Joe Biden Gets Wistful About Some Very Polite Segregationists

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At an event on Tuesday night, Joe Biden recalled with fondness his time serving in the Senate with some of the South’s staunchest defenders of segregation, calling it a time of “civility” and “get[ting] things done.” Can this man go away, now? Please?

Addressing a crowd at a fundraiser in New York, Biden spoke about his belief in  unity and bipartisanship. And showing his incredible political acumen, he decided to illustrate his point by sharing just how well he got along with two of the Senate’s biggest defenders of white supremacy during the 1960s and 70s, fellow Democrats James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. From the New York Times:

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to a pool report from the fund-raiser. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”

He called Mr. Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys.”

“Well guess what?” Mr. Biden 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.”

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Some advice for Biden: it is not a compliment for a southerner to call you “son,” it’s a genteel way of asserting your place in the pecking order. And don’t get me started on why he didn’t use the derogative slur “boy” on Biden (you’re white, dude!!!).

In case you need a refresher on who these dead white men were, James Eastland was seen throughout his political career as “a symbol of Southern resistance to racial desegregation. He had a penchant for calling black people an “inferior race” and pontificating about how segregation “promotes racial harmony,” as he did in this snippet from a speech he gave:

The Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination… Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire.

And lest you think he was a POLITE white supremacist, well, let me disabuse you of that notion:

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As for Talmadge, he once proclaimed that “God advocates segregation” and was so opposed to civil rights legislation that he boycotted the Democratic National Convention after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And let’s take a look at what Biden meant when he said they were able to “get things done” together. Was Biden referring, perhaps, to his efforts to get federal anti-busing legislation—legislation blocking one of the few meaningful ways of integrating schools—passed in the ’70s, that he asked Eastland to support?

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According to letters in Eastland’s archives, which were unearthed by CNN this April, Biden repeatedly asked for Eastland’s help in getting his anti-busing bill passed. In one of the letters, dated June 30, 1977, Biden thanked Eastland, writing, “I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week’s committee meeting in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote.”

Maybe Biden was so successful in this bipartisan approach against busing because, while attempting to block efforts to integrate schools, he didn’t sound so different from people like Eastland or Alabama’s George Wallace. In March of this year, the Washington Post dug up an interview he gave a Delaware weekly in 1975, in which he shared that “the real problem with busing” is that “you take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school... and you’re going to fill them with hatred.”

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Biden himself fretted in that 1975 interview that his views could lump him in with virulent southern racists. “I don’t want to be mixed up with a George Wallace,” he said.

Sure seems like you’re doing that on your own, Joe!

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About the author

Esther Wang

Senior staff writer, Jezebel