Politics & Policy

Joe Biden: ‘At Least There was Some Civility’ from Segregationist James Eastland

Joe Biden speaks to the press at an event in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, June 11, 2019. (Jordan Gale/Reuters)

Former vice president Joe Biden lamented the loss of civility in American politics during a Tuesday night speech, juxtaposing the partisan hostility of the current moment against the pragmatism displayed by the southern segregationists he worked with in his early career.

Addressing a crowd of 100 supporters at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, Biden pushed back on the charge, leveled by many of his Democratic primary opponents, that he is too eager to acquiesce to Republicans in the name of bipartisanship.

“If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens?” Biden said at the fundraiser, according to a pool report. “It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president.”

The former Delaware congressman went on to praise Democratic senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both of whom steadfastly opposed racial integration and federal civil rights protections for African Americans.

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to the pool report. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”

“Well guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Eastland, who died in 1986 at age 81, referred repeatedly to black people as an “inferior race.” Talmadge, who died in 2002 at age 88, criticized the 1954 Supreme Court decision ordering the integration of public schools for its impracticality.

“There aren’t enough troops in the whole United States to make the white people of this state send their children to school with colored children,” Talmadge said.

Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1973, went on to argue that his experience dealing with segregationists would inform his approach to negotiating with the Republican Senate majority if he were elected president.

“Folks, I believe one of the things I’m pretty good at is bringing people together,” he said. “Every time we had a trouble in the administration, who got sent to the Hill to settle it? Me. No, not a joke. Because I demonstrate respect for them. This idea Mitch McConnell and I are buddies?”

“Mitch McConnell is really a tough nut. But it’s real simple. We went up, the members were going to close down the government on New Year’s Day, I went up, I got him and I said, ‘OK, we’ll make a deal. You raise taxes $650 billion on the top 1%, you guys, and we’ll keep the tax cut under $250,000,’” he added.

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