Friday, February 02, 2007

Joe Biden and a "clean" African American candidate


The United States has never enjoyed the leadership of an African American President, not because there have been no qualified African Americans, but because of our society's prevailing racist assumptions.

On the very day that he was kicking off his own run for the White House, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware) stumbled badly. Speaking of Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and his potential candidacy for President and his prospects of being the first African American to hold the office, Biden told reporters that Obama was, "the first mainstream, African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy."

I have no idea what Mr. Biden meant. I do know where he was coming from, and that scene is not all goodness and light.

It is true that Senator Obama, elected by a wide cross section of Illinois voters to the U. S. Senate with a large majority, rises from the mainstream of the American political process. Thankfully, his emergence is a sign of improving racial attitudes in the nation. Previous African American Presidential candidates have stepped forward from the margins of our political process. (Although, Jesse Jackson won my precinct caucus vote in the 1984 Democratic Primary when we lived in Richardson, Texas!)

Where Biden slipped up, and actually revealed an insight into the struggling soul of the nation, was in the remainder of his statement.

Articulate.

Bright.

Clean.

Nice looking.

Did he mean or imply that no candidate before Obama possessed any of these characteristics? In his apologies that went on the rest of the day on Wednesday, he seemed to deny that he meant his words to be taken in that way. I have no doubt that he didn't mean for us to take his statement this way, but what informed his observation in the first place?:

Actually, Biden may have done us all a great service. In fact, Senator Obama's almost instant popularity may be a reflection of the same beliefs and ideas that Senator Biden expressed yesterday without much thought.

Over the course of our history, countless African Americans have possessed the qualities necessary to serve as effective leaders of this nation. Unfortunately, the expressed and unexpressed biases of our national community have stood squarely in the way.

As we move toward the 2008 election, it seems more than realistic to think that we may finally elect a black President.

Ironically, if we do, for many people like Mr. Biden it may be because this particular African American is "acceptable" as judged by traditional, and largely mythical, white standards and categories.

Race matters in this nation. Race and racism are still very large issues.

9 comments:

Mike Orren said...

I agree that Biden screwed up big-time, and don't buy any of his excuses.

But it took some huevos grandes to go on the Daily Show and face it head-on the same day.

Boy has the media side of the political process changed in the past few years...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r31vp98lBvU

Anonymous said...

Biden generally got a pass. What do you think would happen if a conservative had made that statement?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, conservatives make statements like this every single day on the countless talk radio programs. I see them reported only occassionaly.

You prove Larry's point over the past 2-3 days by giving this reaction which has nothing to do with his point about race and the US.

Justin said...

People say outlandish crap on all talk radio, conservative and liberal. You can't report it every single day because that would be all you'd report.

The double standard is that when a republican says something incorrectly, that may or may not be what said person meant, the media is jumping down the person's throat and calling on them to resign.

Obviously, that did not happen here. And won't. Its just treated as another wacky misstatement by Biden (remember the indian accent in a 7/11 comment?)

I think anonymous's point is this... racism isn't just in the republican party, its in the democratic party too, but there is a double standard on what happens to people. I think Biden's political career should be over, as should Trent Lott's. The problem is, people in either party are willing to overlook racism and bigotry for "the cause".

And that is disgusting.

Terry said...

If you can wait 31 more years, my son will be constitutionally eligible to be president of the US. I don't know if he would be the first African American president, but I'm sure he would be a good one. (I admit a little bias.)

Larry James said...

Terry, thanks for the post! Frankly, I hope we don't have to wait, but if I am around in 31 years, get back to me and I'll see what I can do with my limited resources!

MommyHAM said...

Oh, Larry, I've missed your blog!! It's grants season at the city where I work, I've been speaking about homelessness several times, and school/family have kept me away.

I fervently hope Obama gets in, and not solely for the significance of a black president (which I think it is high time), but because I think he's a pure person who really cares about the welfare of our nation's people, and not so much about that of his political party/platforms/power.

Note: if there were a republican candidate with that same energy, they'd have my vote too - I vote by person, not by party, as indicated in my latest post.

Take care....

John Cook said...

I am an Obama backer. I can't remember many candidates who have offered more hope to get back to the underlying values of our country. At the same time I think Biden is wonderful since is is one of the few who has no problem with speaking truth to power. I accept his statement that what was in his mind were his mother's phrases "Clean as a whistle" and "Sharp as a tack." Maybe it is just because I respect both men and wish we had far more as good as they are.

John

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

A perceptive post. Thanks.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine