Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said during the 1970s that “forced busing,” to try to further desegregate public schools, was a “liberal train wreck.”
Boy was he right.
A majority of whites, and blacks, too, did not like having government and the courts tell them that their kids would be forced to spend unnecessary time on the road in school buses rather than in the classroom or back home after school.
But now, more than 40 years later, Biden is learning a politically modern-day painful lesson of the Democratic Party — what was said or done during a different time or even era can be distasteful and wrong even if it was on the mark.
Doesn’t the former vice president realize that especially for some of the younger generation of Democrats all issues are to be seen through their personal prism, their time and place in life?
Biden was caught embarrassingly flatfooted at the Democrats’ debate on June 27 when California Sen. Kamala Harris, using a photo of herself as a 5-year-old getting on a school bus as a prop, lauded busing as some great breakthrough in race relations in the U.S.
It was not. Forced busing was incredibly divisive and counterproductive to its stated goals.
The only real winners were private schools, which experienced a nice bump in enrollment, especially from more wealthy white people who could afford financially to bypass public education for parochial schools.
White “Cadillac liberals” praised forced busing while driving their kids to better private schools. That was the reality and
Biden knew that was the case in the mid-1970s while a U.S. senator. But at the debate he lost his very sensible voice on the issue.
Rather than making a legitimate and forceful defense of his past comments, he hemmed-and-hawed and showed no outrage that Harris had unfairly tarred him by playing the ever-present race card.
And she did so, of course, with the usual passive-aggressive introduction: “I do not believe you are a racist, but ….” Then she went on tell her personal story as a little girl who was bused to school as part of the second class to be bused in Los Angeles. Images of the photos were then amazingly quickly found on T-shirts for sale as a campaign fundraiser.
Meanwhile, at the same time 5-year-old Kamala was being bused, Biden had joined two other senators, who had segregation leanings, in opposition of forced busing that actually was the majority view then of Americans.
That was personally hurtful, Harris said. Oh, those political sins of the past.
But Biden rightly pointed out he was not praising those two senators, he was standing up against an order of a government agency — the Department of Education — on busing. And said his record on busing has been mischaracterized.
And, in Congress, the reality is you sometimes have to work with people you may not like or perhaps even despise to get things done. But that doesn’t matter to those who believe historical record is now somehow a blank canvas for their interpretation.
Harris’s very calculated maneuver exposed the oldest person on stage by several years as definitely unprepared and maybe, just maybe, as a candidate whose time to win the presidency is in the rear view mirror.
The Democratic Party campaign road to the nomination is a long one. There remains an absurd list of debates for a 23-candidate field. And not a single vote that counts will be cast until January.
But Biden did take a direct hit from Harris, who benefitted greatly from the favorable reaction of activists on the far left.
He needs to show more conviction — and a bit of emotion, even passion wouldn’t hurt —when his political reputation is in the sights of other candidates.
And the other challengers for the nomination will certainly now feel emboldened by Harris.
Biden has been acting like the nomination was already his. That was a bad, bad miscalculation.
The vice president must realize that it’s now, game on.