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A prominent politician's embrace of the ancient concepts of civility and compromise generated a hostile response.

The toxic nature of our politics has reached new heights in recent years, most specifically as it relates to President Donald Trump and his Democratic critics.

Both expend considerable energy in pursuit of new and harsher methods of expressing insult and contempt.

But it's not just Trump and the Democrats who are at poisonous odds. It's also Democrat against Democrat, where liberals and uberliberals are increasingly at odds.

That divide is on display in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to hold back party colleagues determined to impeach Trump. It's also steadily creeping into the wide-open contest for the party's 2020 presidential nomination.

Just last week, former Vice President Joe Biden tried to say a few kind words on behalf of "civility" in politics only to become the target of rivals who charged he was embracing racism.

Biden did nothing of the kind. But one would never know it based on the reaction his words generated.

Biden got himself in trouble when he discussed the importance of Republicans and Democrats working in a bipartisan fashion to get things done. In principle, there's nothing wrong with that. In reality, it depends on what they're trying to get done.

Harkening back to his days as a young member of the U.S. Senate (Biden took office when he was just 30), the septuagenarian politician pointed out that he had worked with colleagues on legislation, although they "didn't agree on much of anything."

He specifically cited his association with two powerful members of the U.S. Senate — James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.

"I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland," Biden said. Jokingly, he added, "He never called me 'boy.' He always called me 'son.'"

Biden's example was not exactly on target. He wasn't reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans when he worked with these two men. Eastland and Talmadge, who both held powerful committee chairmanships, were Democrats and ardent segregationists.

But his point was still the same — even people who disagree on many things can find common legislative ground on some things.

It's undeniably true. It's also important to pursue common ground because running a divided government requires it.

Biden's Democratic rivals picked up quickly on the segregationist angle and immediately started criticizing him for what he didn't say. First it was Cory Booker. Then Bernie Sanders joined him.

"I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together," said Booker. "And frankly, I'm disappointed he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

Biden isn't apologizing, at least not so far. There's no reason why he should.

He was pointing out the importance of maintaining lines of communication with other members of a legislative body, regardless of whether Biden liked them or agreed with them or not.

Still, his words qualify as a gaffe, something for which Biden is well-known. He gave his opponents ammunition they could use to misrepresent Biden's views and, possibly, undermine his status as a front-runner.

That's one of the many hazards of running. Sometimes candidates can get themselves in trouble with what they say. Just as often, they can get in trouble with what their rivals falsely claim they say.