Ever since Ed initially covered Joe Biden’s mind-boggling “record player” answer at the last debate the media has been knocking this one around. (Though far more gently in most cases than the treatment President Trump receives for far more minor slips of the lip.) Some are still insisting that this was the gaffe that was finally going to sink Crazy Uncle Joe, though the chatter on cable news has already died down a bit as of this morning.
So is this it? Is this the end? Taking the affirmative side in this debate is Salem’s own Hugh Hewitt, writing at the Washington Post. He’s taken time to analyze precisely what went down and come to the conclusion that this could indeed be the beginning of the end.
Just to be sure I heard it correctly, I replayed former vice president Joe Biden’s eye-popping gaffe from Thursday night’s debate instructing poor parents to put the record player on to help their children learn. “#Record player” was trending on Twitter by the time I took to the airwaves at 6 a.m. Friday, so my suspicion had already been confirmed: This was more than a gaffe that causes eye rolls. It was one of those gaffes that underscores a candidate’s central weakness and continues to bleed away votes long after its utterance.
Recall Sen. John F. Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” or then-President Gerald Ford’s famous “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” from a 1976 debate. Gaffes are like sharks. Some are sand sharks that scare you. Others are Jaws-like beasts. After Thursday night, Biden is going to need a bigger boat.
I’m going to take this opportunity to at least partially disagree with Hugh, even if we arrive at the same eventual destination. What he’s focusing on is the clear, though unspoken message in Biden’s answer. Of course, it was rather hard to parse out exactly what he meant. I watched as a number of the more liberal cable news talkers struggled to pick apart that answer, often using an awkward phrase like, at least what I think Biden was trying to say…
As to the substance of the answer, I have to agree. It seems clear that Joe Biden was implying that black families aren’t spending enough time with their children at home and participating in their education. And if that interpretation really catches fire among primary voters, it’s going to be a huge albatross around his neck. Of course, what Biden was saying is absolutely true, but it’s in no way restricted to black families. I’ve spent many posts here bemoaning the way parents these days too often look at public schools as free baby sitters while they go to work and dump the job of preparing them for college and adulthood in the schools’ laps. This problem crosses all racial and religious boundaries, from what I can tell, with the possible exception of Asian communities.
But Joe has made plenty of mistakes in the past and seems to be forgiven, so I don’t think the racist angle of that answer is what will sink him. (If, indeed, he sinks at all.) The bigger issue, at least to me, was the mangled and meandering way that answer came out in real-time. Hugh sort of alluded to this aspect in his column, but let’s look at some sections of the record player moment in detail.
“Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education.”
This was the first point where he got through half a thought about his own record and then, like a needle skipping over several grooves on a record (sorry), he jumped into a new topic. Continuing:
“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 have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today.”
The “problems that come from home.” He even repeated it. Then he veered off into a lack of school psychologists. (Not a problem caused at home.) Did he already sense he was getting into hot water? If so, it didn’t stop him.
“The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher, my deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them.”
Again, he starts a sentence, gets a few words into the thought and suddenly goes crashing off into something else. Repetitively. And then the wheels really come off.
“It’s not that 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.”
As I mentioned above, you can clearly read some racism into that part of the answer if you wish. But it’s the sentence structure that should be more alarming. It sounds like his train of thought was acting like a ping pong ball. Televisions, record players, making sure the kids hear words.
I know we’re not supposed to bring this subject up in polite society, and the President, along with the other frontrunner Democratic candidates are all septuagenarians. But that answer just sounded like the disjointed ramblings of somebody who is having a hard time mentally coloring inside the lines. By the time he was finished, I was unsure if he even remembered what question he was answering.
This is a delicate topic and I’m not trying to be unkind to Biden or any of the rest of them. I’ve nearly hit the age where I qualify for Social Security and I’m already forgetting far too many things and having my share of senior moments, so I honestly do sympathize. And I also know that some people live to far greater ages than Biden and remain sharp as a tack. (I’ll toss Bernie Sanders a bone here and say that I see no signs of his mental capacity flagging. He just has awful policies.)
In closing, if this record player answer lives on and comes back to significantly damage Biden, it’s not going to be for the racism component. I think that rambling diatribe of an answer is going to be leaving a lot of voters guessing that Joe’s mind just isn’t what it once was and will only get worse over the next four or eight years. And that may not be a risk they’re willing to take.