Just how long will this strange feud persist? Even the normal cui bono rules don’t seem to apply to the weird contretemps between Joe Biden and radio host Charlamagne tha God. Biden’s initial appearance on The Breakfast Club turned into a disaster when Biden rebuked the host by saying “you ain’t black” if even considering the option of voting for Donald Trump. After Team Biden first claimed that he was joking, Biden later apologized — and then blamed Charlamagne for “baiting” him into the remark:
LEMON: We have a short time left here, Mr. Vice President, because I know you have to do other interviews. Listen, I know how familiar you are with black community. It is clear that many African Americans, and rightfully so, see you as an ally. Today you showed a level of empathy that African Americans want to see and by contrast, that comment that you made a week ago, that appeared to take black voters for granted. In light of these horrible events of the last week, it’s important for black voters to know which leader are you going to be?
BIDEN: The leader I’ve always been. I apologized immediately for responding to Charlamagne, who was baiting me, and if you looked at that film, you’ll see I was smiling at him. I was referring to him. I wasn’t referring to all African Americans. But I should have never said it. I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever taking the African American community for granted. I have been their ally and they have been mine and I’ve worked hard to earn every single vote I’ve ever gotten, and that’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. No one should be taken for granted based on their race, religion or background at all.
Don Lemon never bothered to push back against Biden’s claim of being baited into that comment, which is notable in itself. Biden essentially blamed the black radio host for his own condescending attitude, a neat trick that Lemon would never have let pass had a Republican tried it. But more to the point, it also perpetuated a conflict on Biden’s left with a significant media figure with a lot of influence with the demographic Biden desperately needs — African-American voters.
Charlamagne ratched up the feud last night by reminding CNN viewers of Biden’s “racist” history in the Senate, albeit to offer hope that Biden can rise above it:
Charlamagne Tha God: "Biden's record in the Senate actually reflects very racist legislation."
Fact check TRUE! Joe Biden has destroyed millions of Black lives during his 47 years in politics. pic.twitter.com/jTqYtbMcxz
— Kyle Martinsen (@KyleMartinsen_) June 3, 2020
“He did very well today in Philadelphia, you know, he said a lot of things that I wanted to hear, and I know its dream selling season and politicians say what they need to in order to get elected, but I really enjoyed it,” Charlamagne, whose real name is Lenard Larry McKelvey, said.
“But I need some action, like I need him to really lean into blackness now,” he continued.
The African American influencer, who boasts over 2.1 million Twitter followers and has interviewed almost every major presidential candidate this election cycle, went on to say that Biden had a “racist” legislative history in the Senate.
“To me it’s like this: if Barack Obama was JFK, then Joe Biden needs to be Lyndon B. Johnson. You know, he has the opportunity to be as progressive as Lyndon B. Johnson. Lyndon B. Johnson may have been labeled a racist but his record doesn’t reflect that. LBJ’s record showed that he had, like, the most effective progressive record on race and class of any Democratic president of the past 80 years.
“I think, you know, Biden’s record in the Senate actually reflects very racist legislation, but he has a chance to correct that by doing right by black people,” Charlamagne said.
How can Biden rise above it? The same way Charlamagne pushed when Biden claimed he was being “baited”:
You know, and I think that that’s why it’s very important for Joe Biden to like, really lean into blackness like I think he needs to announce one of these overly qualified sisters as his running mate. Whether it’s Senator Kamala Harris, (INAUDIBLE), Keisha Lance Bottoms, Stacey Abrams, has already committed to putting the black woman on the Supreme Court which would be his, you know, Lyndon B Johnson, Thurgood Marshall moment, like if this country wants to get his soul right, wants to get it so right, like he said, he said that the soul of the country is at stake.
Really, then, everyone’s back where they started with this feud. I suppose that Biden might be trying a “Sista Souljah” maneuver on Charlamagne, but Charlamagne isn’t the kind of extremist that would require such a strategy in the first place. His influence is greater and his ability to enthuse the African-American voting bloc is very important to Biden’s chances. Bill Clinton’s dispatching of Sista Souljah earned him some cred with white voters in 1992, but Charlamagne isn’t anathema to that bloc, and it reeks of the kind of exploitation of black voters that Charlamagne is pushing against. It’s inexplicable. Why not just take the momentary L and get back to being friendly?
Maybe when Biden picks Kamala Harris or Keisha Lance Bottoms as his running mate, this peculiar feud will end. If he picks Amy Klobuchar, though, look out. In the meantime, feel free to keep passing that popcorn.