SAN DIEGO – Joe Biden wants to be the civil rights president.
You don’t say?
That old dog isn’t likely to learn new tricks, and so it’s no shock that the 78-year-old president-elect sees America in Black-and-White. However, what is new – and noteworthy – is that the Biden White House is likely to approach civil rights in terms of Black-and-Blue.
According to National Public Radio, improving the tattered relationship between African Americans and the police will top Biden’s civil rights agenda. There may be more prosecutions of police officers who break the law and added oversight of police departments accused of discrimination.
There are even plans to gather police organizations and civil rights groups next year at the White House. Former President Barack Obama staged a “beer summit.” Think of this as the “fear summit” – since African Americans and police seem to be afraid of one another.
But is Biden – who has over the years said many insensitive things about race – the right person to hold court on our most sensitive issue?
Imagine you’re African American or Latino, and you’ve just been hassled by a racist white police officer and now find yourself in a jail cell on a bogus charge? You get one phone call.
Does anyone really believe you’re going to call Joe Biden?
This guy is our savior? The Lunch Bucket Democrat who in 2008 got tapped as the running mate for Barack Obama – whom he called “articulate” and “clean” – because he was fluent in the lingo of the White working class?
Let’s be real. Blue-collar Americans are not known for being enlightened on the subject of race, judging from their public statements and voting patterns. Many of these folks think their kid couldn’t get into the Ivy League because an African American took his spot due to affirmative action. Some of them think Mexican immigrants are taking their jobs and lowering wages. They might even think Asian Americans are spreading the coronavirus – or, as President Donald Trump calls it, “the China virus.”
These are the folks at whom the notorious Willie Horton ad was aimed. Who could forget that infamous attempt by the late GOP political strategist Lee Atwater, in the 1988 presidential election, to demonize an African American parolee in order to scare up votes? These are the folks who Trump was talking to when he announced his presidential bid in 2015 with an attack on Mexican immigrants – or as he called them: “people that have lots of problems,” who are “bringing crime” and who are “rapists.”
It’s not just Republicans who know how to talk to the White working class. In the 1990s, Democrats kept Mexican trucks off U.S. highways in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Clinton administration and Democrats in Congress were carrying water for the Teamsters Union, which controlled the trucking business and detested competition. Back then, it was Democrats such as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who dabbled in demagoguery by implying that Mexican trucks were inherently unsafe. Some opponents of the Mexican trucks even implied that the drivers were hauling drugs.
These pitches work with many members of America’s White working class. Playing the victim. Blaming others when they come up short. Afraid of people who don’t look like them.
These are not just Trump’s people. They are also Biden’s people. They always have been. And, to paraphrase what John Kerry said about voting for the Iraq war, Biden was for these people before he was against them.
For Biden, the issue of race has made for one long and crazy ride. Who would have thought that someone who built much of his political career on protecting White people from Black people would wrap up that career vowing to protect Black people from White people?
By zeroing in on civil rights, do you suppose Biden is trying to atone for past sins? I doubt it. I think he’s running a con.
Does anyone seriously think that Biden – the former senator who authored the racist 1994 crime bill and then joked that the bill did “everything but hang people for jaywalking,” the father of mass incarceration for non-white offenders, the 2020 presidential candidate who was essentially called a racist by his future vice president for opposing forced busing in the 1970s and keeping company with Southern segregationists, the classic white liberal who thinks Black women don’t know “how to raise their children” without the help of white social workers who tell them to “make sure you have the record player on at night” – is the one who can bring together Americans of different colors?
People, please. Biden isn’t the solution to America’s racial woes. How could that be? He has spent his whole life being part of the problem.
Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.
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