Joseph Sabino Mistick: Judge candidates by what’s in their hearts |
Joseph Sabino Mistick, Columnist

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Judge candidates by what’s in their hearts

Joseph Sabino Mistick
Former Vice President Joe Biden responds to a question Sept. 12 during a Democratic presidential primary debate at Texas Southern University in Houston.

When Ronald Reagan was nearing the end of his second term in the White House, he wandered into the medical office one day, approached his physician and said, ”I have three things that I want to tell you today. The first is that I seem to be having a little problem with my memory. I cannot remember the other two.”

As reported by The New York Times in 1997, the White House physician knew that was Reagan’s gentle way of making sure that he was dealing with nothing more than the typical forgetfulness that we all encounter with aging. And that’s all it was at the time.

We all know that if you have a lot more years behind you than ahead of you, a little forgetfulness comes with the territory. Most societies take that in stride, valuing older citizens for their strengths and accepting the natural cycle. That’s just life.

But if you want to know why anyone would try to make a big deal out of such silly things, ask the question Cicero always used to analyze political antics: “Cui bono?” or “Who benefits?”

At the last Democratic presidential debate, when Julian Castro accused Joe Biden of forgetting something that Castro claimed Biden had said two minutes earlier, he was really implying that Biden is too old to be president. The younger man was hoping to earn points by taking out the older man.

Castro was jeered by the audience for the cheap shot, and clobbered after the debate for being wrong about what Biden actually said. As it turned out, Biden’s memory was better than Castro’s that night.

But if Castro had been right and his memory test became the norm, whole swaths of Americans would suddenly be disqualified from politics, government, industry, entertainment and religion. And all the wisdom that they earned from winning and losing — and sometimes by simply staying in the game — would be down the drain.

We knew that once. More than 200 years ago, a 60-year-old was really old. George Washington was 65 when he left office, as were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. James Monroe was 66. They all did their jobs.

Most Americans are tired of this gotcha game. Candidates will be judged by what’s in their hearts, not for a misspoken word or fumbled answer to an unexpected question or a bad night on what passes for a debate stage these days.

When Biden spoke last week at the 56th anniversary of the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four little black girls, his talk got less coverage than his debate performance earlier in the week. But here’s some of what he said.

“Hate is on the rise again, and we’re at a defining moment again in American history. Hate only hides. It doesn’t go away. If you give it oxygen it comes out from under the rocks.”

“Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole, Denise — their murders laid bare the lie that a child could be free in America while oppression’s long shadow darkened our cities and ruled our countryside.”

That’s something worth paying attention to.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].

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