clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Joe Biden served eight years alongside former President Barack Obama, and his civil rights record wasn’t attacked during that time. Does this mean Obama misled black people by supporting someone who gave comfort to segregationists?

Kamala Harris (R) (D-CA) and former Vice President Joe Biden (L) speak as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
Getty

If former Vice President Joe Biden is as clueless about black folks as Congressman Bobby Rush claims, then why didn’t he say something before now?

Biden served eight years alongside former President Barack Obama, and his civil rights record wasn’t attacked.

In fact, Obama and Biden left the White House as best buddies.

Rush is Sen. Kamala Harris’ Illinois campaign co-chair, so I expect him to give her a glowing review. But it’s shocking that after Biden spent two terms serving alongside America’s first black president, he is now being scolded for his civil rights record.

Rush, the only person to have defeated Obama in a political race, told Politico that Biden was “wholly out of touch and woefully ignorant of the nuances of the black experience.”

Frankly, Harris’ gut-punch over Biden’s stance on busing nearly 50 years ago has opened a conversation that should have taken place a long time ago.

In an article posted on the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) website after Thursday’s debate, award-winning writer Jonathan Kozol pointed out that Biden “didn’t merely give support to Southern segregationists. He introduced legislation of his own to prohibit busing for school integration.”

“All this is in the public record. And it’s a shameful record for a potential Democratic nominee,” Kozol said.

For all its lofty rhetoric, politics remains a gotcha sport. Candidates plot and plan. When the moment is right, they pounce, which is what Harris did.

Still, if Biden’s civil rights record was that bad, wouldn’t his political opponents have outed him before now?

And does this mean Obama misled black people by supporting someone who gave comfort to segregationists?

But I’m more concerned about the criticism Harris is getting over the positions she took as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general.

The Washington, D.C.-based IPA, which is holding Biden’s feet to the fire, has also pulled the curtain back on Harris’ tenure as a top prosecutor.

Lara Bazelon, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, wrote a scathing op-ed for the New York Times earlier this year, under the headline: “Kamala Harris Was Not a Progressive Prosecutor.”

“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering,” Bazelon wrote.

The Atlantic also published a lengthy profile of Harris in May that echoed the IPA’s assessment.

“As attorney general, she declined to support two ballot measures to end the death penalty. She declined to support making drug possession a misdemeanor. She declined to support legalizing pot. She declined to support a ballot measure reforming California’s brutal three-strikes law,” according to the article.

Bazelon said Harris “needs to make a case to the voters that her change of heart is genuine. Crucial to that case is reckoning with her past.”

But without apology — either for her past positions or her staged attack on Biden’s civil rights record — Harris is emerging as a real contender.

Coincidentally, Harris is also facing the same questions about her black heritage that Obama faced when he ran for president.

On Monday, a black conservative commentator made the case on Twitter that Harris is “not an American black” because her father was from Jamaica and her mother was from India.

Donald J. Trump Jr. retweeted, what many considered by many as a racially offensive tweet, to millions of followers before deleting it.

Biden was among the candidates who responded:

“The same forces of hatred rooted in ‘birtherism’ that questioned @BarackObama’s American citizenship and even his racial identity, are now being used against Senator @KamalaHarris. It’s disgusting and we have to call it out when we see it. Racism has no place in America,” Biden tweeted.

For a lot of reasons, Biden was too easy a target.

After all, in sizing up the field of wannabes in the 2008 presidential election, Biden described Obama as the “first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Black people gasped.

But when advisers decided Biden was just the person Obama needed to win over skeptical white voters, all was forgiven.

So far, Obama has not defended Biden publicly.

He really should break his silence.

A friend who doesn’t return a favor — that’s unforgivable.