Former VP Joe Biden is leading in all the early polls for the Democratic nomination right now. Next week comes the first of many Democratic debates which will undoubtedly shed a lot of light on all the candidates fighting for the nomination. The base will be watching.
At a fundraiser on Tuesday night, Biden boasted that he could work with anyone, even racists like Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland. Eastland was a flaming racist, a Southern Democrat who would be a strong part of the Republican base today. Here's a idea of Eastland's thoughts on race, as expressed in the context of the bus boycott:
"In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinky n——-s ... African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives. ... All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead n——-s."
By the way, Biden's reach to Eastland was to promote his anti-busing initiative in the Senate.
Here's what Biden said at the fundraiser: "He never called me 'boy.' He always called me 'son.' Well, guess what? 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."
This did not play well with much of anyone. For obvious reasons.
On Wednesday Biden got into a spat with Sen. Cory Booker. Booker first released a statement which said Biden should apologize. Biden shot back that Booker should apologize because he has never been racist, which sparked this:
Kamala Harris also reacted strongly:
I understand that our political system is broken and it's been the modern GOP that has broken it, helped along by their Fox news acolytes and others in the conserverazzi, but still, Biden is misguided.
Joe Biden has been in Congress since 1973 and has worked with a huge array of politicians, but if he wants to wax poetic about the days of compromise then he needs to use better people as examples than James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.
And about that whole "He never called me ‘boy,’" thing...
Is that what he means when he discusses the topic of civility? Even if he has fond memories of those two politicians they do not wash at all. Connie Schultz:
He never called me "boy." No mention of how "boy" was a common term of derision and disrespect for black men in the Jim Crow south, or how Biden's white skin determined Eastland's willingness to work with him. Instead, we're supposed to see Biden's ability to get along with a man who called black people "an inferior race" as a model for how to engage with civility in 2019.
If Joe Biden wants to boast about his relationship with a racist, he is not who we need to succeed the racist in the White House.
Surrogate Anita Dunn appeared on MSNBC to defend his position. “You have to be able to work with people, even if they hold positions that are repugnant to you,” she said.
Working with repulsive politicians is something that legislators must do, but would Biden praise the likes of Steve King and Louie Gohmert?
Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz have recently found some common ground on legislation banning former lawmakers from becoming lobbyists.
James Eastland was a stone-cold racist. For a Democratic presidential candidate in 2019 to extoll racists for their "civility" (much less the fact that he didn't call a white Senator "boy" demonstrating his total misapprehension of what that means) is insulting to a vast number of Democratic voters. To imply that being able to work with someone like Eastland at times is more than just a matter of necessity but rather a belief that people like Eastland are actually good folks you could have a drink with after work is stunningly obtuse.
CNN's panel discussion on the issue at the top is thoughtful, rational and interesting. April Ryan is gracious and generous, but Joan Walsh dispenses with the euphemism "segregationist" in favor of the more accurate "racist." She also observes correctly that when Biden boasts of working with racists, he is undermining Barack Obama, who saw many of his initiatives blocked -- by racists.
Being a progressive through and through I would support Biden if he wins the nomination, but now is the time to call this behavior out. Are we playing to the bigots who are devoted to Trump or are we looking to expand our base and be inclusive?
All Democratic candidates need to stop looking to the past in some misguided effort to be uniters. Republicans have no interest in uniting. Look to the future. The country is begging to get rid of a pathetic narcissistic imbecile who believes he's above the law and his children whom he has entrusted with unbridled power.
Biden's discussion of Eastland may work for Republicans, but it does not work for the Democratic Party. The sooner Biden gets a clue on this, and starts talking about issues important to the base, the better.
Karoli Kuns contributed to this article