Wednesday, June 19, 2019


It's possible that Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo has this somewhat wrong:
Former Vice President Joe Biden seems to have missed the mark in his wistful reminiscing about the “civility” that used to pervade Congress, as he touted his friendships with virulent segregationists at a New York fundraiser Tuesday night.

According to the Washington Post, he was riffing on his ability to “bring people together” when he name-dropped the late Sen. James Eastland (D-MS), who believed that black people belonged to an “inferior race.” Biden proudly said that Eastland called him “son” and not “boy.”

As the Post points out, it’s unclear why Biden felt that this was an indication of respect, as “boy” was a derogatory identifier used to degrade black men.
The Post story doesn't say that Biden recalled this "proudly." It says:
The Democratic presidential candidate, who has led his competitors in early polls of the crowded nominating contest, briefly imitated the southern drawl of the Mississippi cotton planter, lawyer and lawmaker. “He never called me ‘boy,’" Biden said. “He always called me ‘son.’”
A story in The New York Times says:
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to a pool report from the fund-raiser. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”
The Post story adds:
Biden’s campaign didn’t immediately return a request for comment about why it would be notable that the Dixiecrat — who thought black Americans belonged to an “inferior race” and warned that integration would cause “mongrelization” — didn’t call Biden “boy,” a racial epithet deployed against black men.
Here's a charitable explanation: Biden is saying, Well, Eastland didn’t demean me by calling me "boy" the way he would have if I were black, but he did demean me by calling me "son" rather than "Senator." But it's not very charitable -- if that's what Biden is saying, it suggests that he's claiming to have been demeaned nearly as much as black men who were called "boy." If that's what he meant, he was piggybacking on black people's experience, and he's really not entitled to do that.

Regarding the other segregationist cited by Biden, the Times reports:
[Biden] called [Georgia senator Herman] Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys.”

“Well guess what?” Mr. Biden 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.”
So let's give this the nicest possible interpretation: Biden felt demeaned by Senator Eastland and thought Senator Talmadge was an awful person, but hey, you legislate with the Senate colleagues you have, not with the ones you wish you had, so he sucked it up and got down to work with them.

I'm giving Biden the benefit of every doubt. It seems more likely that Biden misses the backslapping and glad-handing, even with horrible people, and believes he can revive it now (even with horrible people).

He can't of course, as Jonathan Chait notes, with a brief history lesson:
... after Reconstruction was crushed, the Republican Party abandoned its commitment to African-American equality and activist government, while the Democratic Party eventually adopted those identities. In the decades while the Republicans were moving right and the Democrats were moving left, there was a long period in which the parties overlapped. During that time, bipartisanship was the norm. Biden came of political age during the period when polarization had reached its historic nadir....

That’s the era Biden grew up in and recalls fondly. It has disappeared....

... modern leaders have learned that the old conventional wisdom that voters would punish them for failing to get along is false. As Mitch McConnell has bluntly explained, persuadable voters do not pay close attention to policy details. If they see leaders in both parties getting along, they will assume things are going well, and — this is the crucial detail — they will consequently reward the party in power. If they see a nasty partisan fight, they will assume Washington is failing, and reward the opposition. To ask the opposing party to compromise with the majority party is to ask it to undermine its own political interest.

Biden either fails to grasp this dynamic, or believes he can overpower it with sheer charm.
If Biden could persuade us that he hates the ideas of the segregationists as much as he loves the idea of forging consensus, maybe this wouldn't be disturbing. But he keeps trying to sell us on the latter idea while downplaying the former.

Will it hurt him? Well, as Chait notes,
Right now, Biden commands strong support among African-American voters. He may or may not be in danger of losing that support. But one way he might lose it would be, I don’t know, talking constantly about his friendships with segregationists.
And given the fact that older African-American voters seem to be his strongest supporters, it might be a terrible idea to constantly invoke friendships with segregationists those older African-American voters might actually remember.

Oh, and at the same fund-raiser:
Former Vice President Joe Biden told affluent donors Tuesday that he wanted their support and -- perhaps unlike some other Democratic presidential candidates -- wouldn’t be making them political targets because of their wealth.

“Remember, I got in trouble with some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side, because I said, you know, what I’ve found is rich people are just as patriotic as poor people. Not a joke. I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who’s made money,” Biden told about 100 well-dressed donors at the Carlyle Hotel on New York’s Upper East Side....

“Truth of the matter is, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done,” Biden said. “We can disagree in the margins. But the truth of the matter is, it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change,” he said.
He'd still be better than Trump, on a hundred different issues. But he shouldn't be the nominee.

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