Joe Biden meets 1619: What was Joe Biden talking about when he gave that rambling, discursive answer?
You may know the answer we mean. We refer to the answer he gave, last Thursday night, to a rambling, discursive question from ABC's Linsey Davis.
The candidate's rambling answer has raised questions about the state of his cognition—questions we regard as fair. The journalist's rambling question has occasioned no such concerns.
Inside the press corps, that's the way the score has been kept for decades. At any rate, we reprint Biden's answer below, as we did in Monday's report.
What the heck was Biden talking about? Few members of our elite pundit class have seemed to know or to care:
BIDEN (9/12/19): Look, there's institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where—As some of our college graduates noticed, Biden's sentences didn't parse especially well. But what the heck was the candidate even talking about?
Look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools. Triple the amount of money we spend, from 15 to 45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out—the $60,000 level.
Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need—we have one school psychologist for every 1500 kids in America today. It's crazy.
The teachers are—I'm married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have—make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School! Not daycare. School. We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.
It's not that they don't want to help. They don't—they don't know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television—excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the, the— Make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school—a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there. There's so much we—
DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
BIDEN: No, I'm going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, OK? Because here's the deal. The deal is that we've got this a little backwards...
A few suggestions were clear. He wants to spend more money in low-income schools, possibly increasing the number of school psychologists. He wants to have all 3-year-old children attending actual schools.
It's at this point that the problems began for the elite press corps class:
Biden said something about making sure that parents have the record player on at night so children, apparently low-income children, will be able to hear more words.
Even worse, he said that we should "bring social workers in to homes" to "help [parents, apparently low-income parents] deal with how to raise their children."
As we noted at the start of the week, these hard-to-parse statements did make an obvious type of sense.
Plainly, Biden's reference to the words low-income children don't hear was a reference to the so-called "30 Million Word Gap."
The number of words involved in this alleged gap has moved about over the years, possibly down to just four million, as Biden clearly knew. But you can see the general topic discussed at Education Next in this essay from this past June.
Biden's reference to those social workers was also easy to place. He was referring to programs like the Baby Steps program founded by the Washington Post's William Raspberry in 2003, two years before his retirement and nine years before his death.
The program was based in Okolona, Mississippi, Raspberry's home town. Years later, the Post's Courtland Milloy wrote that the program "teaches mostly low-income parents of preschoolers how to prepare their children for success in school—and life."
For the record, our society identifies Milloy as black. Upon Raspberry's death in 2012, the DeSoto (Mississippi) Times-Tribune described the Baby Steps concept thusly:
SALTER (7/18/12): In 2005, after learning of the early childhood education/intervention effort he was personally funding in Okolona, I asked him to meet me there and to tell me about his vision for changing the game for disadvantaged children in a town with a poor track record in public education.What was Raspberry talking about? To cite one example, many parents from low-literacy backgrounds may not realize the advantages a child can receive from being read to—even from being spoken to!—on a daily basis.
Raspberry’s solution was the program he funded and founded called Baby Steps in Okolona. The Baby Steps Program has been a partnership between columnist William Raspberry, the Okolona Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Mississippi and the Barksdale Reading Institute. Other key community partners include a number of Okolona and Tupelo churches and local volunteers.
“The (Baby Steps’) basic idea is that all parents, no matter how unsuccessful they might have been in school, want their children to succeed academically—even if many of them don’t know how to make that happen,” Raspberry wrote in his nationally syndicated Nov. 17, 2003, column in The Washington Post.
“We propose to teach them. The text for the effort is Dorothy Rich’s “MegaSkills”—a set of 11 attitudes and competencies that she believes lead to success in school and in life . . . the idea is to train the parents themselves, as they children’s most effective teachers, to pass these MegaSkills along to their children.”
Middle-class kids get the advantage of being read to from their earliest years. Lower-income kids often don't get that advantage.
Programs like Baby Steps try to help low-income parents develop the understandings which may help their kids succeed in school. That's what Biden was talking about when he spoke about social workers helping parents—even when he spoke about the (unheard) millions of words.
Biden's sentences didn't parse well. Beyond that, he seemed to fumble the basic idea behind the "30 Million Word Gap," which generally refers to words which are spoken between a parent or caregiver and a child, not to words emerging from a TV set.
That said, it was obvious what Biden was talking about in his jumbled answer. Unless you work for the New York Times, where the constantly angry Charles M. Blow angrily offered this:
BLOW (9/16/19): [H]e gave a rambling, nonsensical answer that included a reference to a record player. But, the response ended in yet another racial offense in which he seemed to suggest that black people lack the natural capacity to be good parents:It's hard to get dumber than that. At the Times, though, such maximal dumbness is largely de rigeur, as the French would have it.
We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t—they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television—excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the—the—make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school—a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.
His language reveals a particular mind-set, one of a liberal of a particular vintage. On the issue of race, it is paternalistic and it pities, it sees deficiency in much the same way that the conservative does, but it responds as savior rather than with savagery. Better the former than the latter, surely, but the sensibility underlying the two positions is shockingly similar. It underscores that liberalism does not perfectly align with racial egalitarianism, regardless of rhetoric to the contrary.
Listening to Biden that night, we heard an obvious reference to the 30 Million Word Gap and to such programs as Baby Steps. Apparently, the perpetually furious Blow didn't know what Biden was talking about, although he certainly should have.
Presumably due to his ignorance, Blow thought he'd heard something "nonsensical." Just Like Everyone Else in The Guild, he tossed off a scripted jibe about Biden's use of the term "record player." Then he got very/real mad.
Inevitably, the perpetually furious Timesman thought he'd heard a racial offense. In that pitiful passage by the perpetually furious Timesman, a candidate who may be displaying some cognitive lapses ran head-first into what we might call "1619 Cognition."
Blow, who is perpetually furious, didn't seem to know what Biden was talking about. There should be no giant surprise in that—the New York Times is at its dumbest in the manifest indifference it displays towards the interests and needs of low-income kids, like the children Raspberry tried to serve in founding Baby Steps.
Okolona's public schools are almost totally black. Raspberry, a native son, was trying to help his hometown's young black parents learn how to help their kids attain academic success.
That's what Biden was talking about when he spoke about social workers. But as if by rule of law, the perpetually furious New York Times columnist decided to take racial offense.
(Just for the record, Blow's son went to Yale.)
In this minuet, your see the problem which lurks within The 1619 Project, the self-ballyhooed major undertaking which was announced last month by our dumbest, most upper-class newspaper.
One week ago, Andrew Sullivan announced his reservations about the project, which he regards as a form of journalistic "activism." (He also offered words of praise for some of its early work.)
We think Sullivan's analysis is well worth considering. We'd planned to offer our own thoughts about the structure of the project, and about one aspect of its inaugural essay.
Instead, let's leave things here, with this tale of two faltering states of cognition.
Biden stumbled and fumbled about, in ways we regard as a point of concern. With his brilliantly one-track mind, Blow took racial offense.
This afternoon, we'll show you a letter in today's Times in which a highly suggestible Santa Cruz reader thanks Blow for helping her spot Biden's troubling "racism." Anthropologists came to us with a troubling message:
You simply can't be this dumb and this scripted without ending up with a Trump! Such reactions are "cognitively suspect," these top major experts said.