Friday Talking Points -- Dragging Up Dead Racists

[ Posted Friday, June 21st, 2019 – 17:49 UTC ]

Joe Biden drew a huge target on himself this week, with his comments on getting along with stone-cold racists in the United States Senate. Conservative commenter Ana Navarro perhaps best summed up Biden's error, criticizing him for "dragging up these dead racists instead of talking about the live racists."

Biden's gaffe came at an inopportune time for him, seeing as how the first Democratic debates are now less than a week away. All the other candidates had been struggling with whether to attack Biden next week, since he is so well-beloved by Democratic voters. Biden is the clear frontrunner in the race at this point, regularly polling many multiples of the numbers of almost all the other candidates (excepting perhaps Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whom Biden only outpolls by a factor of two). It was tough, before Biden stepped in it, for the other candidates to develop any debate strategy for taking Biden down a peg. But that just got a whole lot easier, due to Biden's own words.

Here are the remarks that got Biden into so much hot water, courtesy of Salon:

Biden pointed out that his ability to work with segregationists like former Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland and Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge showed that he could "bring people together," The Washington Post reported.

"I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland," Biden said. "He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'" He also cited Talmadge, calling him "one of the meanest guys I ever knew."

"Well, guess what?" Biden said. "At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you're the enemy. Not the opposition -- the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore."

. . .

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of Biden's Democratic opponents, issued a statement condemning the former vice president's comment.

"You don't joke about calling black men 'boys,'" said Booker, who is black. "Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity."

"Vice President Biden's relationship with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone," Booker added. "And frankly, I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

The Washington Post reported what happened next, as Biden responded to Booker by doubling down:

Taking a page from the Trump playbook, Biden took umbrage and demanded that Booker apologize to him for asking him to apologize. "Cory should apologize," he said. "He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body; I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period."

This effort at damage control appears to be making matters worse. Booker, whose parents faced racial discrimination when trying to move into a white neighborhood in New Jersey, appeared on CNN in the 10 p.m. hour and responded with a riff that had the tone of being more in sorrow than in anger. "The fact that he has said something that an African American man could find very offensive and then to turn around and say, you know, 'I'm not a racist, you should apologize to me' is so insulting and so missing the larger point that he should not have to have explained to him," Booker told Don Lemon. "He knows better. And at a time when Donald Trump never apologizes for anything, he's better than this."

Other 2020 rivals piled on: Kamala Harris said Biden "doesn't understand the history of our country." Elizabeth Warren said it's "never okay to celebrate segregationists." Bernie Sanders tweeted that he agrees with Booker: "This is especially true at a time when the Trump administration is trying to divide us up with its racist appeals." New York Mayor Bill de Blasio invoked his mixed-race family.

You don't have to look at Eastland's record very hard to find examples of stone-cold racism, as Bill de Blasio's tweet painfully pointed out:

It's 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of "civility" typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to "the pursuit of dead n*ggers." It's past time for apologies or evolution from @JoeBiden. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is out of step with the values of the modern Democratic Party.

Biden's gaffe was problematic on many levels, of course, but we wrote a whole article yesterday examining the political fallout, so you can check that out if you want to know how we really feel about Biden's inept examples.

Biden wasn't the only Democrat on the hot seat this week, but his seat was definitely the hottest. James Clyburn, a respected African-American congressional leader, accused Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer of "tokenism" in their office's hiring practices, which just isn't true. He later had to issue an apology for his false accusation.

And Marianne Williamson, who is an actual presidential candidate (because why not?), seemed to side with the anti-vaxxers this week. She hastily tried to walk her comments back, but the damage had already been done at that point. When initially asked about the controversy surrounding vaccination, her first response was:

"To me, it's no different than the abortion debate," Williamson reportedly said in New Hampshire. "The U.S. government doesn't tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child." But the presidential candidate and self-help author walked back the comments over Twitter. "I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives. I recognize there are epidemics around the world that are stopped by vaccines," Williamson wrote. "I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke."

She also claimed that mandatory vaccination was "Draconian" and "Orwellian." A columnist from the Guardian later pointed out: "George Orwell died from tuberculosis, a disease since made preventable by a vaccine."

Of course, any missteps on the Democratic side of things absolutely pales in comparison to the idiocies regularly emanating from the White House these days. It's tough to even keep track of them, in fact. These are all from the past week alone, we should mention.

President Trump promised a new healthcare plan (that will never appear). As the Washington Post helpfully pointed out:

You might recall that about three months ago, Trump claimed that he had assigned a couple of Republican senators to come up with a health-care plan, and it would be ready real soon. But there was no plan, and there was never going to be a plan. This new plan, coming in a month or two? It's not coming, either.

Why not? Two basic reasons. First, Republicans in general and Trump in particular don't care enough about the issue to put any energy into it. Second and more important, they know that what they'd like to do on health care is so incredibly unpopular that actually laying it out would be politically catastrophic, as they learned when they tried and failed to "repeal and replace" the [Affordable Care Act] in 2017.

Speaking of healthcare, Donald Trump Junior lambasted Joe Biden for promising that he'd "cure cancer" if elected, at Trump's Orlando rally this week. Right before Junior's daddy promised exactly the same thing. You'd think they could get their stories straight, wouldn't you?

"There's something off with that guy," Trump Jr. said. "What was the good one last week? Remember? Joe Biden comes out, 'Well, if you elect me president, I'm going to cure cancer.' Wow, why the hell didn't you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?"

To be fair, curing all cancer is going to very difficult since there's no one-size-fits-all solution to the disease.

Still, that didn't stop the president from making the exact same promise during his own speech.

"We will push onward with new medical frontiers. We will come up with the cures to many, many problems, to many, many diseases -- including cancer and others," Trump said. "And we're getting closer all the time."

Trump instituted fictional sanctions against Iran:

The White House did not impose new sanctions against Iran on Thursday in response to its downing of a U.S. military drone, contrary to President Trump's assertion in a Twitter post Friday morning.

Trump's statement of new penalties against Iran came during a string of Twitter posts, in which he explained his decision to stop - at the last minute - military attack against Iran.

"Sanctions are biting & more added last night," he wrote. "Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

But no such sanctions were imposed.

Trump took credit for something John McCain and Barack Obama accomplished, while swearing that McCain and Obama "couldn't get it [done]."

President Donald Trump often fabricates accomplishments for himself and at times falsely strips them from others, but a new lie manages both: Claiming nonexistent credit for a veterans program that his late nemesis Sen. John McCain actually did help create.

"The vets -- the VA was in horrible shape. Now, they have choice. And nobody could get choice," he told ABC News recently. "John McCain couldn't get it. Nobody could get it. They tried for years. They couldn't get it. I got choice for the vets."

In fact, the provision of the law that Trump touts most often -- the ability of veterans to get private medical care if VA waitlists were too long -- was something that McCain specifically pushed for and eventually won in his negotiations with then-Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

. . .

Following the compromise struck by McCain and Sanders, the legislation passed both chambers and on Aug. 7, 2014, was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama -- notwithstanding Trump's repeated false claims that the "VA choice" law was something that he himself achieved.

"They have trying to get it passed for 44 years. We got it passed," he told a rally audience in Panama City, Florida, last month.

"We passed VA choice," he repeated to an Orlando audience on Tuesday. "You go out now, you get a doctor, you fix yourself up, the doctor sends us the bill, we pay for it and you know what? It doesn't matter because the life and the veteran is more important."

A former speechwriter for John McCain reacted with disgust to Trump's false claim: "He has no ethics of any kind."

And then there was just the garden-variety idiocies from Trump. Such as misspelling while bragging: "We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights." He ought to set his "sites" a little lower, one supposes.

Trump caused much merriment online when he pointed out that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (or "drone") that was shot down was unmanned: "We didn't have a man or woman in the drone. We had nobody in the drone. It would have made a big difference, let me tell you. It would have made a big, big difference." Yes, it would have, because a drone with a man or woman in it is called "an airplane." As many pointed out.

Then there were idiocies from Trump's past, proving once again that there is always a former Trump tweet which contradicts just about anything he's now for. Way back when, Trump warned repeatedly that: "In order to get elected, @Barack Obama will start a war with Iran," and: "Obama will someday attack Iran in order to show how tough he is," and the priceless: "Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly -- not skilled!"

Chuck Schumer voiced Democrats' current fears over the Iran situation much more elegantly: "These conflicts have a way of escalating. The president may not intend to go to war here, but we're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war."

The Senate was busy this week pushing back on another of Trump's war decisions, as they voted 53-45 to strip Trump of the power to move forward on his arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Trump will doubtlessly veto this if it passes the House, but seven Republican senators went on the record defying Trump.

What else? Roy Moore announced he'll be running for the Senate again, much to the dismay of the entire rest of the Republican Party (from Trump on down). The most scathing reaction came from Senator Martha McSally, Republican from Arizona: "Give me a break. This place already has enough creepy old men."

And finally, while the Supreme Court ruled this week that a Christian cross can stay on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, please remember that that knife cuts both ways. A regional governmental meeting in Alaska this week was opened with an invocation by a member of the Satanic Temple: "That which will not bend, must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared as demise. It is done. Hail Satan." Because if government opens its doors to things like religious prayers before meetings, then those doors must be open to all religions. In other words: All hail the Establishment Clause!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have two Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week, and then a retroactive Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award that we really should have handed out last week.

Cory Booker deserves an Honorable Mention, for getting out in front of all the criticism of Joe Biden's remarks on civility in Washington. While Kamala Harris and Bill de Blasio also weighed in (both Booker and Harris are black, and de Blasio is married to a black woman), Booker was the one whose critical words resonated the most with Biden himself. Booker hasn't had many standout moments on the campaign trail to date, but this time he showed some real leadership and "spoke truth to power" as it were. He will not be on the same stage with Biden next week (they drew different days), but since Booker's debate will happen first, he may use the opportunity to define the response from those who disagreed with Biden without having to say any of it directly to Biden's face. So we're looking forward to that.

Amy Klobuchar also deserves an Honorable Mention, for her attempt at catching up to Elizabeth "I've Got A Plan For That" Warren. Klobuchar released her "first 100 days" agenda, which was breathtakingly extensive in its breadth. Not so much in its depth, but even so.... here's Politico's reaction to her agenda:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants the U.S. to reenter the Paris climate agreement, raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour and require publicly traded companies to disclose all political spending over $10,000 to their shareholders -- and that's just three out of 137 ideas she wants to put forward in her first 100 days as president.

On Tuesday, the Democratic presidential candidate released an exhaustive list of policy prescriptions -- more than 137 bullet points, extending over 17 single-spaced pages -- that she would prioritize in the first months of her administration, if elected. Klobuchar's plans run from extending veterans benefits to their infants to restoring the Clean Power Plan, a set of Obama-era environmental protections.

One-hundred and thirty seven! Whew! Although the article did note: "While Klobuchar's list of 100-day priorities indicates the breadth of her policy plans, it's also light on the details." Even so, promises of executive actions are going to be important, because even if the Democrats win the White House back, they're still going to have to deal with Republicans in the Senate, one way or another.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to none other than Jon Stewart, who testified a week ago on the shameful delay in passing legislation to guarantee lifetime support for the first responders to 9/11. His testimony was one of those rare events in Washington where members of Congress had to sit and listen to a private citizen expose their shameful behavior for the world to see. There was no reason at all for all the delays in getting this money appropriated, other than Mitch McConnell using it as a political pawn to extract concessions from Democrats. Which Stewart accurately pointed out.

McConnell then tried to sidestep the blame, but Stewart was having none of it. After McConnell's dismissive comments, Stewart sent another broadside in his direction (which McConnell richly deserved). There is only one word for McConnell's behavior, and that is "shameful," and Stewart used the megaphone of his own celebrity to point it out for all to see.

Which is why he really should have gotten the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week last week, and which is why we're awarding it to him this week, to make up for our own indefensible delay. Well done, Mr. Stewart, well done!

[Jon Stewart is not a politician, so you'll have to search for his contact information yourself in order to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We have two (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards before we get to the main event this week.

The first goes to a former aide to Senator Maggie Hassan, who is going to pay a steep price for crossing a big ethical line:

A former aide to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) was sentenced to four years in prison Wednesday for hacking Senate computers and releasing personal information online about five Republican senators out of anger spurred by their roles in the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan said the sentence for Jackson Cosko, 27, was needed to send a signal that criminal harassment driven by political motives would be punished severely in an era marked by extreme political polarization.... In April, Cosko pleaded guilty to five felonies, admitting that after being fired last year from his work as a systems administrator on Hassan's staff, he repeatedly used a colleague's key to enter the office, install keylogging equipment that stole work and personal email passwords, and downloaded a massive trove of data from Senate systems.

Our second (Dis-)Honorable Mention goes to Pete Buttigieg, who (while eclipsed by the whole Biden fracas) seems to be having his own problems addressing racial issues. He broke away from the campaign trail this week to return to South Bend, Indiana, after a police shooting there caused an outcry. But, like John McCain before him, he proved that these "interrupting my campaign" stunts can backfire badly:

Instead of showcasing Buttigieg's ability to lead through a crisis, however, the shooting is exposing what has long been considered an Achilles' heel of his candidacy: his frosty relationship with South Bend's black residents. Since arriving on Sunday, Buttigieg has alienated the family of the dead man, Eric Logan, 54, skipped a vigil at the scene of the shooting, and sought advice from outsiders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York..... The shooting has handed Buttigieg the first significant challenge of his charmed campaign. To allies, his decision to leave the campaign trail and then hold two days of private meetings signals deliberate, considerate leadership. But to detractors, including many of South Bend's black activists, his actions show that he still doesn't get it.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, back to the travails of Joe Biden, who is our winner of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. But not for the reason you might think.

We're not actually giving Biden the MDDOTW for his comments on palling around with racist senators this week, because we think the response from other Democratic candidates has already been sufficient. Instead, we are giving Biden the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week for some other comments he made at the same fundraiser. Biden was speaking to a crowd of Wall Street fatcats, in an effort to get them to generously donate all the money they could to his campaign. And he wanted to let them know that, if he became president, they would still be feeling the love from Washington. And no, that is not an exaggeration. Here is how Politico reported his remarks to the plutocrats:

Former Vice President Joe Biden told a room of affluent New York donors on Tuesday night that he doesn't think it's appropriate to "demonize" the rich.

"You know, what I've found is rich people are just as patriotic as poor people. Not a joke. I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money," Biden told about 100 donors at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, multiple media outlets reported.

"We can disagree in the margins, but the truth of the matter is it's all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one's standard of living will change," he continued, addressing a well-heeled group, including former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, and Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Stephen Scherr, according to reports.

So not only will Biden not raise their taxes, he'll also vigorously defend the patriotism of the downtrodden demographic that is rich people. Because it's so unseemly that other Democrats would (gasp!) demonize them. Salon also reported how downright servile his comments got, at the end:

Biden's assurance to donors in New York came shortly after his appearance at the Poor People's Campaign Presidential Forum in Washington on Monday.

Biden said that poverty was "the one thing that can bring this country down" and listed several new programs to help the poor that he would fund if elected.

"We have all the money we need to do it," he said.

But speaking to wealthy donors in New York, Biden appeared to suggest that his plan would not involve big tax hikes on the rich.

"I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money," he said. "The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it's all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one's standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change."

Biden went on to say that the rich should not be blamed for income inequality, pleading to the donors, "I need you very badly."

"I hope if I win this nomination, I won't let you down. I promise you," he added.

These comments, obviously, were overshadowed by his other awkward comments to the same group of people. The media and other Democrats focused solely on his praise for antediluvian racist senators, and for good reason. But we'd be willing to bet that Biden's sucking up to Wall Street fatcats will also be brought up during next week's debates, either by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren (at the very least). Seriously, Joe? "I won't let you down" and "I need you very badly"?!? Wow.

This shows -- with just as much potency -- how out of touch Biden can be with where the energy currently is within the Democratic Party. More and more Democrats are swearing off exactly the kind of deep-pocket fundraising that Biden still "needs very badly" as their own personal way to fight back against pay-to-play politics. But not Biden, obviously.

So even if we ignore the other self-inflicted scandalous remarks Biden made this week, we find that he still qualifies as the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, albeit for different reasons. And we look forward to some other Democratic candidate (or perhaps even the moderators) to call Biden out on his tone-deaf comments to the wealthiest of the wealthy this week, during next week's debates.

[Former Vice President Joe Biden is technically a private citizen, and our longstanding policy is not to link to candidate webpages, so you'll have to seek out his contact information on your own if you'd like to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 532 (6/21/19)

Speaking of next week's debates, we have a program note before we get to this week's talking points.

There will be no Friday Talking Points column next Friday, due to the debate schedule. We have decided that it would be too hard to post an instant review of each nights' debate, so instead we're going to post our reactions the next day. Since the debates will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, the second one will pre-empt next Friday's column. So we'll see you all back here in two weeks' time, where we'll be able to more accurately gauge the reactions to the first of the Democratic debates. Fair warning.

Oh, and it didn't fit anywhere else, but we have a link to pass along:, which tracks how expensive Trump's golfing habit has been to the American taxpayer (as well as pointing out that Trump's golfing far exceeds Barack Obama's, which Republicans used to love to complain about -- how times change, eh?).


   Maybe update that example?

Our first talking point this week is suggested for any Democrat running against Joe Biden. It should be expressed "more in sorrow than in anger," in our opinion.

"I would like to suggest to Joe Biden that if he wants to make a point about civility in Washington, he should choose a more modern example than citing senators who were first elected in the 1940s. Perhaps next time Biden wants to talk about Senate civility he could use John McCain's name? Just a suggestion, Joe."


   Another fine mess he's gotten us into

Here we go again, folks.

"You know, if Donald Trump hadn't pulled out of the Iran deal, then we wouldn't now be on the brink of war. They wouldn't be threatening to enrich more uranium than they had agreed, and they wouldn't be taking belligerent actions towards our military. Trump pulled out of the deal, and things have gone downhill, because Trump has no idea what to do that would be any better than the deal they had already agreed to. Here we are on the brink of war and Trump doesn't even have permanent people in the top two spots in the Pentagon. Once again, Trump proves he is master of the self-inflicted crisis."


   Trump on the telegraph

Another thing to remind voters of springs to mind.

"When Trump campaigned for president, he swore up and down that he wouldn't ever telegraph to our enemies what he would do next militarily. He denounced Obama for doing so, and promised he'd never do such a thing. Then he apparently ordered a strike on Iran this week, changed his mind at the last minute, and then admitted to the world that he had aborted a strike. This isn't the only area where he's broken his promise not to signal in advance what he was going to do. Remember when he castigated Oakland's mayor for warning of an impending ICE raid? Now he's bragging that he's ordered ICE raids -- next week. Because he thinks he can score some political points. As Trump would put it: 'SAD!'"


   Empty seats

This one always gets under his skin -- he even helpfully pointed it out in real time.

"Donald Trump held yet another rally down in Florida this week, pretending that his re-election campaign is just beginning. Like his ICE raids, this was probably planned in order to steal some of the Democrats' thunder, since they're holding their debates in Florida next week. Trump bragged that he had not only sold out the arena he appeared in, but that there were thousands waiting outside who couldn't get in. Neither was true, as Trump himself pointed out, drawing attention to all the empty seats in the arena. He can't even get his own lies straight, it seems. Once again: 'SAD!'"


   How are those tariffs going?

Trump lies about the economy all the time, of course, but this one really needs some pushback.

"U.S. Steel announced this week that it was halting production at two steel mills, in Detroit and in Gary, Indiana. Like American farmers all across the Midwest, the workers in these mills are just more collateral damage from Trump's tariff strategy. Trump was supposed to be the master dealmaker, but all he's done so far is to bring pain and suffering to every industry he tries to help. Which is about par for the course for Trump, given his own lengthy record of business failures."


   Bernie's right

Bernie Sanders got into a dustup with Third Way, a Democratic centrist group that has warmed to Elizabeth Warren while still heaping scorn on Sanders, even though their agendas are pretty much interchangeable. Third Way is terrified that Republicans will be screaming "Socialism!" but they're obviously going to do that anyway.

"Bernie Sanders is right -- the Republicans are going to call anything Democrats are for 'socialism,' in an attempt to demonize their opponents. Case in point: Mitch McConnell this week cautioned against statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, even though the Republican Party platform has always supported Puerto Rican statehood efforts. But McConnell is now aghast at the possibility, warning that those dastardly Democrats, quote: 'plan to make the District of Columbia a state -- that'd give them two new Democratic senators -- Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators.... So this is full-bore socialism on the march.' Unquote. Excuse me, Mitch? How in the world is adding new states 'socialism'? If Democrats came out in favor of apple pie and motherhood Republicans would label it a socialistic plot! They've gone bonkers over the word, because it's the only thing they've got left in their fearmongering toolkit. It's sad, really, to see how far the Republican Party has fallen down this rabbit hole."


   Not morally fit to run a bar

This could get highly amusing, depending on how the board rules.

"A group of clergy members and judges has petitioned the Washington D.C. licensing board to deny Trump a permit to serve alcohol at his Trump International Hotel, on moral grounds. D.C. law states that the holders of liquor licenses must be of 'good character and generally fit for the responsibilities of licensure,' which the group is arguing obviously does not describe Donald Trump. So Trump's Washington hotel might just have to close its bar because the president is morally unfit to serve alcohol to the public. That really says something, doesn't it?"

-- Chris Weigant


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