Joe Biden has been in national politics, at some level, since 1972. He hasn’t officially announced a campaign for the presidency yet, but of all the Democratic contenders, he has the longest record of service by far — something that can be both a blessing and a curse.
The blessings are attenuated in a year where the party’s base seems to be clamoring for new blood. Consider the fact that you likely now know not only the name of Pete Buttigieg but how to pronounce it. Thus, the idea that a long history in both the upper chamber of Congress and as vice president would be of service to Biden — at least in the primaries — doesn’t seem to be playing out.
The curse, however, is very real. Almost three decades after the fact, we’re culturally relitigating Biden’s conduct as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. There’s also his work on criminal justice bills during the 1990s, which Democrats now find racist.
But the controversial comments go back further than that — back to the 1970s, during Biden’s first years as a legislator.
The latest is a comment from the then-newly minted senator about homosexuals in the government being “security risks.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, Biden’s remarks were made to a group of constituents during an informal meeting.
The information came from an archived edition of the Wilmington (Delaware) Morning News about a Sept. 24, 1973, meeting Biden had with members of the North Star Civic Association.
During the meeting, the newspaper reported, “Biden also agreed to answer later by mail a series of questions on U.S. Civil Service and military job discrimination which Robert Vane, a gay activist, presented him.
“Vane, a North Star resident, startled Biden with his sudden queries and sent at least three persons storming from the room when he identified his cause,” the article reported.
“My gut reaction is that they (homosexuals) are security risks,” Biden is reported to have said, “but I must admit I haven’t given this much thought… I’ll be darned.”
The Free Beacon noted that this wasn’t an unusual take at the time.
“Rick Valelly, a Swarthmore [College] professor currently writing a book on the history of government employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, says Biden’s view of homosexuals as ‘security threats’ came from a period decades earlier now known as the Lavender Scare, where thousands of gay government workers were fired because of their sexual orientation being deemed a security risk.”
“It was a view that dated back to the late 1940s,” Valelly said. “The idea was that high-status gay men would be so afraid of being outed that they’d be susceptible to blackmail.”
However, this wasn’t the first time controversial remarks from Biden’s early career have resurfaced.
Consider this quote on school busing for desegregation, which Biden strongly opposed:
“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 said in 1975.
“I don’t buy that.”
Or this quote from the same article: “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.”
Biden’s comments on homosexuals in the civil service might not have caused too much of a stir if they had occurred in a vacuum. After all, not a whole lot of politicians were sufficiently woke for 2019 Democratic voters when it came to their opinions on gay issues back in the 1970s.
Busing is a different story, however, particularly in an election cycle where reparations for slavery are a major topic among some Democratic contenders.
Will Biden’s remarks from over 40 years ago be enough to sink his campaign and his progressive image?
Not on their own, they probably wouldn’t be. But they’re adding to the Biden baggage, and that all might be making the case that Biden may not be the man the Democratic base wants at the moment.
That’s not to say voters in the general election will — or should — care. But given the atmosphere, there’s a strong chance that liberal Democrats will.
And they’re the ones who vote in Democratic primary elections.
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