Joe Biden isn’t known for subtext – just text.
While the national media has treated Biden as something between a 21st Century Spiro Agnew and that crazy uncle who overstays his welcome during the holidays, Republicans have (dare I say?) celebrated Joe’s Bidenisms as occasional forays into the truth. If Barack Obama represents the modern Democratic Party’s super ego, Biden represents it’s id – the innate instinctive impulses and primary processes.
All of which makes Joe’s latest bombast not terribly surprising:
Campaigning in southern Virginia on Tuesday, Vice President Biden told an audience that Mitt Romney’s approach to regulating the financial industry will “put y’all back in chains,” a remark that triggered a flurry of Republican criticism, including a sharp rebuke from the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
“Look at their budget and what they’re proposing,” Biden said. “Romney wants to let the – he said in the first hundred days, he is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They are going to put y’all back in chains.”
Biden made the comments at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, where he kicked off a two-day campaign tour of southern and southwestern Virginia. He spoke before what appeared to be a racially varied audience of 900 people, and one prominent Republican suggested that his language could be interpreted as racially divisive.
The fallout fell on equally predictable lines. The Romney camp tweeted that the comments were “outrageous” and reporters spent the afternoon filing bylines with stories repeating the VP’s gaffe. If anything didn’t go according to script, it was the Democrat response – refusing to acknowledge any error in judgement and actually doubling down on the comment. Biden’s attempt at “clarifying” his words still repeated the claim that Romney/Ryan would “shackle” the middle class.
Are Biden’s comments “outrageous”? No, not by comparison to the media’s attempt to quasi-defend them by providing the sort of context that often seems to be missing from similar Republican errors. Soledad O’Brien led off Anderson Cooper’s 360 by looping numerous Republican officials using the term “unshackle” (ergo, Biden was justified). Politico decried the “death of the high-minded campaign” and despite having only one negative Romney example (in which he hit Biden for a 2007 comment about coal killing more Americans than terrorists), the website placed cover page photos of both contenders, suggesting that both camps have equally contributed to the debasing of the campaign.
Such defenders of context were no where to be found just days ago when Mitt Romney’s factual ad hitting Obama’s new welfare policies had politicos and pundits seeing racial politics. Dan Milbank even unleashed a column that Romney’s ad “incites bigotry.” Perhaps a conservative commentator will rush to pen a piece that explains how Biden’s comments were an attempt at “dog whistle” politics to African-American voters that not only will get published in a major newspaper but go by unchallenged by the Praetorian Guard of the Old Media. But I wouldn’t suggest anyone hold their breath.
The issue shouldn’t be whether or not Joe Biden said something racial but that its become an acceptable part of the political discourse to accuse your opponents of putting voters in a form of bondage that doesn’t involve a safe word. Such a mangled attempt to turn a phrase may pass for the talking heads at MSNBC or on whatever ham radio frequency that Air America continues broadcasting from, but without negative consequences, politicians will continue to feel free to double down on the harshest language possible.