(The Root) — Joe Biden is no George Jefferson. But by the way Mitt Romney reacted to the vice president’s inexcusable line Tuesday — that Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan might “put y’all back in chains” — you could be forgiven if you thought, somehow, that Biden had gone off and called Romney a “honky.” It was the go-to epithet of Jefferson, the ’70s TV character played by the late Sherman Hemsley.
Although Biden is famous for campaign-trail gaffes — and while the “back in chains” riff isn’t even close to dropping an “h” bomb — you can see why it pissed Romney off: There’s no way he can prove it, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he feels like it’s racial.
It’s the same way African Americans feel about the last couple of years in American politics.
You can’t give Biden a pass, because two wrongs don’t make a right. And though conservatives talk all the time about running away from the Democrats’ “plantation,” any reference to slavery — at least in this context — isn’t any better when it’s made by a liberal.
Even if Biden was only referring to Republicans’ promise to “unchain Wall Street” — the three words he spoke right before he launched into “y’all”– there’s really still no excuse. He’s the vice president of the United States, and he has to know that every word counts when he’s out stumping for Barack Obama, the nation’s embattled first black president.
But if it’s a lesson for Biden, then it’s also one for Romney and Ryan. They’re not racists, but up to now, they’ve implicitly sanctioned plenty of loose talk from folks in their own party. Like in the GOP primaries, when Newt Gingrich called Obama the “food-stamp president,” or when Herman Cain — the black guy in the race — said Obama wasn’t a “real black man.” Or when Romney — only hours after keynoting the NAACP convention — told a crowd they should “vote for the other guy” if they’re “looking for free stuff.” Or on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, when Romney said that Obama “robbed” money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare.