Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
On Tuesday, Biden reflected favorably on working with segregationist senators when he arrived in the Senate in 1973. He specifically mentioned two Democrats who opposed desegregation, Sens. James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ …
“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.”
People remember many things about segregationists. “Civility” isn’t at the top of the list.
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys.’ Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity,” Democrat presidential candidate and Sen. Cory Booker said. Booker also called for Biden to apologize.
“I’m not here to criticize other Democrats but it’s never OK to celebrate segregationists — never,” Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said.
To be fair, Biden wasn’t praising segregationists. He was saying that even though he disagreed with them, it was good that they could still work together on other priorities. It was questionable to use segregationists to make that point. He could have highlighted his relationship with Republicans such as John McCain.
Biden isn’t backing down either. He not only refused to apologize, but he said Booker “should apologize” to him because Booker “knows better.”
Imagine the media reaction if a Republican had called on an African-American senator to apologize after a similar situation. A Republican would never overcome the initial scandal, let alone that. In 2002, Republican Trent Lott stepped down as incoming Senate Majority Leader after an outcry of protest over his praise of Strom Thurmond, who had been a segregationist.
Biden has a history of making racially insensitive statements that would have ended the chance of career advancement for any Republican not named Trump. In 2007, Biden called Barack Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” In 2006, he said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
The scrutiny of Biden is poetic justice when you remember what Biden has said about Republicans. In 2012, he told a crowd of African-Americans that Mitt Romney was “gonna put y’all back in chains.”
Enjoy watching Biden squirm while you can. If he wins the Democrat nomination, the gaffes will continue. But the media scrutiny won’t.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.