20 June 2019

The real problem with Biden

Biden's recent remarks about "civility" and his working relationships with racist Senators in the 1970s represent a real problem.

In hindsight, this was foreshadowed by the flap earlier this month over his support for the Hyde Amendment.  He defused that controversy by immediately reversing his position as soon as it became an issue.  This obviously led to accusations of flip-flopping, but he really had no other tenable option, and his new stance at least came across as sincere.  The problem was that his initial position came across as bizarrely out-of-touch.  He seems to have believed that supporting the Hyde Amendment was still acceptable within the Democratic party of today.  Still, the speed with which he reversed himself seemed to show that he hadn't supported it very strongly, and the issue didn't seem to hurt him much at the time.

But his comments this week take that tone-deafness to a whole new level.  Eastland and Talmadge were relics of a monstrous past, active supporters of enforced segregation (not just "opponents of desegregation" as they're being characterized).  They advocated continuing denial of civil and political rights to one-eighth of the American people on the basis of skin color.  Biden's point was that it is necessary and possible to maintain civility and work with people one disagrees with, and he's not even wrong about that -- it's the choice of Eastland and Talmadge as examples that constitutes a gaffe of epic proportions.  Because the stance on race they represent is no longer seen as a mere matter of disagreement, certainly within the modern Democratic party.  It represents something fundamentally evil.

This problem is, I think, partly a matter of age.  Biden was born in 1942 and spent his early life in an America where views like those of Eastland and Talmadge were acceptable within the mainstream -- in modern terms, the Overton window was in a different place than it is today.  I don't believe Biden is racist, not in any way that would do harm if he were President.  But his gut instincts about how to express certain ideas are "off".  He still doesn't seem to realize what was wrong with what he said, and has refused to apologize.

(I see a more diffuse but somewhat similar problem with Bernie Sanders, who fell flat with black primary voters in 2016 not because of gaffes but because of his tendency to see everything in economic terms and slowness to recognize that racism presents a separate set of issues that no rising economic tide, by itself, would address.)

Whether age-related or not, it's a genuine problem.  After two tone-deaf moments in a single month (the Hyde Amendment and now this), what else might he say in the sixteen-plus months between now and the election?  For that matter, what will voters deduce from his remarks this week?  As I mentioned here, Biden can't possibly be so na├»ve as to actually believe what he's been saying about bipartisanship with the Republicans of today -- he's basically pandering to the large slice of voters who don't realize that such bipartisanship is no longer possible and want to see it return.  As such, it's a smart position politically.  But touting collaboration with a monster like Eastland and what he represented is a very different matter.  If voters start to think there's no evil Biden wouldn't seek common ground with, that will be fatal.

And it is the voters -- the rank-and-file of the Democratic party -- who will rightly have the final say on this.  So long as criticism of Biden comes only from the same far-left sites that have been trashing him all along, it doesn't matter.  What matters is what the voters think.  Biden has held a huge lead in the polls because he's perceived as most able to defeat Trump in November, because of his association with Obama, and because he's focused his rhetorical attacks on Trump instead of engaging in the same old wearisome politics-as-usual sniping at rival Democrats.  It's up to the voters to decide whether a gaffe, even one of this magnitude, outweighs all that.

Governor Northam in Virginia survived the yearbook scandal in February because Democratic voters -- most importantly, black voters, despite the racial nature of the scandal -- stuck with him.  If they stick with Biden, he'll survive this.  But in Virginia, scandals attached to other Democrats in the line of succession meant a high risk of a Republican becoming Governor if Northam fell, and obviously a Democrat with a possibly-racist past but a clean current record was far better than anyone from the poisonous horror the modern Republican party has become.  Biden has no such insurance.  Voters have plenty of other Democrats to choose from, to put it mildly.

Biden's biggest asset is electability -- the perception that he has a better chance than other Democrats of defeating Trump.  His two blunders this month, evoking the danger of more such blunders in the future, call that perception into serious question.


Blogger The New York Crank said...

The problem with Biden is that he contradicts the law of gravity with alarming regularity: while standing in front of an audience and cameras, he opens his mouth, and somehow his foot falls into it.

This is nothing new. It has been going on for decades. For a compendium of foot-in-mouth gaffes, check out this compendium from Time Magazine: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1895156,00.html.

Suggestion, work your way from the bottom (oldest) up.

Yours Crankily,
The New York Crank

20 June, 2019 08:47  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

I for one do not believe the democratic party ought to be beating up on Biden on this one. Biden is not a racist, he was functioning in a body that had its share of folks just like the two mentioned. Elected of course by the people and state they represent.

Activism is the driving force for social change. But, bureaucracies, and our federal government is a gargantuan one, are slow to change. Unless of course some group incites revolution. A place we once proudly found ourselves.

Biden did not agree or support what those 2 racist jackasses believed was right. But he did work, through the system, to gradually and positively effect change in both law and attitudes. Sometime I think folks get too anal about stuff because they let emotion rather than logic determine their actions.

20 June, 2019 11:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Crank: I know he has a long history of gaffes. He seemed to be doing better during this campaign, though. But this one is a doozy, and the Hyde Amendment thing wasn't really a gaffe. He was genuinely wrong.

Rational: Nobody is claiming Biden is a racist. Let me reiterate my core point from my third paragraph. Whether it was, in fact, necessary to work with monsters like Eastland back in those days to get things done is something I don't have the knowledge to judge. The problem is the fact that right now, in 2019, he chose to use Eastland as an example of the virtues of willingness to work with people with whom he "didn't agree", something he proposes to do as President in the future. This is not 1970. Any suggestion that any kind of collaboration with a creature like Eastland is acceptable now, is outside the realm of legitimate discourse, period. He could have chosen someone else as an example, someone who wasn't actually evil, but he chose Eastland and Talmadge.

And he still doesn't understand what was wrong with what he said. That implies a fundamental tone-deafness which could well give rise to more and more gaffes as the campaign progresses. Which casts a lot of doubt on his claim to have the best chance of defeating Trump. And defeating Trump is the entire point here.

20 June, 2019 12:18  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I think Biden is "yesterday's man" and problems like this demonstrate it. He has too much questionable past history from ye olden times and in some respects has not caught up with current days (not uncommon among his age group). A generational change in leadership would be better.

However, if it appears he's the only one that might take Trump down, then go Joe go!

20 June, 2019 13:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's a concern I've had for a while about the older candidates. He's fundamentally a decent guy, but he does come from a different time. I sometimes wonder what attitudes that seem progressive and up-to-date today will be considered unacceptably backward fifty years from now.

If he gets the nomination, he'll certainly get my vote!

20 June, 2019 14:49  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

I understand your point. I see total gridlock and a paralyzed future for America. If this is the position politicians chose to pursue.

At my age I likely won't be around anyway when the walls blow out around our republic. My guess, 50 or so years from now the US will be a banana republic ruled by a Trump descendant. Or something even worse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Democrats are gloriously proficient at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

20 June, 2019 17:50  
Blogger jsrtheta said...

Biden's too old, and shouldn't be running. But people are forgetting an important thing: Congress wasn't designed to be dominated by a single party (it wasn't designed for parties at all). And it is unlikely that Democrats will win the Senate in 2020, and even if they did, they will still have to deal with situations requiring supermajorities. And it's doubtful they'll have one.

Biden is from a time that is easy to criticize in hindsight, a time that many of today's voters didn't live through, at least as adults. It was not uncommon for very unlikely alliances to be formed to advance legislation. And Biden is right to point out that things did get done. One can criticize specific legislation, but, often through the work of ideological opposites who knew how to play with others, decent laws got passed and problems got addressed. Right now, and for some time, nothing good at all is getting done.

This started with Gingrich, to be sure. But pointing fingers kind of defeats the purpose: Doing the work of the people. That's really all that Biden was saying.

20 June, 2019 21:10  
Anonymous NickM said...

"I sometimes wonder what attitudes that seem progressive and up-to-date today will be considered unacceptably backward fifty years from now."

This is an idea that has interested me for years. It is not inconceivable that the future will have me and you on The Wall. "Progressivism" can be "progress" in any number of ways if it is about eternal change. What real liberalism ought to be is the fundamental rights of the individual and whilst not set in stone a few folks a coupla hundred years ago had roughly the right idea. I'm a classical liberal which means a belief in freedom and not "equality" because I believe in rights and not statistics.

21 June, 2019 01:34  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Thank goodness I came to the right website. I mean ... it sayz "White Only" at the top of the page ... and I just said to myself ... "That's Me!!" {:-) heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. (just kidding). I don't know much of a thing about Joe Biden, really never looked into his background much (he just reminds me so much of my dad when I hear him talk). I just looked at him, as one of those easy going personality types ... has a great smile, that's for sure. I don't agree with some of his policies that I read, only because I'm more progressive ... but it never crossed my mind of him being a racist. I didn't listen to all the mainstream opinions on this, because there are too many, I noticed it's on every network, and more analyses and phrase/ word dissecting by many experts, than you can shake a stick at. One thing I do know, though, in all of this race ... SOMEONE was going to be called a racist, it never fails. And of course, America (IMO), is just, and has alwayz been a racist country anywayz, so it's almost impossible to go through any candidate examination, without racism or race talk getting into the conversation.

21 June, 2019 04:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Rational: Hmm, I smell something in the punchbowl..... Actually, the the Republican party has locked itself to a demographic base (fundamentalists and other less-educated whites) which is steadily shrinking as a percentage of the population, so in the long run its decline into non-viability is inevitable. The question is how long that takes and how much damage they do in the meantime.

The Democrats did pretty well in 2018 and I think we'll do better in 2020. And it bears repeating -- nobody ever won a fight by giving up and deciding in advance that it was unwinnable.

Jsrtheta: As I explained in paragraph three and in my first response comment above, the problem is not that Biden was talking about cooperating with Republicans. The problem is his choice of an example.

If Democrats take the Senate but fail to abolish the filibuster, we'll just end up with more gridlock. But I can't believe they'll be that dumb.

21 June, 2019 06:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: It's an idea that really needs its own post (or several), which I'll get around to writing one of these days. I think the fundamental error is the idea that there exists some absolute, objectively-correct configuration of moral values upon which societies inevitably converge in the long run, regardless of what value system they originally started out with. Liberals, libertarians, and fundamentalists all embrace some form of this idea, though with variations (and each has a completely different view of what that one correct configuration of values is). Liberals think we're almost there, whereas fundamentalists see society as moving away from the one correct value system, but believe this will lead to some sort of collapse after which people will move closer to the one correct system (which consists of their own religion's taboo system). Most of the arguments for this view of things boil down to "It's just so obvious that our values are right that it was/is inevitable that everybody would eventually realize that." I don't think it works like that at all.

21 June, 2019 06:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: I do think there's way too much emphasis on race, which often blinds people to more important influences at work. And accusations of racism are made far too casually on flimsy or non-existent grounds. But especially because of history, it's an issue that needs to be treated carefully. Biden may have problems doing that because of the time he grew up in.

21 June, 2019 06:48  

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