The word that best sums up Joe Biden’s political career is “folksy.” He’s the very image of the old school Irish politician with the wink and the smile, the firm handshake, kissing babies and making slightly off color jokes. That last one has gotten him in trouble a few times as it did Friday when he was interviewed by Charlemagne tha God.
Biden told Charlemagne, or is it “Mr. Tha God?” I don’t know, but he said that if a voter can’t “decide between Trump and Joe Biden then they ain’t black.” Dismay at Biden’s remark poured in from both sides of the political divide. It is the disappointment from the progressive left that must be his biggest concern. But here is the thing, Biden’s “joke” would not have been controversial in the 1990s, back when Bill Clinton was “the first black president.” That is still the world that Joe Biden lives in.
We got a taste of this back in the 2008 presidential cycle when Biden got in hot water for cracking wise about Indian Americans. If you recall he made a joke to a South Asian man about how you can’t go into a 7-11 without a slight Indian accent. In all honesty it’s a stretch to call that offensive, I don’t want to shock anyone but Indian Americans do commonly own convenience stores, there was a Simpsons character based on it. There was a also an early 2000s South Asian theater company in New York called Desipina which ran a festival of seven eleven minute plays set in a convenience store.
But what is the key difference between the members of Desipina and Biden? They are South Asian and Biden isn’t. This is really the key aspect of political correctness and intersectionality that Joe Biden doesn’t quite comprehend. In most cases it is not so much the speech itself that is offensive but the identity of the speaker that makes it so. Progressive whites and those in their orbit have learned a whole set of rules regarding all of this, from cultural appropriation to tone policing, Uncle Joe Biden it seems has not.
In a fascinating, now-deleted tweet from recent Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah Jones she wrote, “There is a basic difference between being politically black and racially black. I am not defending anyone [Biden], but we all know this and should stop pretending that we don’t.” Asked by another tweeter “What does this mean?” She replied, “If you don’t know it ain’t for you.” So I guess “we” don’t all “know this.”
Setting aside the weird rhetorical pirouette she makes in the response, basically saying “you not understanding my point proves my point,” let’s look at what she has to say about Biden. She is NOT defending him. That is made clear. But then she goes on to say that what he said about black voters is actually true. So, then, why isn’t she defending him? It’s because she is allowed to say it but old white Joe isn’t.
But don’t take my word for it, the Atlantic’s Jamele Hill says pretty much exactly the same thing, because she learned the same tired rules of political correctness that I have.
The issue wasn’t what Joe Biden said, because it was accurate. The issue was that it came from Biden. It also was clearly a joke that didn’t land. But I’m wondering where all this outrage was yesterday when y’all president declared his public devotion to a Nazi sympathizer.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) May 22, 2020
I feel bad for Joe Biden on this score. He lived most of his life in a world where people could talk, even joke about race without a thousand pointed accusations of unconscious racism waiting to be fired off. In fact, millions and millions of Americans still reside in that world. Unfortunately for Joe Biden, the Democratic Party does not. Worse, he is running against Donald Trump whose voters not only don’t care if he is politically incorrect, many actually love it.
I would not be surprised if in some wing of the Biden basement today a lesson in privilege theory and intersectionality is taking place. Joe is saying things like, “So I can’t say that I think the Chinese laundry places do the best job?” and his advisors shaking their heads slowly and rubbing their eyes. Old ways die hard.
Of course, the underlying premise of Biden’s remarks, that blacks owe some perpetual allegiance to the Party of Jefferson and Jackson is in fact actually offensive to many people, especially black conservatives who do not feel themselves constrained by Hannah Jones’ concept of political blackness. But that’s not Joe Biden’s problem.
Joe Biden’s problem is that to progressives who are trepidatious of him, many who are well-educated white voters think this kind of gaffe is hard to forgive. His campaign will to try to see that it doesn’t happen again, but if they can’t control it in the basement, what hope do they have if he ever leaves and gets back on the campaign trail?