At a fundraising event at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City Tuesday night, current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden lamented the loss of civility in politics and, as a positive example from his decades-long experience on Capitol Hill, cited his work with two staunchly anti-desegregation Democratic senators, inadvertently highlighting his own party’s history in enforcing racist policies.
The former vice president made the reference while addressing criticism that he is too “old fashioned” for the “New Left.” In his defense of his bipartisan, “consensus”-building approach to politics, Biden “invoked two Southern segregationist senators by name as he fondly recalled the ‘civility’ of the Senate in the 1970s and 1980s,” The New York Times reports.
“At the event, Mr. Biden noted that he served with the late Senators James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democrats who were staunch opponents of desegregation,” the Times reports. “Mr. Eastland was the powerful chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr. Biden entered the chamber in 1973.”
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” said Biden. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.'” (The Times notes that a pool report says Biden briefly imitated a southern accent when he delivered the line.)
Talmadge, said Biden, was “one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys.”
“Well guess what?” he said. “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.”
Biden then attempted to drive home his point: “But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy,” he said. “We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
Biden, 76, has found himself under fire for his calls for a return to bipartisanship from the current, more radical iteration of the Democratic Party, which repeatedly rejects compromise and vilifies Republicans. Biden argued Tuesday that the inability to achieve “consensus in our system” only “encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president.”
Biden’s reference to two anti-desegregation Democrats is a reminder of his party’s racist history, as highlighted by National Review in a 2015 piece calling out the left’s attempts to “whitewash” the party’s record. In 1956, 99 Democrats in Congress signed the “Southern Manifesto,” which “declared the signatories’ opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and their commitment to segregation forever.” Two Republicans signed it. A far higher percentage of Republicans in the House supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than Democrats — 80% compared to 61% — while 80% of Republicans in the Senate supported it, compared to 69% of Democrats.
“The Democrats have been sedulously rewriting history for decades,” writes Mona Charen for National Review. “Their preferred version pretends that all the Democratic racists and segregationists left their party and became Republicans starting in the 1960s. How convenient. If it were true that the South began to turn Republican due to Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act, you would expect that the Deep South, the states most associated with racism, would have been the first to move. That’s not what happened. The first southern states to trend Republican were on the periphery: North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. (George Wallace lost these voters in his 1968 bid.) The voters who first migrated to the Republican party were suburban, prosperous New South types. The more Republican the South has become, the less racist.”
Vanderbilt’s Carol Swain has also addressed this “whitewashing” of the Democratic Party in a recent video for PragerU: