This week, the Committee to Defend the President, a Super PAC aiming to re-elect President Donald Trump, slammed presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, claiming he is bad news for the black community. The ad notes Biden’s previous praise for segregationists and for one former member of the Ku Klux Klan, his support for the 1994 crime bill, his use of the N-word, and his comments about turning schools into a “racial jungle.” While Biden is indeed weak on race issues, and Trump may gain some ground among the black community, some of these attacks twist Biden’s words out of context and may cause the ad to backfire.
“The worst possible candidate for the Black community is Joe Biden, who has a long history of spewing racist rhetoric and promoting racist policies,” Ted Harvey, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement on the ad. “From supporting segregationists to using the ‘N’ word, Biden’s 40-year record has repeatedly failed African-Americans who have foolishly put their faith in him. On the other hand, President Trump has proven in just four short years that Black lives truly do matter.”
The committee’s ad is powerful and evocative. It begins with the statement, “Black Lives do matter, but one presidential candidate disagrees.”
“He’s partnered with segregationists, praised KKK members, wrote a bill that targeted and incarcerated black Americans, was caught on the record repeating the N-word twice, and even claimed that integrating education would turn our schools into ‘a racial jungle.’ That presidential candidate is Joe Biden,” the ad explains.
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The committee will spend more than $500,000 to run the ad nationally on Fox News Channel, statewide on North Carolina’s cable and broadcast stations, and on social media platforms across the country.
Some of these attacks are stronger than others. Biden has two massive weaknesses on racial issues — his infamous suggestion that “you ain’t black” if you can consider voting for Trump, and his “tough-on-crime” stance tracing back decades, including the 1994 crime bill. (His 1987 suggestion that the South was right in the Civil War is also deeply troubling, although that does not represent his position today.)
In 1993, Biden bragged about sponsoring every single major crime bill since 1976.
“So, I hope that this crime bill when it passes, the Biden/Hatch crime bill, as it becomes law, God willing, I hope that we will have ended once and for all this notion that as a hangover from the ’60s that somehow Democrats are weak on crime and Democratic presidents are weak on crime, and Republicans are tough on crime,” the then-senator declared.
“The truth is every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware, Joe Biden, on that bill, and has had a majority vote of the Democratic members of the United States Senate on the bill,” he added.
Biden has apologized for those remarks, but he argued that the 1994 crime bill, which introduced the federal three-strikes law, did not contribute to mass incarceration. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor who has rushed to champion drug legalization to move away from her own tough-on-crime record, disagreed.
“That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states,” she said. “And so I disagree, sadly.”
Most of the ad’s other attacks on Biden shoot wide of the mark, however. First, it is true that Biden praised segregationists, but he did so in the pursuit of working civilly with other members of Congress. The outrage over this represents an odd “cancel culture” distraction from Biden’s true liabilities.
Similarly, the reference to the KKK involves Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Byrd was indeed a KKK leader in his youth, but he rejected the Klan in 1952 and later said joining the racist hate group was “the greatest mistake I ever made.” While the Democrats’ historic connection with the Ku Klux Klan is a black mark on the party’s record, Joe Biden did not praise Robert Byrd while Byrd was a member of the Klan, but decades after Byrd had rejected the organization.
What about the N-word? Wasn’t Joe Biden caught on camera saying it twice? In 1985, the then-senator did say, “We already have a n**ger mayor, we don’t need any more n**ger bigshots.” Those were not his words or his sentiments, however. Biden was merely reading from a transcript, describing a case of invidious racial discrimination (here’s the full context of the quote).
Finally, Joe Biden did indeed warn against turning schools into a “racial jungle” in 1977, but this statement involved the controversial policy of forced busing. The then-senator warned, “unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point.”
While the statement may be racially insensitive, Biden said it during debates about forced busing, an issue that was unpopular among blacks and whites at the time, and likely remains far less popular than school choice today, as PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard reported.
Although the Committee to Defend the President ad is powerful and evocative, it twists certain Biden statements out of context and wastes its ammunition on attacks that mean less. The ad would be more effective if it focused on the crime bill and the “you ain’t black” comments. In fact, an ad noting Trump’s support for law and order against the lawless riots destroying when black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments may be even more effective.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.