Joe Biden "praised segregation!" For ourselves, we think Joe Biden is basically too old to run for president.
We admire several of his traits. Other traits, perhaps not so much.
That said, he may end up being the Democratic nominee. We can't say that the next political genius has yet emerged from the Democratic field. Meanwhile, have you noticed that Donald J. Trump is running for re-election?
For all these reasons, it would be better if other candidates, along with mainstream media figures, would stop showboating and grandstanding at Biden's expense.
Yesterday, Corey Booker said this on ABC's This Week. And yes, he actually said it:
RADDATZ (6/23/19): Senator Booker, I want to turn back to politics and to Vice President Biden's comments. He said he worked along segregationists in Congress in order to get things done.Biden was saying that the segregationists in question "saw in him their son?" He was evoking a terrible power dynamic by invoking that?
You called the comments deeply disappointing, but the two of you spoke privately on Wednesday evening. What was your takeaway from that conversation?
BOOKER: Well, I've said my piece. I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden and a gratitude towards him, and has even more of a responsibility than I have to have—be candid with him, to speak truth to power.
He is a presidential nominee, and to say something—and again, it's not about working across the aisle. If anything, I've made that a hallmark of my time in the Senate to get big things done and legislation passed.
This is about him evoking a terrible power dynamic that he showed a lack of understanding or insensitivity to by invoking this idea that he was called "son" by white segregationists who— Yeah! They see him, in him, their son, but would refer to African American men—
RADDATZ: He said it was taken out of context last night.
BOOKER: I didn't, I didn't understand that. I think—I listened to the full totality of what he was talking about and frankly I heard from many, many African Americans who found the comments hurtful.
Does anyone believe that Booker thinks that's what Biden said or meant to evoke or invoke? Does anyone think that Booker still believes some such complicated thing, even after Biden has explained what he meant?
It's very hard to believe that. Meanwhile, we looked back through Dale Russakoff's well-received 2015 book, The Prize, this very morning.
The book paints a picture—not an especially flattering picture—of Booker's long-time partnership with Chris Christie, and with giant corporate funders, to battle the fiendish teachers unions in good old Newark, New Jersey.
It would be easy to demagogue Booker on the basis of such behaviors. Since Booker may end up on the national ticket himself, we would advise going easy on the demagogic stuff.
At any rate, it's hard to believe that Booker really believes that Biden meant to evoke or invoke the power dynamic he cited. At the same time, it's been amusing to watch media members try to explain what it is that Biden said that was offensive or wrong
Many pundits have agreed to go along with the line that Biden said something offensive. That said, here was The Daily Mail's Francesca Chambers, trying to articulate Biden's offense for Howard Kurtz on yesterday's BuzzWatch:
KURTZ (6/23/19): Was the press right to pounce, Francesca, when Biden was talking about people like James Eastland, who believed that the blacks were an inferior race? And he's making the point about cooperation, but it certainly came out as tone deaf.It seemed to us that Chambers was struggling to articulate what Biden had said that was actually wrong.
CHAMBERS: Well, Joe Biden has had this problem, his foot in the mouth disease, as you could call it, for a long time. If you remember back the last time he ran for president, he made some remarks about Barack Obama in the context of race and how articulate that he was. And that became a problem for him then.
So, this is really reminiscent of past comments that he has made. And I think that that is going to continue to be a problem for him in this race.
KURTZ: Right. But overblown by the press or not?
CHAMBERS: This speaks to—but this speaks to the larger problem that Joe Biden has as a candidate, to what [another pundit] was saying, in that it speaks to what his opponents say, Howard, which is that he's a blast from the past, that the Democratic Party needs fresh new leadership, and he's not the right person to go up against Donald Trump. And that is what his opponents are saying.
In fairness, Kurtz seemed to be having a hard time too. The pair agreed that Biden suffered from "tone deaf foot in the mouth disease." But they didn't quite seem able to say what he had said in the current instance which was offensive or wrong.
We watched pundits battle this nagging problem all weekend long. They wanted to go along with the crowd, but couldn't quite seem to articulate the nature of the current offense.
(We thought NBC's Richard Lui and Mike Memeli took lifetime achievement awards for shameless inarticulate pandering during their joint appearance yesterday with Al Sharpton.)
We're caught here in a version of The Cult of the Offhand Comment. In this particular manifestation of that ancient cultic disorder, everyone is struggling to agree that the front-runner said something wrong. But a Standard Group Version of what he said wrong hasn't yet emerged.
Then too, there are people like CNN's Bakari Sellers, quoted in yesterday's Washington Post. Given our unfortunate wiring, how disingenuous are we humans actually willing and able to be? Sellers was even willing to say this:
WOOTSON (6/23/19): Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state lawmaker who is supporting Harris, said the concept of race goes deeper than the way it’s often portrayed by political pundits.Joe Biden was praising segregation! Even with Trump in line for re-election, we humans will sometimes go ahead and make statements like that!
Biden’s comments, Sellers said, suggest he’s an undisciplined candidate out of touch with a diverse country.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts with Joe Biden,” Sellers said. “When you look at ’84 civil asset forfeiture, the crime bill, busing—which is a huge issue in South Carolina—and his praising segregation, it just shows that Joe Biden is an artifact.” Sellers was referring to Biden’s positions on major pieces of legislation that many activists believe hurt black communities.
We expect to discuss this matter tonight with several top anthropologists. "Our species ran on gossip and fiction," those disconsolate future experts will almost surely say.
As usual, these gloomy future experts will be speaking in the past tense. It's hard to feel completely certain that these scholars are wrong.