic hopefuls piled on. Everybody is screaming for everybody to apologize.
Sadly — nobody is really talking about the real problem.
But New York Times national political correspondent Alexander Burns summed up the political panorama well on Friday in a piece headlined "Biden Has Not Changed. The Politics, Culture and Mood of His Party Have."
The story notes that Biden's evident nostalgia for forging compromises, even with racist figures like Eastland and Talmadge, touched off "a disruptive new controversy for his campaign, as liberal leaders and Democratic rivals accused him of being insensitive and out of touch. Democratic politics is now defined by a mood of emergency, and a give-no-quarter ethos on issues like racial justice and abortion rights where liberals view their fundamental values as under assault. Mr. Biden's resistance to accommodating that mood may well come to define his campaign."
Similarly, his Democratic opponents' resistance to understanding the value of finding something — anything — that can bridge differences and make progress happen is as paramount today as it was when they were 3 and Biden was entering the Senate.
Here's the thing. In 2016, we watched 16 GOP candidates eat their mothers, their fathers, their sisters, brothers and young. And we see what we got for it.
Democrats have to be better than this.