During a campaign speech in South Carolina on July 6, former Vice President Joe Biden made an apology for “any of the pain or misconception” his comments about working with segregationist senators in the 1970s had caused but said he was not wrong for “working within the system.”
“Should that misstep define 30 years of my record of fighting for civil rights and racial justice in this country? I hope not. I don’t think so,” Biden said. “That just isn’t an honest assessment of my record.”
“I chose to work within the system to make it better,” he continued. “Was I wrong to do that? I don’t think so. I do believe we have work to do, even with those who we find repugnant.”
“Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was,” Biden said. “I regret it. And I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception they may have caused anybody.”
Biden apologized for remarks made before the Democratic primary debates during a fundraiser on June 18. He had made a few tangential remarks about his fond memories working alongside segregationist senators, telling wealthy donors they had nothing to fear if he were elected president.
He spoke about hardcore racist, Democratic, Mississippi Sen. James Eastland. “He never called me boy, he always called me son,” Biden said with a southern drawl.
And he mentioned Georgia, Democratic Sen. Herman Talmadge. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything,” said Biden. “Today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy.”
Both are now deceased.
Biden was trying to cite an example of his political ability to reach a consensus under a “Constitutional system of separation of powers.” Yet both hardcore segregationist politicians were Democrats.
Although he received some media backlash, his apology came several weeks later on July 6.
For instance, during the televised Democratic primary debates on June 27, Kamala Harris confronted Biden about his fighting against desegregating schools, and how it impacted a little girl in California.
“That little girl was me,” Harris said. “So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly.”
“I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education, that’s what I opposed,” Biden shot back during the debate.
Slipped in Polls
Biden’s support slipped 10 points after the debate was widely broadcast, a poll by Morning Consult and FiveThirtyEight showed. Polls were taken before and after the debate among likely Democratic voters.
Biden’s Fight Against Busing
In the ’70s, Biden had fought against busing white students to majority African American schools and African American students to majority white schools. Back then Biden said he favored desegregation but did not think that sending students far away from their neighborhoods would achieve equal opportunity.
CNN reviewed never-before-published, old letters from Biden, showing “he followed the lead of—and sought support from—some of the Senate’s most fervent segregationists.
A Past Gaffe
This isn’t the first of many such outbursts for Biden. In the past, he made comments about Obama that were taken as racist and/or derogatory and found himself backtracking and clarifying.
Biden, in the throes of making his announcement to run for president, had publicly evaluated Democratic primary rivals—making a remark about then-Senator Obama, the only African American serving in the Senate in January 2007.
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” said Biden. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man,” he added.
He issued a statement soon after, explaining: “Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican Party has produced at least since I’ve been around.”
“And he’s fresh. He’s new. He’s smart. He’s insightful. And I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the word ‘clean.'”
Biden said he was referring to a phrase used by his mother. “My mother has an expression: clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack.”
Biden has experienced quite a few challenges in his third attempt to run in the Democratic primaries for the presidency.
Obama has not endorsed Biden, and may not likely endorse him before the primary elections early next year.