Commentary: Does Biden take black voters for granted? His latest gaffe makes it seem that way
AP

Commentary: Does Biden take black voters for granted? His latest gaffe makes it seem that way

{{featured_button_text}}
A screengrab of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appearing on Now This News to lay out his general election economic argument, Wilmington, Del., on May 8, 2020.

A screengrab of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appearing on Now This News to lay out his general election economic argument, Wilmington, Del., on May 8, 2020. (Brian Cahn/Zuma Press/TNS)

If Joe Biden is counting on African American votes to win the White House in November, he may want to reboot his outreach strategy.

During a radio interview Friday morning with Charlamagne tha God on the nationally syndicated, "The Breakfast Club," Biden said that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."

It took a handful of nanoseconds for the predictable response.

Here's a thought for the Biden campaign committee: bumper stickers that say, "Win this one for the Gaffer!"

Biden may have thought he was joking or being edgy, but a white Democratic politician questioning the racial identity of African American voters who are less than enthused about his campaign raises significant issues.

First, the presumption that black voters have no other choice - him or President Donald Trump - in the November election is just the kind of marginalization by the Democratic Party that black voters have stewed about for years. They can also stay home, or vote for neither of the above.

Second, Biden, who had a long career in the U.S. Senate, also has a mixed record when it comes to African Americans, particularly his role in passing stringent anti-crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s that have disrupted black families and communities amid a frenzy of incarceration arising in part from over-policing of African American neighborhoods.

Those are grounds for skepticism, regardless of whom Biden is running against. And cavalierly dismissing those who might ask hard questions about whether Biden deserves the support of African American voters is not a winning strategy.

Hillary Clinton saw the results of taking African American votes for granted in 2016, when turnout by black voters decreased for the first presidential election since 1996 - Bill Clinton's reelection - in a campaign that drew a record number of people to the polls, according to the Pew Research Center.

This time out, support - and votes - from African Americans could be crucial in turning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which Trump won by slight margins (aided by vote suppression in Wisconsin) from the Trump column to the Biden column.

Low turnout among African American voters also was a drag on Clinton in Florida, Iowa and Ohio, which Trump would likely have won anyway because of high turnout among his base support of white, non-college-educated voters.

But that was then and this is now, and driving African American turnout in those states could make a difference as Trump's star has tarnished in the eyes of some of those voters, particularly older ones.

Biden's gaffe Friday probably wasn't a fatal political faux pas by the former vice president, whose middle initial could stand for "Ruh-roh!" But it revealed a troubling undercurrent. The Democrats may have another standard-bearer who takes black voters for granted because the other candidate would be worse on issues that have significant impacts on African American families and communities.

But voters don't have a binary choice, as Clinton learned. The neither-of-the-above option can be appealing for people who don't see voting against someone sufficient motivation to vote at all.

And questioning the racial identity of some black voters because they might be considering Trump didn't help Biden's cause.

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

0
0
0
0
0

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

  • Updated

Like a lot of other people, I spent a portion of my weekend adorning gravestones with flowers. Every cemetery that I visited had a colorful ar…

Spring is a wonderful time of the year! After a long, cold winter, it is always so wonderful to be able to get outside again and start working…

There have been many words to describe this time, but perhaps the one I hear most often is “uncertain.” And I don’t disagree that there is a l…

  • Updated

In this time of social distancing, there is one group of the population that is definitely not taking the idea to heart. I can hear the wheels…

It's clear from Jared Kushner's sticky little fingerprints and crayon scratchings all over the country's domestic and foreign policy that he's President Donald Trump's right-hand man. Why else would Trump put him in charge of Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and the 2020 campaign all at the same time? Kushner follows in a long line of such advisers tracing back to Alexander Hamilton ...

My junior and senior years in high school were 1968 and 1969; five decades later, I can still remember some of the main events of that era: the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the bombing of Cambodia, the Apollo 8 spaceflight that orbited the moon, and Woodstock, which I pleaded with my parents to let me attend. (They said no.) In my personal life, I remember ...

  • Updated

was bittersweet for me. I was haunted by the image of an unarmed black man wearing a white T-shirt and khaki shorts, jogging down the road toward two armed white men, one with a shotgun and the other with a .357 Magnum. Eight years before, I was similarly traumatized by the death of an unarmed black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt with candy, soda and a cellphone in hand. As ...

In July 2001, a 28-year-old woman named Lori Klausutis fell and hit her head on a desk at work in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. She was found dead the next morning. The medical examiner concluded that there was no foul play, and it later turned out that Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition. There would be no reason today to publicly discuss this tragic accident, but for the fact that ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News