08.15.12 2:27 PM ET
Joe Biden’s “Chains” Comment and the Racial Double Standard
Joe Biden must step down as Vice President of the United States. That is the rule, isn’t it, whenever a public figure makes a bone-headed, addle-brained, one-drink-too-many-at-a-wedding comment regarding race? Actually, no that isn’t the rule. Unless of course Joe Biden was a Republican.
Anybody in polite company who still wonders why so many Republican-minded Americans are drawn to alternative media outlets like Fox News or Glenn Beck as their information source need only look at the current episode with the vice president for an answer. What is certain to unfold in this case is a prime example of the double standard that politicians – and much of the media – apply to matters of race.
For those not following the latest entry in the long line of vice presidential nincompoopery, on Tuesday Joe Biden appeared in Virginia before a group of supporters, a number of them African-American, and said this of Republican Mitt Romney: “He is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. He is going to put y'all back in chains." Who knows what Biden was thinking? (the vice president surely doesn’t). Was he just carried away in a speech? Was this part of an intricate plan to link the Republican candidate to racism? Does Biden really believe Romney, who once claimed (falsely) that his father marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., plans to bring back slavery? Does Joe Biden, an attorney with an ego as big as his mouth, actually believe a president could reinstate slavery if he wanted to? It doesn’t matter. Whatever his motivations, he’ll emerge from this brouhaha unscathed. Because he is a Democrat.
Watch Biden's controversial 'chains' remark
In American political discourse, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone on the Left to accuse Republicans of seeking to place African Americans in shackles. In 2000, the NAACP actually ran an ad against George W. Bush which depicted a pick-up truck pulling chains through the dirt. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, both given legitimacy as Democratic presidential contenders, repeatedly accuse Republicans – the party of Abraham Lincoln – of seeking a return to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes. Both men also, by the way, have their own history of anti-Semitic slurs. Senator Robert Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klansman who the Democrats at one point made their majority leader, used the “N-word” during a television interview in 2001. Byrd apologized and, after a few days, no one cared.
Just this year, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee accused Newt Gingrich of using racist “code words” in his public remarks during the presidential campaign. In other words, Newt didn’t say anything blatantly racist, but I am going to attack him for what I think he probably meant even if he didn’t. Last year the Congresswoman accused Republicans battling the Obama administration on the debt ceiling of being racists as well. No big deal, right?
Republicans or those alleged to be Republicans, on the other hand, cannot say or do a single thing that even holds a hint of a racial undertone if they hope to keep their jobs. The most notorious example of this, of course, occurred in 2002. Republican Senator Strom Thurmond was turning 100 years old and the Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, decided to fete the old codger with a toast that went way, way too far. The hapless Lott made reference to Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign – in which Strom ran as a segregationist. “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.” That Lott would actually stand up at a public gathering and reminisce about a segregationist ticket was monumentally stupid and monumentally offensive. But like Biden, Lott appeared to just have let his mouth keep moving while words came out. Like Robert Byrd, he apologized. Then he apologized again. He went on Black Entertainment Television and held a mea culpa. But unlike the cases of Biden and Byrd, Democrats, and many in the media, would not rest until Lott was out of the leadership. No apology sated them. Al Gore called Lott a racist; Jesse Jackson demanded he resign. Before long, he did.
In 2009, Rush Limbaugh made a racial comment on ESPN, suggesting that a black quarterback was overrated because the media wanted a black quarterback to succeed. Mr. Limbaugh defended himself. It didn’t matter. The outcry over his remarks was so great the Limbaugh was prevented from purchasing a stake in the St. Louis Rams football team. A similar fate befell the popular radio icon, Don Imus, who made a deplorable remark about African American women on the Rutgers basketball team in 2007. Imus apologized, went on Al Sharpton’s radio show for a public paddling, but it didn’t matter. Imus was out, too.
So the same thing ought to happen to Joe Biden, right? A vice president who suggests that Republicans want to make African Americans slaves clearly has demonstrated a lack of sensitivity to minorities, not to mention a fundamental misunderstanding of history. The vice president is clearly poisoning political discourse by interjecting slavery into a legitimate debate. Surely the same voices who frequently and repeatedly denounced the idiotic comments of Lott, Limbaugh and Imus will be heard again – their shouts for justice unquenched until Biden is out of power. Right?
Don’t count on it.