Former Vice President Joe Biden mimics shooting a gun as he speaks at the Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership, on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Joe Biden has historically been known as a walking gaffe machine. There’s a reason his prior presidential runs went absolutely nowhere. Even as Vice President, he was basically kept in the background, only popping out every now to prove he was still alive. 2020 was supposed to be different, or so we’ve been told. Biden was supposed to have cleaned up his act, gotten more disciplined, and learned from his mistakes.
That was always a pipe dream though. Men in their late 70s don’t usually change and I’m not even sure they have the capacity to change. The remedy to that so far has to been to keep Biden tucked away, hidden from sight and keeping him out of any situations where he might say something stupid and offensive.
Well, that strategy failed last night because the moment they let Biden off his leash, he did this.
Tonight at a fundraiser in NYC, Biden recalled serving with a major segregationist Mississippi senator: “I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland … he never called me boy, he always called me son.” He imitated the drawl. “At least there was some civility. We got things done”
— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) June 19, 2019
The general notion here isn’t terrible. It should be expected that members have to work together to get things done, even when they vehemently disagree about certain issues.
If you know your history though, Biden’s examples in this case are way out there and highly problematic for several reasons.
James O. Eastland was a particularly nasty racist. He’s on record calling black people everything from slimy, to the n-word, to “African flesh eaters” (for the record, he was also a Democrat). If Biden wanted to give an example of working with people he disagrees with in a civil manner, that’s a pretty crazy and offensive example to give. He couldn’t just talk about his work with Republicans on the crime bill or something?
Biden’s description of never being called “boy” is also tone deaf. Of course the white racist didn’t call the other white guy “boy.” That was language Eastland saved for black Americans throughout much of his life. What this does is make Biden look horrifically out of touch and stupid. It’s akin to saying “well, no one ever denied to serve me in the 1960s” while ignoring that there’s a pretty obvious reason why that is.
But even if you want to give Biden the benefit of the doubt here, the left-wing base of the Democrat party doesn’t. Their entire mantra is ostracizing and punishing. You don’t get to come back from what Eastland said and did. In his case, that might actually be fair. Regardless, Biden citing him as an example of civility is a huge gaffe that sets racial landmines all around his candidacy going forward.
Take this response, for example.
Reporters should ask Biden why he thinks he'll succeed in cutting deals with Republicans where Obama failed, because it sure seems like he's flat out saying it's because he's white. https://t.co/nWQKRdWnJt
— Adam Jentleson 🎈🐢 (@AJentleson) June 19, 2019
Jentleson may be a former staffer for Harry Reid, but is he wrong? Biden’s campaign trail shtick has been to present himself as having some kind of other worldly ability to get Republicans to do what he wants. So what’s that say about Obama? What aspect about Biden makes him more capable? In reality, it’s just political bluster. Republicans are not going to listen to Biden anymore than they listened to the ridiculous policy proposals of Obama. Overall, it doesn’t come across well though, especially to those who still see Obama as a transcendent, almost messianic figure, i.e. much of the Democrat primary voter base.
I should also note that what Biden did here, tacitly praising segregationists, is almost identical to what Trent Lott did many years back. Lott was run out of Washington for his sins. Biden remains at the top of the Democratic Primary. You do the math on that one.
The final reason this is really bad for Biden goes past his comments and into what he was doing, namely that he was directly attacking the left wing of his party.
“I know the new Left tells me that I’m — this is old-fashioned,” he said. “Well guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does. You have to be able to reach consensus under our system — our Constitutional system of separation of powers.”
All these comments took place at a swanky fundraiser in New York. He’s obviously playing the the crowd of establishment types who seek a more status quo operation in Washington. But the Democratic primary base wants no such thing and the more Biden snipes at them, the more he alienates a large portion of voters in his party.
This gaffe hits all the major pressure points, from his denigration of the left-wing to the racial overtones of the entire thing. I’ve seen some on Twitter opine that this won’t hurt him. In a vacuum, maybe that’s correct, but why would anyone expect Biden stop here? He’s got many, many more gaffes yet to come and it’s all going to compound.
This is why it’s too early to proclaim him the nominee. The knives will be out as the debates start next week and he’s no longer going to be able to hide at fundraisers or in front of pre-staged union halls. Things are about to get serious and this was just the first of many major missteps that Biden will have.
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