For most players in the political arena the question was whether Joe Biden should have apologized sooner. Or, should he have apologized at all? This was weeks after he said he found it useful as a young politician to work with others in Congress whose racism was legendary to reach compromises and, therefore, some measure of progress.
Kamala Harris pounced — after waiting to catch Biden in the spotlight of a televised debate — to display righteousness and dismay that Biden could have ever played nice with segregationists.
It knocked Biden back on his heels, gave Harris cred and fed the media a meaty issue.
And once again, the essential issue was crushed under the wheels of drama. The new mode in politics is to abandon anything resembling parliamentary procedure and reasoned debate as too boring and go to something more akin to cage fighting.
Poor Joe Biden. He thought he was making a point about the need to return civility to public discourse. The new crowd is having none of it. With two dozen Democrat seekers for the party nomination for president, there is as much interest in civility as there is among participants in a rugby scrum.
The name of the game is win and the only rule is getting the most attention and keeping it for as long as possible.
But experience and reasonableness should count for something, especially after two years of chaos. If The Donald has shown America anything, it has been that you can be President with nothing more going for you than the ability to amuse and misdirect your audience.
While Biden was showing why he remains the favored Democrat candidate among moderate members of both parties, Harris calculated a way to break out of the crowd and control the stage.
So, Harris scores points on effectiveness if not on style. She shows she has the ruthlessness to seek public office and the timing of a master showman and orator to be heard above the ambient noise of the crowd.
She may be more electable than Bernie Sanders or Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren, and her brash ambush of Biden indicates she will be capable of discrediting most of the remaining competitors for the prize. A worthy foe for Trump.
But then what?
Sanders lost the primary to Clinton and then his supporters showed their disappointment by staying away from the voter’s booths in the general election. What does that say about the wisdom, staying power and judgment of the impassioned absolutist idealists with a left-of-center identity? How did petulance work out?
The all-or-nothing approach to extremist government will never carry America very far. The system is built to self-correct. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that we now live in the age of viral communications and amoral manipulation of it, and the self-correction can be accelerated to the point where there is no continuity or stability.
For most of our history, The United States has been a product of traditional values which hold like the staunch roots of a mighty oak against violent forces, but with many branches that continue to grow and give way to the winds of change.
We have shown the world how you can assimilate and accommodate many cultures and ideas with gradual and incremental change. That’s conservative and progressive at the same time.
What has made it work is a belief in redemption and honorable dedication to move on, sometimes sporadically, and painfully slow. But we have been nurtured by more faith in the future than in futile anger at the sins of the past.
If we have forgotten how to do that, then cultural wars will be our dark legacy.
Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears every Thursday.