The Corner

Politics & Policy

Speaking of George Wallace . . .

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about his plans to combat racial inequality at a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., July 28, 2020. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Barack Obama is, of course, free to compare Donald Trump to Bull Connor or George Wallace for sending federal police to protect a courthouse in Portland — even if the violence in that city is largely perpetrated by white Marxist Antifa types and has nothing to do with equality.

But since Obama brought it up, it’s worth noting that the only person in modern American politics to have repeatedly praised Wallace and other segregationists is Joe Biden. It was Biden who bragged that in 1973 Wallace considered him “one of the outstanding young politicians of America.” It was Biden who wrote in 1975 that the “Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace.” It was Biden who in 1981 told a black witness in the Senate that “sometimes even George Wallace is right.” It was Biden who, while campaigning for the presidency in Alabama in 1987, claimed that he’d been the recipient of an award from Wallace in 1973 (it probably wasn’t true; but what a thing to brag about!), and then boasted that Delaware was “on the South’s side in the Civil War.”

Not long ago, Biden alleged that his relationship with pro-segregationist senators such as James O. Eastland and Herman Talmadge was nothing more than a matter of “civility.” That contention is easily debunked. “Eastland was particularly anxious to mentor young members,” historian J. Lee Annis notes in his book Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi. “One favorite over the last term was Joseph Biden, who then was best known for having lost his wife and young daughter in an automobile accident.” Annis goes on to write that Biden showed “considerable deference” to the racist senator, allying with him on numerous bills and seeking his mentorship. Biden confirmed the relationship himself, writing in his 2007 biography, “I started by asking him questions. He was proud of his standing as the longest-serving senator and of his reputation as a keeper of the institutional flame. I think he was flattered by the deference I showed him, and his answers to my questions often surprised me.” (Italics mine.)

Biden was also buddies with J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a segregationist and anti-Semite who would later become a mentor to the Clintons. Biden eulogized Strom Thurmond, and at one point called the one-time Dixiecrat candidate and later Republican one of his “closest friends.” It was more than friendship. Nadine Cohodas notes in her book, Strom Thurmond & the Politics of Southern Change, that: “Biden had developed a genuine fondness for Thurmond. The young Democrat appreciated Thurmond’s political skill — he realized he was sitting next to a living piece of history — and he respected the straight-up way they could deal with one another. When Biden became Judiciary’s senior Democrat, he had promised Thurmond he would never do anything to undercut him. Thurmond had always reciprocated.”

All of this history deserves context, but it’s indisputable that in the 1970s the senators were friendly. (Though, I guess, I should also mention that the last time black kids were kicked out of a school by the federal government, it was the Obama administration shutting down the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.) But if every media outlet is going to gleefully quote Obama on Wallace, let’s talk about it. I get the sense that if a GOP presidential nominee had a similarly sordid history, it would be far more newsworthy — especially in an age of “racial injustice reckoning.”

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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