Either Joe Biden is trying to alienate Black voters with his repeatedly questionable rhetoric or he’s trying to sabotage his third presidential campaign. That may have been the impression left Tuesday night as there didn’t seem to be any middle ground between those two choices after the former vice president fondly recalled two racist former U.S. Senators during a speech in New York City.
Apparently defending the late Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland, a Democrat who made no secret that he was in favor of segregation, Biden told the audience at the fundraiser that Eastland “never called me ‘boy.’” The remark that lacked full context — for starters, Eastland probably never called Biden “boy” because Biden isn’t Black — was followed by another that extended the same sentiment to former Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge.
Citing his differences with them, Biden said “[a]t least there was some civility.”
The New York Times referred to both Eastland and Talmadge as “two Southern segregationist senators” and “staunch opponents of desegregation.” Another way to refer to them would be racist.
Biden was trying to use the two racist white men as an example of how he has experience getting “things done” working with people who don’t share his political ideology. But it seemed to fall well short of the desired effect — at least for some people — and came across as the latest in a series of tone-deaf remarks that could give some Black voters pause as they try to keep their eyes on the prize: finding the best candidate to beat President Donald Trump.
The scene in New York probably wasn’t Team Biden’s desired juxtaposition to the one at the same time in Orlando, where alt-right white supremacist group Proud Boys happily convened at Trump’s rally to support their preferred 2020 candidate.
“The idea that unapologetic bigotry and White ethnocentrism can be defeated by congeniality or lukewarm messages of tolerance is not only frightening in terms of naiveté, it’s a dangerous misrepresentation of who the Democratic Party has been for decades: both a safe haven for liberal racism and a mirror into the soul of the dangerous “white moderate” that refuses to be uncomfortable enough to recognize this country’s ills,” Lemieux wrote.
With that said, it should be noted that Biden’s support among Black voters has remained very high despite what could be seen as a number of race-based missteps both throughout his career in politics as well as recently. A poll released earlier this month and conducted by the Black Economic Alliance found that African American voters were most “enthusiastic” about Biden’s candidacy compared to the other Democratic White House hopefuls.
That was in spite of Biden’s series of recent blunders that included but were not limited to reversing his stance on the Hyde Amendment, a contentious abortion policy which he was in favor of earlier this month and had strong racial implications that could hurt Black women; being accused of embellishing (some said lying) his civil rights activism for decades; refusing to formally apologize to Anita Hill for his treatment toward her when he was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman presiding over Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearing; and supporting the same 1994 crime bill that Hillary Clinton’s opponents called her out for referencing “super predators” in what many people have said was a nod to the Black people who were disproportionately affected by the law.
Perhaps Rolling Stone senior writer Jamil Smith put Biden’s comments from Tuesday night in perspective best when he suggested the former vice president could be taking Black voters for granted.
“I’m just going to venture a guess and say that his whiteness is the reason why a white supremacist in the Senate thought Joe Biden, despite their policy differences, just might be an okay guy,” Smith tweeted. “That Biden considers this a selling point for his 2020 candidacy should set off alarms.”