Post-Debate Analysis: Joe Biden Wants You to Know That the Blacks Really, Really Like Him

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

ATLANTA—I’ve seen the word gentrification used for housing and neighborhood displacement, but never did I ever imagine that a person could attempt to gentrify an actually race of people.

But last night, Joe Biden proved me, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and the rest of black America wrong. When Booker got his chance to speak on the subject of race, he reminded America that he has a long history with black voters, noting he has been one since the age of 18. He’s been a city councilman in Newark, N.J., and was its mayor before becoming a U.S. senator. He then took Biden to task for his comments earlier this week that he would not support marijuana legalization and that it is a gateway drug—a ridiculous claim that isn’t supported by the research.

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“This week I hear him literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said. “I thought you might have been high when you said it.”

He went on to say that marijuana is already legal for the privileged and that the war on drugs is a war on black and brown people. Biden, who said in a recent townhall that he does not support legalizing marijuana at the national level, changed his tune last night and said he supports legalization.

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I asked Booker if he was satisfied with Biden’s response.

“[Biden’s] not in support of legalization and that’s problematic,” Booker told me after the debate. “He’s not in favor of doing the kind of things to that would create the kind of environment where in this country African Americans would not continue to be disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana crimes. In 2017, there were more marijuana arrests than all violent crime arrests combined. And, disproportionately, they are low-income people and African-Americans. Privileged people at Ivy League schools do not get arrested for their marijuana experimentation. It is low-income people, often disproportionately minorities, in communities in cities all around this country. So to me that’s unacceptable.”

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Then Biden went into an odd defense of his record with black people.

“I’m part of that Obama coalition,” Biden said. “I come out of the black community, in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me, because they know me, they know who I am. Three former chairs of the [Congressional] Black Caucus, the only African-American woman that has ever been elected to the United States Senate. A whole range of people.”

I was surprised he didn’t mention Corn Pop (Rest in peace).

Harris, currently the lone dully elected black female senator, quickly interjected, “Nope, that’s not true. The other one is here.”

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Biden was referring to former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill), who has endorsed the former vice president. Still, his erasure of Harris was pretty glaring.

As I’ve written before, Biden really is not leading with black voters because he has earned their respect during the 2020 primary cycle. He is leaning into Obama’s legacy because he knows that is the only thing that is keeping him in the race. There were moments during the debate in which he stuttered through his remarks and seemed as if he’d lost track of his thoughts.

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He knows that he won the hearts of black voters standing in as Obama’s attack dog, a job he honestly performed quite well. I cannot say for certain, but I am willing to bet that he also knows that black people, especially during this cycle, are anxious and may very well vote out of fear instead of the hope that Obama inspired. For a wide range of reasons, Harris and Booker aren’t trending very well in the polls and mainstream media are pushing the narrative that black Americans are worried that it will take a white man to defeat a white supremacist in the general election.

There is no whiter white man in the race than Joe Biden, whose troubling history with black issues are well-documented.

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The point of a long primary season is to weed out candidates whose flaws prove too much to withstand scrutiny. But Biden is very much in this race and there doesn’t seem to be much that is hurting his support among black voters. Last night’s omission of Harris wasn’t a flub. It was a total diss of the California senator. You can’t claim to support black women and at the same time not recognize the history-making significance of one standing just a few feet away from you.

When Biden mentioned that Obama picked him because of his standing in the black community, he sounded ridiculous—or did he? No one truly knows why Obama picked Biden, but it was very likely because he knew he needed a white man to win over much of white America that wasn’t as comfortable with Obama’s history-making campaign as black people were.

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Now, the scenario is in reverse. Biden may very well feel he is the great white hope black Americans feel they need to beat Trump. Is it entitled and arrogant? Yes. Does it minimize Harris and Booker? One could make a strong argument that it does. But does it make him wrong to feel that way?

Nope. Why wouldn’t he lean into Obama and brag so boldly about his connection to Obama? It has gotten him this far.

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Until he loses the primary or the general election, he has no reason not to continue sounding like a white man whose claim to fame is riding the coattails of Barack Obama’s legacy.

And why not? Black voters seem more than OK with giving Biden a free ride without him even offering to chip in for gas.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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