Biden’s overlooked comment to organized labor
posted at 2:45 pm on September 7, 2011 by Tina Korbe
Jimmy Hoffa’s canine remarks about Tea Party SOBs rightly received plenty of media attention — especially after Jake Tapper’s signature drilling of Jay Carney. What is less widely known is that Gaffe-Master-in-Chief and Alleged-Tea-Party-Terrorists-Toastmaster Joe Biden also made a newsworthy remark in his keynote address at organized labor’s traditional Labor Day picnic at Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park.
“This is a different kind of fight,” Biden said. “This is a fight for the existence of organized labor. You are the only folks keeping the barbarians at the gate. That’s why they want you so bad.”
Now, who might those barbarians be? And why did no one hear of Biden’s remarks?
NewsBusters’ Tom Blumer has the answer to that last question: No one heard of the comments because hardly anyone reported them (with a few notable exceptions, including Politico and The Hill — kudos!).
Now, journalists who perceive themselves as “gatekeepers” do have to apply some standards of newsworthiness when they determine what to cover and what not to cover — and, in terms of shock value, Hoffa’s comments clearly stole the Labor Day show. But Blumer explains why Biden’s remark, in some ways, is even more troubling:
Biden’s statement is in an important aspect more problematic than the more widely (but not sufficiently widely) noted “son of a b*tches” comment made by Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. in Detroit yesterday at a Labor Day event President Obama keynoted. While Hoffa was threatening and hateful, he was at least in theory speaking only for Big Labor (though Obama has essentially adopted it by not condemning it). In Cincinnati, Biden, who was elected to serve all citizens of the country, personally characterized a large plurality of those he is supposed to be serving with a word which means “savage, primitive, uncivilized persons.”
Did Biden literally mean that opponents of organized labor are uncivilized — or did he just mean it metaphorically? Battle imagery is remarkably adaptable to politics and “barbarians at the gate” is a colorful way to say the fight is now at close quarters. And that’s true: The union battles of this year have gone beyond traditional tensions — and straight, as Biden said, to the question of whether a need for organized labor still exists.
The expression could work in the opposite direction, too: Earlier this year, in the fight that started it all, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was literally inside the governor’s mansion while protesters stormed the state Capitol. WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson thinks Biden would be OK with it if the very folks he’s calling “barbarian” did turn the quote around. “As for Biden’t (sic) ‘barbarians’ reference, well, I don’t think he’d get too offended if you called him a barbarian right back,” Robinson wrote.
Bu we all know that’s the problem. If anyone called union leaders “barbarians,” Biden wouldn’t be OK with it; he and his “New Tone” cronies would be up in arms — er, excuse me, in a tizzy. I probably shouldn’t use an expression like “up in arms.”
Frankly, I’m sick of the sensitivity in both directions. Conservatives have pointed out the hypocrisy again and again and where’s it getting us? I’m really tempted to say, “Let’s stop taking the high road and quit apologizing when we make rude remarks. Let’s recognize that the political game is messy and not be afraid to get dirty.” But, then, we’d be no better. We really would be barbarians. So, in the end, what’s left to conservatives is the cold — but very real — consolation of a clean conscience. As frustrating as it is to watch the vice president get by with inappropriate statements — and however much genuine civility, thoughtful policy proposals and virtuous patience with impertinent peers sometimes smacks of a lack of political savvy — I’d still always rather be on the side of class. Sigh. Let’s keep taking the high road.