Is this just Joe Biden being Joe Biden, or is this — to use the Vice President’s own phrase — a big f’in’ deal? Biden drew the ire of the ADL’s Abraham Foxman for remarks made yesterday to a prominent association of attorneys in which he described bankers as “Shylocks” who “took advantage” of men and women serving in the military. Yahoo’s Olivier Knox broke the story last night:
Biden’s slip came in a speech to the Legal Services Corporation, which provides lawyers to Americans who could not afford them otherwise. In his remarks, the vice president described the experience of his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who was deployed for one year in Iraq.
“People would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being — I mean, these Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas,” Biden said. …
“Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The Vice President should have been more careful,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.
Shylock, the villain in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” is a Jewish moneylender who mercilessly demands a “pound of flesh” from the merchant who defaults on a loan. Whether the 16th-century play is anti-Semitic or reflects the anti-Semitism of the time is a subject of frequent, bitter debate, but the term Shylock is offensive enough that Florida stripped it from state law back in 2009. (Not everyone has gotten that memo).
Olivier cites a few of Biden’s greatest hits, including his 2006 statement on needing an Indian accent to go into convenience stores and his 2007 assessment of Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” The media gave Biden a pass on these statements in the past, even though any Republican who uttered anything remotely similar would get pilloried for it, and the entire party with it. The term “Shylock” from a GOP politician would be held up as an example of the party’s latent anti-Semitism and analyzed to death.
Don’t expect the same thing here, although my first instinct last night was to think this might get more scrutiny. Even apart from the media bias on issues like this and the general pass that Democrats get on political correctness, Joe Biden is … well, Joe Biden. If he had an important job people might take his rhetorical flubs more seriously. As it is, though, Biden is the clown prince, and very much not the heir apparent, in the Democratic Party. He’s there for amusement purposes, and Indians, African-Americans, and Jews had better just get used to it until a Republican takes control of the White House. At that point, the national media will be sure to man the Perpetual Outrage Towers, along with the Homelessness Crisis beat positions.
There is, however, one curious thing about Biden’s story. His son’s service in Iraq came almost entirely during the first year of the Obama administration; he returned from his deployment in Iraq in September 2009. Biden telling of this story suggests that his son got this feedback after his return, which would mean that the issue of regulating bankers to avoid any supposed injustices and abuses would have been the responsibility of … Barack Obama.
Update: Jeff Dunetz votes “big f’ing deal.”
Update: Biden backpedals:
Breaking: Biden calls 'Shylock' comment a 'poor choice of words'
— The Hill (@thehill) September 17, 2014