Be Careful What You Joke About, Joe

We knew he wasn’t the smoothest talker in the party. But let’s be frank about the disasterous interview of Joe Biden by Breakfast Club radio host Charlamagne tha God. Jonathan Capehart argues, sincerly, that Biden was joking when he said “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” I listened to that snip of the interview, and Biden sounded angry, or at least peeved, to me. But if you see this clip of the interview … yeah, maybe he was joking.

“It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact — I want something for my community,” Charlamagne tha God said. This is a question Biden needs to be prepared to answer, with specifics. This is a question all Democrats need to answer, with specifics. They also need to be able to say what specifically they will do for labor unions and for poor single mothers and for Native Americans and a lot of other people. The “establishment” Democrats need to realize they can’t coast on being the party that’s not as bad as the other party forever. I’d say their time ran out on that shtick in 2016.

The “you aint black” gaffe was not the only disappointing part of the interview. Julia Craven writes for Slate:

It was pretty typical, if loud, political interview banter to that point. But things got trickier when Charlamagne asked Biden about the 1994 crime bill and the subsequent spike in America’s prison population. Now, it’s generally acknowledged as fact that the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act played a role in bolstering “tough on crime” policies and accelerating incarceration—which disproportionately landed Black and brown Americans in prison. But in Biden’s world, this is not the case.

“[The] crime bill didn’t increase mass incarceration,” he said. “Other things increased mass incarceration.”

That’s just not true, and it isn’t worth dedicating any more energy explaining why. It is, however, worth noting that Biden pointed to the fact that there was Black support for the bill at the time, without delving into any particulars. In the ’90s, Black folks, particularly those in law enforcement, were a part of calls for law and order out of a desire for anything that would help reduce the impact of crime on their communities. People who hold a different outlook on the criminal justice system’s role today were, at one point, loudly advocating for tougher prosecution in hopes of quelling drug influx and violence in Black communities.

When Charlamagne asked about Democrats taking the Black vote for granted, Biden admitted that was a concern before going into another monologue about how he’s consistently won over Black voters—“more than Barack” even! Biden continued to point to his bona fides: his time as a civil rights attorney and his subsequent work in Black communities. Still, we have to remember that even this history has been shadowed by Biden’s infamous verbal mishaps. Perhaps most prominently, in the mid-1970s Biden said he “didn’t buy” that Black people needed a head start in order to equate hundreds of years of systemic racism and policy oppression.

Throughout the interview and his career, Biden has displayed an unwillingness to accept his role in mass incarceration and the creation of policies that have been destructive to Black communities. He opted instead to point to his Black friends and the Black people who have supported him before saying if Black people don’t do what he wants them to do—and which happens to be in his favor— then they aren’t Black.

It may be that there’s a white politician somewhere who could get away with jesting about who is and isn’t black, but Biden is not that politician, and he needs to accept that and reflect on it.

And I also think Biden had better choose a woman of color as his running mate. There are at least four good choices — Stacey Abrams, Rep. Val Demings, Sen. Kamala Harris, Susan Rice. He may favor Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan to help him with those upper midwestern swing states, but Klobuchar especially would be a huge mistake. Biden ought to be able to win Minnesota without Klobuchar; Clinton won the state in 2016. And I don’t think Klobuchar helps him anywhere else. She’d be like the new Tim Kaine, a “safe,” lame choice that doesn’t broaden the appeal of the ticket. And Klobuchar has her own problems with America’s African-American community. I know less about Whitmer. She might be a fine choice, but especially after this “you ain’t black” episode a white veep candidate would be a huge mistake, IMO.

I don’t think Biden is a bad guy. I think he tries to be fair. But like a lot of white men of his generaton — well, of many generations — he is oblivious to the advantages he was handed in life and the barriers others contend with. I also agree with Jamil Smith, writing for Rolling Stone

I realize that he prides himself on his intimate relationship with black voters, and how, as one voter described it to the AP in December, “I know Joe’s heart.” He even told Charlamagne, who said he’d been critical of Biden, that “I know you have. You don’t know me.” Knowing Joe, in this calculus, is all that seems to be required.

I cautioned against this attitude back in August when I wrote about the need for him to re-introduce himself to black electorates throughout the country, especially to deal with issues in his record on which many African Americans would challenge him. (When asked about my column in a later interview, he brusquely said, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”) It may have required this episode for him to understand what I was talking about.

If this episode teaches him something, it may be just as well it happened. And we can count on the Trumpers to seize the gaffe as an opportunity to be the bigger assholes. The Trump campaign is already selling a “you ain’t black” T-shirt for $30. Yes, it will only take a few white, racist meatballs showing up to rally for Trump wearing those T-shirts to make Biden look a lot better. But do brace yourselves for the Trump campaign’s $1 million “you ain’t black” ad blitz.

Biden has issued an apology for the remark, btw.

I haven’t said anything about the Tara Reade allegations on this blog, initially because I was waiting for other women to come forward with similar allegations before I formed an opinion. None have, and Reade’s story has pretty much fallen apart. So I’m not too concerned about it now. Moving on …

On the plus side, Biden appears to have the old lady vote sewn up.

President Trump’s declining support among older voters since the coronavirus took hold is well documented, but new data offers a clearer understanding of why that’s happening — and how it could impact the November election.

The big picture: Among the 65+ crowd, it’s women driving the exodus. Joe Biden’s appeal with senior men climbed during his surprise comeback to be the presumed Democratic nominee, but not necessarily at Trump’s expense — and new polling suggests it may be ebbing in any case.

The coronavirus matters, but so does health care policy overall.

By the numbers: A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Biden leading Trump by 22 points among female voters 65+, while Trump leads Biden by 11 points among older men. That’s what gets Biden to a 10-point overall lead over the president among seniors.

“There is a big gender gap among seniors in the matchup, just as there is among all registered voters,” says poll director Doug Schwartz. “Older women really like Joe Biden, and they really don’t like Donald Trump.”

Since February, Quinnipiac data also shows Biden has increased his lead over Trump with independent 65+ voters, from seven to 20 points.

This is a big reversal from 2016, when Trump led Clinton among seniors 53% to 44%.

Another interesting bit of data from the same article — among voters who say they don’t like either candidate, Biden is 40 points ahead. In 2016, the “pox on both their houses” voters ended up favoring Trump over Clinton by 17 percentage points.

More Stuff to Read

Greg Sargent, Shocking new economic data confirms it: The swing states are getting hammered

NY Times, With Unemployment Expected to Reach 20%, Senators Take a Vacation

Nicole Lafond, Talking Points Memo, Where Things Stand: The Defiance Strategy