Monday, June 1, 2020

Will Biden take Black voters for granted?

Racial controversies are typical to presidential election campaigns -  and the 2020 campaign has proved to be no different. Just days ago presumed Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden created his own racial controversy when he made a remark about the black vote during an interview during an livestreaming broadcast of the popular radio show, The Breakfast Club.

The controversy began with the show’s host Charlamagne Tha God responding in jest to an Biden aide interrupting in attempt to end the interview, “You can’t do that to black media,” where Biden responded by saying: “I do that to white media and black media because my wife has to go on at 6 o’clock.” Charlamagne asks: “Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, V.P. Biden. It’s a long way until November. We've got more questions.” Biden responds by saying: "You've got more questions? Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black." Charlamagne shoots back, "It don't have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact, I want something for my community." "Take a look at my record, man!" Biden asserted.  “I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years. I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I’ve run. Come on, take a look at my record.” 

Although his remarks immediately came under fire, many blacks defended Biden’s remarks as a “mistake” , made in “jest”  or simply dismissed as “a gaffe”. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) remains supportive of Biden, “We sometimes say things we do not really mean, they come out a little bit wrong, and that's what happened here. I think all of us know Joe Biden,” Clyburn said. “I know him, and he knows me. He knows the African American community very well. "I've done a lot of stuff for Joe Biden over the years, and I would not have supported him if I did not think that he was best suited to be the next president of the United States. It's just that simple.” 

But this would have been just that simple if Biden accepted Charlemagne’s invitation to come back for another interview with “sure”, “of course”, or even a “absolutely – have your people call my people and let’s make it happen.”  But he didn’t.  Not until after the testy exchange between himself and Charlamagne. 

During the interview Charlamagne and Biden talked about a number of topics including his possible pick for Vice-President, the notorious crime bill (which he defended and said Hillary Clinton was wrong for doing so), and the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact black communities around the country. He obviously wanted to continue the discussion thus the invitation to come back.   Biden’s initial dismissal of Charlamagne’s request yet remains problematic because as far as Biden was concerned, what was discussed was enough and he saw no need for more questions or dialogue.  

One can easily draw the conclusion that Biden’s comments reflected more than a just mindset that his record is enough to stand on and no more questions from the party’s most loyal group were necessary.  But also a mindset apparently informed by the two options typically available for black Democrats; either vote Democrat or stay home.  Historically voting for the Republican Party has not an option for the typical black voter. Since 1984, the average black share of the vote for the GOP candidate has been 9% - Trump got 8% in 2016.  

Biden’s comment sparked such a heated response because of there’s now a public window to the thinking and sentiment of the Democratic party in general – and Biden in particular towards black voters. Considering the deep support and connection between black voters and the Democratic Party, taking the black vote for granted is indeed a sensitive issue amongst black voters. Emotions run high when there’s the sense that a Democratic presidential candidate running for office doesn’t have to work as hard to get the black vote. 

Days after Biden apologized, he then blamed his remarks on Charlamagne being a “wise guy”.

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