Here is presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden after being challenged by The Breakfast Club co-host Charlamagne tha God on his political record on race.
Biden: “I’ll tell ya, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Charlamagne tha God: “It don’t have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact I want something for my community.”
Biden: “Take a look at my record, man . . .”
I’m not under the impression that a Biden gaffe on race is going to affect the 2020 presidential race in any substantial way, or that he’s a racist. When launching his failed 2008 campaign, Biden referred to Barack Obama as the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” and he was still given the vice presidency. This too will soon be forgotten.
It’s a mystery, though, why Biden keeps demanding everyone to look at his “record” on race, which is terrible.
As a freshman, Senator Biden, by his own account, formed friendly, sometimes obsequious, relationships with segregationists within the Democratic Party. It was Biden who sought out J. William Fulbright and Jim Eastland, who in turn assigned him seats on the powerful judicial and foreign-relations committees. The Delaware freshman, who had lucked into a post-Watergate seat, had absolutely no relevant experience for the latter and little for the former. Yet Biden benefited in ways that other younger Democrats, less inclined to ally themselves with racists, did not.
Biden is on record praising George Wallace on numerous occasions. Biden is on the record flattering Strom Thurmond — his “closest friend” — on numerous occasions, as well, and in ways that would have ended the career of any Republican. Just ask Trent Lott.
Biden might have later claimed to have “marched in the civil-rights movement” (he didn’t) and to have represented Black Panthers (he almost surely didn’t), but in reality he was one of the leading voices in the Democratic Party opposing busing reforms. Now, we can debate the usefulness of busing, but there is no debate over whether Biden said that without “orderly integration” his children would be growing up “in a racial jungle.”
Biden also led a decades-long legislative effort to pass tough-on-crime laws that culminated in his co-writing the 1994 crime bill. Critics, mostly contemporary Democrats, argue that the law helped create a mass-incarceration regime that disproportionately affects African Americans. We can debate the effectiveness of the policy, but Biden can’t claim he didn’t brag that the bill does “everything but hang people for jaywalking.” The future vice president was calling it the “Biden Crime Law” on his 2008 presidential campaign website.
Has there been any presidential candidate in memory who so openly took the black vote for granted? I doubt it. I’m starting to think Biden might be confusing his record with Obama’s record. Or at least, that’s what he wants voters to do. Still, the central argument for the Biden candidacy — other than that his name isn’t Trump — is that his 45-year record makes him uniquely positioned for the job. And yet, there is almost no position or view that Biden can point to that holds up over those years. That includes race.