Back in December, the University of Delaware, the alma mater of one Joseph Robinette Biden — former vice president, newly minted presidential contender and America’s weird uncle — named its public policy school after the former vice president.
“He’s been a true public servant that has set an unparalleled record for others to emulate,” University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis said at the time, according to WHYY.
“We feel Joe Biden’s legacy will be so motivating to our students, future generations of students, and our faculty, to build excellence and combine the power of education with a promise of public service.”
They just don’t want the portion of that “unparalleled record” and “legacy” that’s under their control to get out before the 2020 election.
And now that Biden has officially entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, that’s getting attention.
According to the Huffington Post, the library at the University of Delaware has moved the date when it was scheduled to open almost 2,000 boxes of archived material from Biden’s 36 years in the Senate to Dec. 31, 2019, despite the fact it was supposed to be made public earlier this year.
And even then, the university has refused to commit firmly to the new date, leaving open the possibility that the information will never be released.
“More than 1,850 boxes of archival records from the Vice President’s Senate career arrived at the Library on June 6, 2012. The collection, which also includes extensive electronic records, will be remain (sic) closed during processing for a period no sooner than two years after the donor retires from any public office,” the library’s website reads.
However, earlier this week, HuffPo reported that date would not be met — which you may have indeed deduced already, considering it’s April and Joe Biden left office on Jan. 20 of 2017.
“The Biden senatorial papers are indeed still closed, pending completion of processing (still underway) and as per our agreement with the donor, which is that the papers would remain closed until the later date of 12/31/2019 or two years after the donor retires [from] public service,” L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, curator of the Biden papers, said. (Italics in the HuffPo report.)
And, according to HuffPo, “Johnson Melvin added that if the processing takes more time, the papers may remain closed even after Dec. 31, leaving open the possibility that the information remains sealed until after the election.
It’s not just people on the right side of the aisle who care about what might be in these papers, as the HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel made abundantly clear through the slant on the article.
“Biden looms large over the 2020 presidential race. He’s already considered a front-runner even though he has yet to declare,” she wrote.
“And with that front-runner status has come a fair amount of scrutiny, mostly focusing on his six-plus terms in the Senate. From his opposition to school busing, to questions over his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas, his support for bills that lengthened criminal sentences and his views on abortion and how much control women should have over their bodies, Biden’s history in the Senate has raised questions for some Democrats about whether he’s out of step with where the party is now.
“Access to his Senate papers would provide a more detailed look at his three and a half decades in the chamber.”
And that’s where most of the problem might lie. Republicans have more or less made up their opinion about Biden and his ability to attract independents is probably still up in the air, although he’s clearly the only leading Democrat who would have obvious appeal to the middle of the spectrum.
Among Democrats, though — particularly the activist base — Biden is a front-runner who doesn’t necessarily feel like it.
Let’s take the opposition to school busing. Then as now, the policy remains controversial — although perhaps not as much as Biden’s remarks on it back in the 1970s.
“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 in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,’” Biden told a local Delaware newspaper in 1975. “I don’t buy that.”
“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago,” he added.
Furthermore, recently discovered letters showed he sent notes of thanks to Mississippi Democrat Sen. James Eastland — a perfervid believer in the gospel of segregation who called African-Americans “an inferior race” — for his work against busing.
This is just one issue out of several that have threatened to derail Biden’s path toward the Democrat nomination. And, quite frankly, that path is going to be a lot easier if the roughly 2,000 boxes of archival material in the possession of the University of Delaware doesn’t come out.
Rest assured, the moment it does, there are going to be a whole truckload of journalists scouring them for stuff that’ll make an interesting story.
Are there more letters to rebarbative troglodytes like Eastland in there? More damaging material on those Anita Hill hearings? Something else?
I’d be willing to bet there is.
The rest of the Democratic field probably is, too.
That’s why I’d also be willing to place a side bet:
That we don’t see all that evidence for an “unparalleled record for others to emulate” that the University of Delaware has, either on on Dec. 31st or pretty much anytime before Biden is either well out of contention for the presidency or safely ensconced in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
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