As if Cory Booker’s enthusiastic endorsement of Joe Biden wasn’t startling enough to anyone who’s been paying attention, the former presidential candidate on Monday night went to apparent extreme lengths to prove his loyalty to the same former vice president with whom he not-so-long-ago exchanged some pretty pointed barbs on the topic of race.
Booker was joined by Kamala Harris — who was also on hand in Michigan to rally behind Biden the night before the state’s primary on Tuesday after endorsing Biden over the weekend — to show a united front in the Democratic Party.
But, by many accounts, it was Booker who stole the show in Detroit Monday night, where the senator from New Jersey said a handful of things that may have caught some of his most ardent supporters off guard. But it was his reported comments about South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn that may have been the wildest.
According to Jennifer Epstein, a reporter for Bloomberg News, Booker told people at a fundraiser a story about being “at a recent Congressional Black Caucus meeting” where “Majority Whip Jim Clyburn called Biden an ‘honorary black man.'”
There are often jokes about how Bill Clinton was the first Black president, but they’re just that — jokes. While no video has surfaced from the fundraiser, the quote was not reported as being made in jest. Instead, it may go down as one of the more egregious racial gaffes said at a Biden event that wasn’t uttered by the former vice president himself.
Saying that a white person is Black, honorarily or otherwise, is tantamount to what the New York Times described as “a myth that proximity to blackness immunizes white people from doing racist things.” Whether the story is true or not, Biden could never be Black just like Clyburn and Booker could never be white, whether figuratively or literally. In fact, what does that even mean to begin with: that Biden understands what it’s like to be a Black man? We know what it meant for Clinton — he played the saxophone while wearing shades on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” giving the future president his so-called Black Card. But what exactly has Biden done — stereotypically (like Clinton’s sax) or otherwise — that compelled Clyburn to bestow such a nickname on him?
When folks on social media caught wind of this alleged quote, they were quick to point to all of the apparent ways that Biden and his career in politics have hurt the plight of Black folks — men, in particular. That especially includes his authoring and vehemently defending the 1994 Crime Bill that disproportionately imprisoned Black men across the country, some of whom are still feeling the effects of that punishment to this day.
So how Biden could ever be an “honorary Black man” while legislatively inflicting harm onto the Black community and masquerading that fact as altruistic intentions — that he later admitted was a mistake — seems to be more of a dishonest metaphor and not at all a moment of political levity in the cultural climate that the country is currently in.
Adding to the unbelievability factor of Booker’s words, he also claimed on Monday at a separate event in Flint that “it should be obvious” why he’s endorsing Biden. But the only obviousness detected was Booker’s blind allegiance to the Democratic Party’s rules of rallying around a presumptive nominee in spite of any apparent contradictions that are not politically advantageous. And while doing so should help the chances of beating Trump, it was still unclear to many how Booker could endorse someone he spoke so terribly of just a few short months ago.
Remember when Booker publicly questioned everything from Biden’s cognitive abilities to whether Biden was able to speak honestly about the topic of race? None of those concerns were anywhere to be found Monday night.
At that same event in Flint, Booker also told the audience that the upcoming general election was about “right and wrong” and that he was “with somebody who knows about right-doing,” he said about Biden.
However, that wasn’t the case when the two of them met on the debate stage in November as they disagreed about decriminalizing marijuana.
Back then — just a little less than four months ago — Booker laid into Biden for saying marijuana is a gateway drug.
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people,” Booker said. “The war on drugs has been a war on Black and brown people. This week I hear him literally say that, ‘I don’t think we should legalize marijuana.’”
He then landed the punchline: “I thought you might have been high when you said it.”
Biden has been on a mission to disprove the rumor he thinks weed is a gateway drug, but it is true that he does not want to legalize it.
The moment on the debate stage was one of the most contentious between the two in public and left many feeling that there was animosity between them. But all of that didn’t matter on Monday as top Democrats continued to coalesce around Biden’s candidacy in hopes that a win in Michigan would give the former vice president an insurmountable lead with delegates on his way to sewing up the Democratic nomination.