Biden fondly recalls "civility" of segregationist senators, vows that he won't demonize the rich; Update: De Blasio attacks

Remember when he got slammed by centrists for abandoning the Hyde Amendment, signaling that he might be turning towards the left?

He’s really overcorrected!


I don’t know what to make of this, candidly. Was he trolling liberals by saying it? Or is he really so oblivious as to how this plays in 2019, particularly among progressives?

At the event, Mr. Biden noted that he served with the late Senators James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democrats who were staunch opponents of desegregation. Mr. Eastland was the powerful chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr. Biden entered the chamber in 1973.

“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.’”…

“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.”

I have a theory as to why Eastland called him “son” rather than “boy.”

The defense from Bidenland will be that he’s always talked this way about segregationist former colleagues (true), no one had much of a problem with it until now (true), and loyally serving the first black president for two terms as VP should be proof enough of his personal belief in racial equality. With the great mass of Democratic voters, his Obama association will provide him immunity from charges of racial insensitivity. But his competition will use this to try to pierce that immunity, especially in states like South Carolina where the primary electorate is majority black. They’re already teeing up attacks on his role in drafting the Clinton-era crime bill and his early opposition to busing as a means of ending segregation. Now they’ll throw this at him. Probably it won’t hurt him. But why would he take the risk? If he wanted to make a banal point about bipartisanship and comity, he could have just cited his close friendship with McCain.


Even if only the left-most five percent of the electorate holds this against him, that’s five percent that he needs in the general election. Progressives are *looking* for reasons to turn him into a hate object, knowing that he’s momentarily the chief impediment to a socialist takeover of the party. He should want to remain sufficiently tolerable to them that they’ll turn out for him, grudgingly, against Trump; that was the point of the Hyde Amendment flip-flop, after all. So what’s he doing highlighting his lack of any personal animus towards two segregationists?

Don’t ask me what he was doing with these comments either:

“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, where the hors d’oeuvres included lobster, chicken satay and crudites.

“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…

“You’re not the other,” Biden told the assembled group, most of whom were wearing suits. “I need you very badly.”


Bidenland will claim that that’s perfectly in keeping with his centrist, bipartisan message. He’s not saying that taxes on the rich can’t go up, they’ll point out, he’s only saying that the rich shouldn’t be regarded as enemies. Well .. no, he’s saying a little more than that. The bit about how “no one’s standard of living would change” reads like a promise, right up front at the start of the campaign, to a crowd of fabulously rich people that he’ll protect them — and their money — from the populist working class. Biden may reject the idea that there’s an “us” and “them” in American life (which is ironic given his patience for segregationists) but that idea has many adherents now on both sides. At a minimum, you would think, he might acknowledge that populists have legitimate grievances by not publicly pledging to elite donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. You can imagine what Bernie, and Warren, and maybe even some of the less wingnutty candidates like Beto and Klobuchar, will do with this soundbite at the debate next week. If you had to summarize the beliefs of the Democratic base in one line, you could do worse than “America’s distribution of wealth needs to fundamentally change.” Now here’s Biden aiming a dagger right at their hearts.

Again, why? It’s not like the crowd at the fundraiser would have closed their wallets if he had omitted this. They’re backing him in the first place because they already know he believes it: He’s the moderate business-friendly knight who’ll keep the howling Bernie barbarians away from their money. Biden didn’t need to confirm that out loud and hand a ripe line of attack to his opponents. What is he thinking?


Update: Here we go.

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