How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Joe Biden's response to Kamala Harris falls short

I’ve never been enamored with Joe Biden. I’ve always thought that from a public policy perspective, he was “a little lite” – not a policy wonk. After reading a book by a former aide, Jeff Connaugthon, entitled, The Payoff, which portrays Biden in an unflattering light by presenting various embarrassing anecdotes and examples of Uncle Joe being unwilling to help his own staff, I’ve come to see Joe Biden as more of a Washington compiler than a change agent.

Nevertheless, I was surprised by Biden’s failure to competently respond to the attack levied by Kamala Harris in the second debate regarding his position in the 1970s regarding mandatory school busing for racial desegregation. It is important to point out that busing, the practice of assigning and transporting students to school in such a manner as to redress prior racial segregation of schools, or to overcome the effects of residential segregation on local school demographics, was never viewed by either blacks or whites as a preferred way to achieving racial desegregation of the public schools. It is a disruptive, jury-rigged solution that is not ideal.

I was less troubled by Biden’s initial response than his subsequent response. His initial response that he “wasn’t prepared for the person coming at me the way she came at – she knew Beau, she knows me.” What Biden was trying to say was that anyone who knew him knows that he’s not a racist. He just didn’t articulate it very well or very convincingly.

On the Saturday after the second debate, Biden said the following in an effort to defuse attacks on his 40-year record on school busing and other issues: “Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was. I regret it,” he said. “And I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception they may have caused anybody.”

Biden did not disavow his past opposition to federally mandated school busing for desegregation. Instead, he pushed back against what he said were misrepresentations of his record, and accused opponents of both parties of trying to “weaponize my record and use it against me.”

“When I talk about the Obama years, my opponents talk about it like it was ancient history,” Biden said. “When others talk about something in the 1970s they talk about it like it was yesterday. Strange, isn’t it?”

What’s strange was Biden response. Instead of focusing on the past, he should be pivoting and discussing how appalled he is that millions of black students in America still can not find a first-rate school in their neighborhood and how the continued disparity in education performance between black and white students is shocking. He should have decried the disparity, indicated that it was disgraceful and vowed to do everything within his power close the gap in education opportunity in America. More specifically, he should have presented a plan that would address the root causes of segregation like housing discrimination.

It appears that Joe Biden is not as racially sensitive as one would have hoped based on his very long career in government and his eight years as Vice President under the nation’s first African-American President. Had he been more sensitive he would realized from the get go that using an example of his working with segregationist senators in his early days in the U.S. Senate, to make the case that he has the ability to forge consensus, is offensive to many Americans. This concerns me.

While America has come a long way in recent years on some racial issues during Joe Biden’s almost 50 year career in government, there are still very severe racial divides in America. And we have a President who is quite willing to exploit them for his political advantage. The Democratic Party desperately needs a candidate who can bridge the racial divide and appeal to voters in the Rust Belt and/or the Sun Belt.

Is Joe Biden or Kamala Harris the right candidate in 2020? I’m not sure. I will be listening to both of them and evaluating whether they can thread the needle and craft a message that will appeal to traditional white working-class voters in the Rust Belt (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio) and growing nonwhite voters in the Sun Belt (Arizona, Florida and North Carolinas).

My suspicion is that a powerful progressive west coast bi-racial woman is probably not a reassuring profile for rust belt voters who are cooling on Trump, but then again I didn’t see Harris inflecting a potentially lethal blow to the inevitability of the Biden candidacy. Kamala Harris could be the right candidate for the Sun Belt, if she can spark high turnout among those states’ large and growing nonwhite voters, which is expected to comprise a majority of these state’s population under 30 by 2020.

Over the next three months, prior to the third Democratic debate, the enormous field of Democratic candidates will be winnowed down considerably (to those who secure at least 2% of the vote in three polls and have received donations from 130,000 donors). I expect Kamala Harris and Joe Biden to be among the finalists for the nomination.