Democratic nominee Joe Biden took great pains during his debate with President Donald Trump to paint his Republican opponent as racially insensitive and politically divisive.
The former vice president argued that the recent wave of protests and riots roiling America’s cities since the death of George Floyd in police custody has exposed Trump’s weakness as a leader. Biden, in particular, claimed that the president has done nothing in the last four years to address racial injustice or heal political divides.
“This is a president who uses everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said, adding that “this man has done virtually nothing for black Americans.”
Biden’s critiques struck some as odd given the former vice president’s long tenure in public office and his own problematic record on racial issues and his past racially insensitive comments. The following is an extensive, but not exhaustive, look into the Democratic nominee’s past stances and comments.
1. As recently as June of 2019, Biden praised the “civility” of the segregationist senators he worked with in Congress to pass anti-busing legislation.
In June of 2019, the former vice president engendered criticism after seeming to praise the “civility” of two arch segregationists during a high-dollar fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. During the event, Biden told the audience assembled it was vital the next president “be able to reach consensus under our system.” To explain why he was the best candidate in that regard, the former vice president fondly cited his history of working with two of the Senate’s arch segregationists, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA).
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said with an attempted Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” the former vice president continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
The comments provoked outrage because of the reputations that Eastland and Talmadge forged during their decades in public office.
Eastland, in particular, was known as the “voice of the white South” for his stringent opposition to civil rights and integration. The New York Times wrote in Eastland’s obituary that “he often appeared in Mississippi courthouse squares, promising the crowds that if elected he would stop blacks and whites from eating together in Washington. He often spoke of blacks as ‘an inferior race.’”
Talmadge was also a fierce opponent of integration. Before being elected to the Senate in 1957, he served as the governor of Georgia, where his tenure overlapped with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education. At the time of the ruling, Talmadge promised to do everything in his power to protect the “separation of the races.”