Posted on May 7, 2019

Joe Biden Faces First 2020 Test: His Record on Race

Sabrina Siddiqui, The Guardian, May 5, 2019


But first, Biden faces a more imminent test: can he appeal to the changing demographics of the Democratic electorate, which is poised to be the party’s most diverse in history?

The former vice-president may get his answer as he touches down Saturday in South Carolina, the early state battleground where black voters play an outsize role in determining who gets the Democratic party’s nod for the 2020 presidential nomination.


Biden’s record on race and inequality has nonetheless drawn renewed scrutiny, ranging from past comments on school desegregation to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in the early 1990s.

In South Carolina, Biden will for the first time since launching his campaign show whether he can appeal to black voters, who make up 60% of the state’s primary electorate and 20% of the Democratic base overall.

In Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday, he criticized Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, recalling racial segregation laws of the past.

“You’ve got Jim Crow sneaking back in,” he said, referring to the era before the civil rights movement.


“He will have to help the voting public, and black people in particular, understand what he will do in really clear ways to deal with racial inequality in our country in all the ways that it manifests itself,” Robinson [Rashad Robinson, the president of Color Of Change] added.


In his first major campaign swing across the country, Biden has touted the Obama administration’s record on the economy and healthcare and dubbed himself a “proud Obama-Biden Democrat”.


Tiffany Cross, co-founder and managing editor of the Beat DC, said the video could nevertheless easily be interpreted as an endorsement.

“It’s a huge advantage. There’s a healthy sense of Obama nostalgia that I think Biden can capitalize on,” said Cross, whose website spotlights the intersection of politics, policy and people of color.


“At the same time, in South Carolina and beyond, there are some younger voters who will judge Joe Biden for things he said or did in years past through the lens of 2019,” she said.

“There are some people who may be a little more ‘woke’ than they are nostalgic, and they may hold him to a different standard.”

Biden has already been forced to contend with his role in overseeing sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during the confirmation battle for the US supreme court in 1991.

Biden chaired the all-male, all-white Senate judiciary panel that interrogated the claims brought by Thomas’ accuser, Anita Hill.

Although Biden voted against Thomas’ confirmation, he did not give full consideration at the time to other witnesses whose testimony appeared to corroborate Hill’s allegations. He also did not allow affidavits from experts in sexual harassment.


Other issues have similarly come back to haunt him, such as his fight against busing to desegregate schools 40-plus years ago.

Letters published by CNN last month revealed Biden, who was 34 at the time, sought support from some of the Senate’s most ardent segregationists.

Biden, serving his first term in the Senate, said he favored desegregation but did not believe busing would achieve racial equality.

“I do not buy the concept, popular in the 60s, which said: ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead,’” Biden told a local newspaper in his home state of Delaware at the time. “In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back. I don’t buy that.”


“The black voting base is one of the most reliable voting bases in the Democratic party. So I think even if people don’t fall in love, given what we’re seeing now, they’ll fall in line.”