Funny thing about Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware and newly minted presidential hopeful: The media herd has this habit of portraying him as sharp, cerebral, one of the U.S. Senate’s Deep Thinkers – and yet every time he opens his mouth you hold your breath, wondering whether he’ll say something he’ll instantly regret.
Biden’s latest gaffe concerned fellow senator and presidential wannabe Barack Obama, who, Biden opined, is “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and is a nice-looking guy.”
Even more instructive than Biden’s putting his foot in his mouth was the firestorm that followed – particularly the insistence by both Obama and Biden that the Rev. Al Sharpton somehow plays a commendable role in American politics. The fact that serious politicians can continually prostrate themselves before a figure like Sharpton and not pay a political price perhaps tells you everything about the present-day Democratic party that you need to know.
“I didn’t take Senator Biden’s comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate,” said Obama in a statement released to the media. “African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.”
(Sharpton may or may not have given “voice to many important issues” in his 2004 run for president, but voters – including black voters – were clearly underwhelmed. In South Carolina, for example, where nearly half the voters are African- American, Sharpton pulled in just 10 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, finishing well behind John Edwards and John Kerry.)
Appearing on Sharpton’s radio program at the height of the controversy over his Obama remarks, Biden went into full bended-knee mode – as the Associated Press put it, “lavishing praise on Sharpton, saying he and Jackson were the most articulate people in the country.”
Biden also assured Sharpton of his “overwhelming respect” for the reverend’s accomplishments.
Biden and Obama are hardly the first mainstream Democrats to elevate Sharpton from race-baiting rabble-rouser to esteemed statesman. Seven, eight years ago, New York pols like Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Eliot Engel and the truly insufferable Mark Green already were making pilgrimages to Harlem to kiss Sharpton’s ring.
None of them, however, has ever quite equaled Edward Kennedy’s tribute to Sharpton a few years back. “Al Sharpton,” the Massachusetts senator bellowed at a Congressional Black Caucus event, “has brought a new energy, a new insight in the issues that are facing this country…. [H]e is educating America about what this country is really about and what it needs to do and what its future should be….We are a better country because Al Sharpton is in the mix and on the list and trying to make an important difference in our nation.”
The Al Sharpton to whom Democrats spend an inordinate time paying obeisance is, of course, the same Al Sharpton who in the late 1980’s, along with his cohorts Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, orchestrated the drawn-out, painful and racially charged Tawana Brawley circus.
The same Al Sharpton who at the time of the 1991 Crown Heights riots called the Jews of that neighborhood “diamond merchants” and ranted, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”
He’s the very same Al Sharpton who referred to a Jewish merchant being picketed by black protesters in Harlem as “some white interloper” not long before one of the protestors went into the store, shot three whites and a Pakistani and then set fire to the establishment; among the dead were five Hispanics and a black security guard the protestors had taunted as a “cracker lover.”
And he’s the same Al Sharpton who, as Bill Crawford reminds us in his book Democrats Do the Dumbest Things, raised the level of public discourse in 1994 with the following tidbit (read it slowly and savor its penetrating insight, literary elegance and historical profundity):
“White folks was in caves while we was building empires. We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”
But the blowhard Ted Kennedy talks about Sharpton “educating America,” and a cartoon figure like Joe Biden assures Sharpton of his “overwhelming respect.” And they question George Bush’s intellect?