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Solomon writes: "In a party that officially condemns dog-whistle appeals to racism, Joe Biden is running on Orwellian eggshells."

Former Vice President Joe Biden. (photo: Getty)
Former Vice President Joe Biden. (photo: Getty)

RSN: Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up With Him?

By Norman Solomon, Reader Supported News

23 May 19


n a party that officially condemns dog-whistle appeals to racism, Joe Biden is running on Orwellian eggshells. Whether he can win the Democratic presidential nomination may largely depend on the extent of “doublethink” that George Orwell described in 1984 as the willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”

It is an inconvenient fact that Biden has a political history of blowing into dog whistles for racism. More than ever, the Democratic electorate is repelled by that kind of pitch. If his dog-whistling past becomes a major issue, the former vice president and his defenders will face the challenge of twisting themselves into rhetorical pretzels to deny what is apparent from the video record of Biden oratory on the Senate floor that spans into the last decade of the 20th century.

Biden is eager to deflect any prospective attention from his own history of trafficking in white malice and racial division. When he tweeted this week that “our politics today has become so mean and petty – it traffics in division and our president is the divider in chief,” Biden was executing a high jump over the despicably low standards set by Donald Trump.

A key question remains: Does it matter that Biden was a shrill purveyor of tropes, racist stereotypes, and legislation aimed at African Americans? During pivotal moments in the history of race relations in this country, from the 1970s to the 1990s, Biden’s hot air manifested as pitches to white racism. From the outset of his career on Capitol Hill, he even stooped to reaching out to some of the worst segregationist senators from the South to advance his legislative agenda against busing.

As Adolph Reed and Cornel West noted this month in The Guardian, Biden began his racially laced approach to lawmaking soon after arrival in the Senate, when he “earned sharp criticism from both the NAACP and ACLU in the 1970s for his aggressive opposition to school busing as a tool for achieving school desegregation.”

That was no fluke. “In 1984,” Reed and West recount, Biden “joined with South Carolina’s arch-racist Strom Thurmond to sponsor the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which eliminated parole for federal prisoners and limited the amount of time sentences could be reduced for good behavior. He and Thurmond joined hands to push 1986 and 1988 drug enforcement legislation that created the nefarious sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine as well as other draconian measures that implicate him as one of the initiators of what became mass incarceration.”

It’s likely that no lawmaker did more to bring about the mass incarceration of black people during recent decades than Joe Biden. In an understated account last week, The Hill newspaper reported that Senator Biden “was instrumental in pushing for the [1994] crime bill, which critics have said led to a spike in incarceration, particularly among African Americans.”

Yet Biden is now eager to project an image as a longtime ally of people of color. In short, journalists Kevin Gosztola and Brian Sonenstein wrote recently, he is in a race between his actual past and his PR baloney.

As the leading advocate for what became the infamous 1994 crime bill, Biden stood on the Senate floor and declared: “We must take back the streets. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter, my wife, your husband, my mother, your parents, it doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth. It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they’re about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.”

And Biden proclaimed with fervor that echoed right-wing dogma: “I don’t care why someone is a malefactor in society. I don’t care why someone is antisocial. I don’t care why they’ve become a sociopath. We have an obligation to cordon them off from the rest of society.”

Shane Ryan, writing in Paste, pointed out the unsubtle subtexts of Biden’s speechifying: “This is the language of demonization, and even without the underlying racial element, it would be offensive to describe Americans this way, and to brush aside the societal conditions that lead to violent crime as though they’re irrelevant. But, of course, the racial element is not just present, but profound. It’s impossible to read these remarks, complete with dehumanizing rhetoric, without coming to the conclusion that Biden is, in fact, talking about black crime.”

At the time, even some of the members of Congress who ended up voting for the crime bill loudly warned about its dangerous downsides. One of them was Bernie Sanders (who I actively support in his run for president). While swayed by inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act in the bill, Sanders said in an April 1994 speech on the House floor: “A society which neglects, which oppresses and which disdains a very significant part of its population – which leaves them hungry, impoverished, unemployed, uneducated, and utterly without hope – will, through cause and effect, create a population which is bitter, which is angry, which is violent, and a society which is crime-ridden. And that is the case in America, and it is the case in other countries throughout the world.”

In 2016, Biden was continuing to defend his key role in passage of the landmark crime bill. During recent months, gearing up for his current campaign, Biden acknowledged some of the law’s negative effects while still defending it and denying its huge impacts for mass incarceration. And Biden has avoided copping to – much less expressing remorse for – the toxic, racially laced rhetoric that he used to promote the bill. He simply refuses to renounce the Senate-floor oratory that he deployed to propel the legislation to President Clinton’s desk.

Unfortunately for Biden, online video is available that conveys not only his words but also the audibly arrogant tone with which he delivered them.

What does all this add up to? Anyone who doubts that Biden methodically mined racist political shafts for decades should read the well-documented New York magazine piece “Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?” It’s devastating.

The New York article, by journalist Eric Levitz, begins with the tip of a very cold white iceberg: “Biden once called state-mandated school integration ‘the most racist concept you can come up with,’ and Barack Obama ‘the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean.’ He was a staunch opponent of ‘forced busing’ in the 1970s, and leading crusader for mass incarceration throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Uncle Joe has described African-American felons as ‘predators’ too sociopathic to rehabilitate – and white supremacist senators as his friends.”

Such clear overviews of Biden’s racial behavior in politics have been rare. And news media have not illuminated what all this has to do with “electability.” Turnout from the Democratic Party’s base will be crucial to whether Trump can be defeated in November 2020. Biden’s record of dog-whistling is made to order for depressing enthusiasm and turnout from that base, especially among African Americans.

Apt to be a big political liability among voters who normally vote Democratic in large numbers, Joe Biden’s historic dog-whistling for racism is an incontrovertible reality. Denial of that reality could help him win the party’s nomination – and then help Donald Trump get re-elected.

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Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+21 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-23 17:54
All of this only makes Biden the ideal democratic party candidate for the liberal media like the NYTimes, WashPo, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, and many, many more. He is their dream candidate. They will booster him up with all they've got.

I think Biden will begin to sink in a few weeks. He walking on thin ice already, as Solomon shows. The corporate media can't see thin ice because to them it is a firm foundation. But the mood and tendency of the democratic party, as Solomon shows, is going the other way. It does not want a dog whistler. The NYTimes is fooled by dog whistles, but most real people are not.

We've been through Beto, Buttagig, Booker, and a few more and we keep coming back to Sanders. Gabbard is getting a lot of favorable notice among progressive democrats.
+4 # Robbee 2019-05-24 09:28
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-23 17:54:
I think Biden will begin to sink in a few weeks.

- biden is dead; kamala running sticks a fork in him!

if you are black or brown? who do you vote for?

down south, where hillary won primaries? with kamala running who votes for biden?

kamala is biden kryptonite!

it's against my religion to call elections! in 2016 unlike so many others, i never booked hillary to win! (i always said "i am no bookie!") - that said, i can't bring robbee to see biden as a viable candidate!

me too! - I think Biden will begin to sink in a few weeks!

end of June we get our firrst debate!

yes! it has something to do with biden's racist dog whistles!

but with kamala running? where is biden's base?

it's also against my religion to downplay a fine candidate in her own right? nevertheless i sin -
kamala would make a fine veep for bernie!
+28 # RagingGrannyVicki 2019-05-23 20:13
Listen up, Democrats! If you make the same mistake in this election that you made in the last one, and insist upon nominating a racist whose white privilege and pandering to Wall Street and the MIC make him unacceptable to a great block of voters, then you alone will be responsible for another four years of irreversible damage to our nation... and a great deal of suffering. Have you learned nothing from 2016? There are other candidates I could vote for, so if you want my vote, you'd best pick someone with a better record than Biden's. I will not vote for Biden... ever!
+26 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-05-23 20:34
Go home Joe Biden. We don't need you.
+4 # margpark 2019-05-23 21:05
The most important thing for the U.S. is to get that nut out of the white house. Therefore I declare I will vote Democratic no matter who gets nominated. Is the country at large ready for Bernie Sanders? I am but I sort of doubt the country at large is. Still I will wait a while to see what happens. I do think Sanders would have had a better chance to beat Trump. Anyone the Democrats nominated should have beat Trump. But they insisted on nominating Mrs. Clinton who is so hated by the right they would have voted for Charlie Brown before a Clinton. The right has had it in for the Clintons since he was the Governor of Arkansas, I doubt my near relative believed she was running a kiddie sale under a pizza hall but almost anything else she believed. She has always been intelligent but the constant war from the right on the Clintons had an affect on her mind. RSN is a pretty far left place but there are leftier places on the internet. We must not fall into a pit like my near relative did for the right.
+2 # Moxa 2019-05-25 12:16
Bernie would beat Trump by a landslide. Having worked as a volunteer for Bernie in the last election (and this one) I heard countless people say, "I love Bernie, but we have to win, so I'm voting for Hillary." I tried to explain why they were wrong but they had been brainwashed into this kind of negative thinking about Bernie.

In other words they are only voting for these "centrist" types because they think they are safer. Yet polls matching Bernie against Trump directly, show Bernie winning. This means that given only two alternatives, Bernie or Trump, they WILL vote for Bernie. It is only when they're voting against other Democrats, that they get scared and think they must vote for a "centrist."
+8 # Texas Aggie 2019-05-23 21:19
Today on a right wing blog there were many articles against Biden, all of them because of his war mongering. He has a long record of supporting US military incursions into every part of the world and of advancing the idea that the US has the obligation to impose its will on the rest of the world.

So that is one more reason to not let him anywhere near the reins of power.

Furthermore his shtick is that he can work across the aisle and if he is elected, the repugs will gladly work with him. He never has tried to explain why that never happened during the eight years he spent as Vice President. Not only wan't he able to work with the repugs, but he couldn't even get them to come to the table to talk. It's still the same people, so why does he think that now they will be reasonable when two years ago they flat out refused? Is he just flinging manure?
-5 # BKnowswhitt 2019-05-23 21:28
Biden was already vetted via Obama election with him as VP successfully. I don't know about the Thrumond Legislation but i do know that was during Ronnie RayGun .. and law and order. Joe Biden is NO RACIST! Being against bussing and forced desegregation was ahead of the times .. bussing in Boston brought out the real racists and rioters .. forcing deseg in Atlanta created problems for the kids going to their neighborhood schools. It DID NOT WORK .. that takes time .. this is weak grounds for the Far Left ..
+9 # DongiC 2019-05-24 05:45
Where is the honor of the Democratic Party? To support such a flawed candidate as Joe Biden is with his checkered past on racial relations and treatment of criminals and millionaires, is to act without any perception of morality. It is also a formula for defeat at the polls because the electorate will see through the thin veil of bull
sh*t that differentiates Biden from Trump and will not turn out in numbers sufficient to defeat the crazy hordes of Sir Donald. So if the Democrats want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, then, ignore Sanders and Warren and go with Biden. It is becoming a familiar path, unfortunately.
+2 # Moxa 2019-05-25 21:10
I expect they would rather lose to Trump than win with Sanders.
0 # MikeAF48 2019-05-28 17:59
giddy-up Hickenlopper

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