The Corner

Elections

Who Wants to Play the Race Card Against Joe Biden?

Former vice president Joe Biden campaigns with Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., September 5, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters )

Today in the New York Times, columnist Jamelle Bouie offers a blistering attack on the racial politics of . . . Joe Biden, arguing his election as president would continue “Trumpism” in some ways:

For decades Biden gave liberal cover to white backlash. He wasn’t an incidental opponent of busing; he was a leader who helped derail integration. He didn’t just vote for punitive legislation on crime and drugs; he wrote it. His political persona is still informed by that past, even if he were to repudiate those positions now. Biden could lead Democrats to victory over Trump, but his political style might affirm the assumptions behind Trumpism. The outward signs of our political dysfunction would be gone, but the disease would still remain.

Last week, the Washington Post ran an article with the headline, “Biden’s tough talk on 1970s school desegregation plan could get new scrutiny in today’s Democratic Party.” Clearly, a lot of progressives who prefer other candidates see this as a potential vulnerability. Current Affairs declared Biden’s “record on racial integration is indefensible.” Paste calls it his “pro-segregation past.”

(Biden’s anti-busing stances were one of the 20 Things profile of Biden.)

While there was a little bit of discussion about these parts of Biden’s record back in 2008, there was no significant outcry from African Americans then when Obama picked Biden to be his running mate. Biden’s runaway mouth — “first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent” — was well-known back then, and the Obama campaign overcame that challenge twice. The overwhelming majority of Democrats voted to put him a heartbeat away from the presidency twice.

Biden didn’t lose the love of most Democrats after “gonna put ya’ll back in chains,” “my state was a slave state” or “these Shylocks.”

Just how much will African Americans, the Democratic-primary electorate, and the voters as a whole buy into the idea in 2019 that Joe Biden was somehow racist or pandered to racists? As luck would have it, McClatchy has a new article today, reporting that “African-American faith leaders, state legislators, voters and party operatives in South Carolina” believe that Biden shouldn’t be underestimated among that demographic in that early primary state.

There’s a chance that at some point, either one of Biden’s rivals or a surrogate tries to press the former vice president on this, and he responds with something like:

Are you out of your mind? I fought for every Affirmative Action program and diversity initiative and African-American history recognition proposal for years, voted to extend the Voting Rights Act, voted for sanctions on South Africa, voted to make Martin Luther King day a federal holiday, expanded the definition of hate crimes, and I was Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years. And you have the nerve to sit there and point to some vote from the 1970s and accuse me of racism?

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