The Democrats have a problem. Some unreconstructed ghosts from the party’s gruesome racist past are rattling their chains, thanks to yet another very public blunder by former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, the seeming frontrunner in the 2020 presidential race.
Biden, who apparently hasn’t met a vicious conservative he doesn’t like and respect, stepped on a whole series of rakes over the last several days, and his standing as the establishment pick for the nomination is setting the party up for another calamity at the polls.
Biden attended a big-dollar fundraiser at the Carlyle hotel in New York on Tuesday, one of several he graced with his presence that day. While unspooling his boilerplate spiel about “civility” and working with hidebound Republicans who are really great you guys, trust me, Delaware’s erstwhile favorite son got lost in the weeds of history, white supremacy and institutional racism.
Don’t miss a beat
Get the latest news and thought-provoking analysis from Truthout.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” said Biden in an ersatz Southern accent. “He never called me ‘boy.’ He always called me ‘son.’ Well, guess what? 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.”
There is quite a bit to unpack here, so let’s take it from the top. Sen. James Eastland (D-Mississippi) was an unvarnished racist and white supremacist, born to wealth, who lived on a massive cotton plantation and devoted his life to maintaining Jim Crow. With his fat cigar and benighted views, Eastland was for many long years the living essence of institutionalized, violent white power in the U.S.
“He often appeared in Mississippi courthouse squares,” wrote The New York Times in its obituary for Eastland after his passing in 1986, “promising the crowds that if elected he would stop blacks and whites from eating together in Washington. He often spoke of blacks as ‘an inferior race.’”
The Times obituary was a polite rendering of some very bleak history. “The South will retain segregation,” Eastland proclaimed in 1956. “The governor of a sovereign State can use the force at his command, civil and other, to maintain public order, and prevent crime and riots. He can use these forces to prevent racial integration of schools if this is necessary, under the police power of the State, to prevent disorder and riots.”
Biden’s own staff even thought praising Eastland was an incredibly bad idea. “Aides said they had urged Biden to find a less toxic example,” reports The Washington Post.
And then, there is the matter of “boy.” When used against Black men, “boy” is a racist pejorative slur meant to insult and diminish their standing as a free adult. When used against white men like Biden, “boy” is merely a noun with no ghastly history attached. Joe Biden missed the point completely, again.
Biden’s comments also came just before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) dismissed not only the issue of slavery reparations, but the entire blood-soaked history of slavery altogether. “We’ve had waves of immigrants come to the country and experience dramatic discrimination of one kind or another,” he said on Tuesday.
In Mitch’s fetid little mind, immigrants and people kidnapped into chattel slavery are the same thing. If you listen to Joe Biden, however, McConnell is precisely the sort of “civil” Republican we’re all supposed to get along with so we can “get things done.”
All this happened during the week of Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates Black emancipation in Texas, which came two long years after Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation. The old evils never seem to die.
After polishing the turd that was James O. Eastland, Biden proceeded to wallow in the shallow grave of nonsense bipartisanship. “But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy,” he said. “Not the opposition. The enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore. I know the new New Left tells me that I’m, this is old-fashioned. Well, guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president.”
Biden’s verbal slap at the “new New Left,” delivered before a roomful of wealthy donors, is actually an attack against voters seeking relief from the policies he championed. They want an end to the wars he voted for, an end to the carceral system he helped build, and relief from the bankruptcy laws he wrote.
Biden was in New York for one reason: To get money from rich people and as many Republican donors as he could corner during cocktails. During the event at the Carlyle Hotel, Biden promised the wealthy assemblage he would not “demonize anybody who has made money.”
“You’re not the other,” Biden told the room. “I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you.” This was a reprise of the refrain he unspooled in March, when he said, “I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble.”
“If we can’t reach a consensus in our system,” said Biden in New York, “what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president.” Everybody got that? If Democrats don’t go along with racist, misogynist, fascist, obstructionist, white nationalist Republicans, everything Donald Trump does is their fault because they are “encouraging” him.
Well, guess what? That’s bullshit, Joe, and I’m calling you on it.
After all these years in politics, including eight years in the second chair during the Obama administration, Biden would have us believe he is utterly clueless about the wrecker nature of the modern Republican party.
He’s not. He is pretending he is in order to pander to white “centrist” voters who still get the warm fuzzies when Democrats blather about bipartisanship in the era of win or die.
Biden wants their money, and he wants their votes in the general election. Because he is the establishment candidate, he is pretending the other Democratic candidates don’t exist and is trying to run a general election strategy against Trump alone. According to his plan, his ultimate nomination is a fait accompli.
Only when Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), along with journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, absolutely charbroiled Biden over his praise for Eastland did Biden even recognize the existence of Booker. When he did, he demanded Booker apologize to him for Booker’s criticism of the verbal backrub Biden gave to a segregationist.
By attempting to hover above the fray, and by denigrating that “new New Left,” Biden is also trying to put daylight between himself and all the land mines buried in his long legislative record. His history on racial justice, the wars, the prison system, the banking industry and so much more are of deep concern to Democratic voters in 2019.
Because he can’t fix what he has done, and has no intention to do so if he becomes president, the best Biden can do is pretend none of it is there at all. “I won’t let you down,” he told that wealthy donor crowd in New York. That should be his campaign slogan, because it is the absolute truth.
Joe Biden was only a senator for so long because the banking industry dug a deep financial moat around his Delaware Senate seat to scare off potential challengers. Biden was their guy, and they made sure he stayed put so he could perform services like writing the bankruptcy bill that ruined so many lives.
Biden’s plagiarism flameout during his first presidential campaign in 1988 would have been the undoing of any politician who lacked the protection his banker friends gave him. In 2008, his second presidential campaign didn’t make it past the Iowa caucuses.
Despite the current poll numbers, which should be trusted just slightly less than a three-dollar bill after the debacle in 2016, there is little reason to believe this third try will end any different. The coalitions that put Bill Clinton and Barack Obama into the Oval Office have fallen to dust because they failed to blunt Republican plunder, and in many cases aided and abetted the plunderers. Why? They’re all cashing the same donor checks Biden was seeking in New York.
Tea leaves are for making beverages, but I’m going to hazard a worthy guess that Joe Biden’s general election campaign strategy is going to run into a white-hot buzz saw (again) when he reaches the primaries. The “centrist” Clinton/Obama voting bloc is gone, and in its place stands an activated and motivated coalition of women voters, young voters, voters of color, LGBTQ voters, activists and a whole slew of others who see Joe Biden as a throwback to a doomed and ultimately failed era of Democratic politics.
Joe Biden’s tin ear is larger than those SETI satellite dishes listening for signs of alien life beside the Cascade Mountains in California. Candidate Biden is both the elephant parade and the guy with the broom bringing up the rear. The elephants take a dump in the street, the broom guy tries to clean it up, and it’s all Joe 3.0.
The Democratic Establishment, in tapping Biden as their standard bearer after the long calamity of the 2016 election, have clearly forgotten the First Law of Holes: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.