Monday, February 05, 2007

Bad Things Happen When Your Mute Button Is Broken

Republican pollster Frank Luntz has released a new book called, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” Unfortunately, no one in presidential contender Joe Biden’s camp got the book in front of their man in time because Biden has already damaged, if not derailed, his bid for the White House. Luntz’s book is selling well since it debuted at the beginning of the year, now sitting in the top 100 on Amazon, although one could take issue with the title. Frankly, in politics today, it definitively is a matter of what one says, because everyone is listening, or filming, as George Allen found out, and Joe Biden once again forgot to turn on his verbal filter.

Back in July of 2006, Biden made the first of what could be called racial gaffes while pressing the flesh in New Hampshire. The C-Span series, “Road to the White House,” was filming as Biden was speaking with a man in the audience about his support in the Indian-American community. “I've had a great relationship,” Biden said. “In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.”

We can only wish you were joking, Joe. If someone's ten and eleven year old sons were watching an episode of “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” on television, you might have heard a similar comment delivered as one of many off-color jokes from a cartoon character, but to have something so ridiculously stereotypical come out of the mouth of a man who has been in the senate since 1973 is, if not shocking, disappointing. A Biden spokeswoman tried to clean it up. “The point Senator Biden was making is that there has been a vibrant Indian-American community in Delaware for decades,” said Margaret Aitken. “It has primarily been made up of engineers, scientists and physicians, but more recently, middle-class families are moving into Delaware and purchasing family-run small businesses.”

Maybe Biden’s spokeswoman needs to be the one running for president. What was most interesting was the look on Biden’s face as he spoke those unfortunate sentences. He was looking directly, intently, at the man, and Biden seemed as if he really believed what he was saying. He was smiling broadly and you could almost sense that Biden felt he was giving someone a kernel of information that he, and only he, just happened upon. Could he really be that out of touch?

While Biden was able to recover from his mistake at that moment, it’s unlikely he’s going to be as successful this time around as it pertains to comments he recently made about his colleague, Barack Obama. On the day he announced his candidacy for president, Biden said of Obama, “I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a story-book, man.” In a matter of ten seconds, Biden insulted Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and African-Americans at large.

Again, could he really be this dense? Biden just hit the superfecta. Did he mean to say that Chisholm, Jackson, Sharpton and Braun were not “articulate, bright and clean,” like Obama? Are Jackson and Sharpton not as “nice-looking” as Obama? What does Biden mean by “mainstream?” One definition of mainstream is, “belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.” Were Chisholm, Jackson, Sharpton and Braun that far out of the mainstream? Were they planning the overthrow of the government and forget to tell us?

For his part, Obama was slow to react to the backhanded compliment. At first, he told the press that Biden’s comments didn’t upset him. A day later, after surely hearing from those in the African-American community that his tepid response was unacceptable, Obama released a statement saying that Biden’s words were “historically inaccurate.” It’s another example of the difficulty facing Obama as he tries to build political support among African-American voters while remaining attractive to White voters.

Biden is going to have difficulty building support anywhere in his Party now. He’ll still likely remain in the race, but it was clear from the beginning that his candidacy was a long shot, and it’s been made even longer now. Many of Biden’s friends and colleagues have come to his defense and said, in no uncertain terms, that Biden is not a racist, but all Biden needs to do is remember what happened to former Virginia Senator George Allen when his verbal slip helped to get him kicked out of his senate seat. After a while, the stench just starts to get harder to ignore.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.” Twice now, the words of Joe Biden have betrayed him. At what point do people not begin to believe that those words are not actually what he truly believes?


Blogger afrochick73 said...

I think that Rey Thomas is dead-on here with what he says about Sen. Biden. You would think that Joe would have learned by now, but apparently he enjoys the taste that his foot leaves in his mouth.

Also, with regard to Sen. Obama's original statement that Sen. Biden's comments didn't offend him, I think that there are many African-Americans who may have had the same response. As sad as it may seem, I know that within my circle of friends not many of us are surprised by these kinds of things anymore. Sen. Biden gave voice to the exact thing that many others were thinking. Do we get annoyed? Of course we do, because we know just how inaccurate (and flat out wrong) Joe is and we wait to see how long it will take the backlash to come and from whom. But mostly we just shake our heads because we know that Sen. Biden, and all of those like him, just don't get it . . . and they probably never will.

8:49 AM  

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