Was Biden's answer on inequality "one of the most explicitly racist moments of all time in a Democratic debate"?

Maybe, maybe not, but it might be one of the most anachronistic. ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis asked Joe Biden how he would address the lingering legacies of slavery and Jim Crow in American communities, and he started out with the typical and anodyne Democratic response — throw money at it. By the time Biden finished, however, he had insinuated that black parents didn’t know how to raise their children and what they really needed was, um … record players.



DAVIS: Mr. Vice president, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?

BIDEN: Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out — the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: There’s so much we — no, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, OK?


Fortunately for Biden, he stopped there; he switched topics completely and started talking about Venezuela for some reason. Had he continued, Biden might have started extolling Victrolas and bedtime stories by candlelight. As it is, a few people watching light night may have wondered if they’ve even seen a record players since the mid-1990s.

As for the insinuation that African-American parents don’t know how to raise their children, Time Magazine editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas calls it “appalling — and disqualifying.” Furthermore, Giridharadas commented on Twitter, it might have set a new low for racism in a Democratic presidential debate, and pointed to what might be a huge problem for Biden if Giridharadas is correct:



Is this the way African-American voters will take this, though? Biden has a good relationship with this “beating heart of his party,” which is of course why his competitors have taken shots at his record on issues like busing and reparations. He has a long track record of relative goodwill on which to rely when interpreting stream-of-consciousness ramblings like this one. Giridharadas imputes racism when simple ignorance might be a better explanation. Or Biden just being the crazy-but-benign grandpa that Biden has been for a very long time.


If those voters do share Giridharadas’ interpretation of this answer, watch out. Biden’s large and stable polling lead in the race has come in significant part from loyalty by black voters to Biden and the Obama legacy. Telling them that they’re confused as parents and really need more record players to raise their kids correctly as an answer to “institutional racism” is almost certainly not the change they’ve been waiting for, and they may start looking for Option Two. Kamala Harris might be their next choice if Biden flames out; this could rehabilitate her earlier attack on Biden over busing, which ended up backfiring on her over the summer. Tulsi Gabbard’s no longer around to provide Biden debate-stage muscle, too.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is this: don’t let Joe Biden go past two hours on stage. And … we’re gonna need a whole lot more popcorn to pass.

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