By Wornie Reed
In politics, African Americans are often asked to take the shadow for the substance. They are led to believe impressions over actions and appearance over facts. Practitioners of this art play friendly with black folks, while at the same time they push policies that are detrimental to blacks.
Recent attention to Joe Biden’s record reveals him to be a long-time practitioner of this deceit. Let’s be clear. The current issue concerning Biden is not that he got along with arch-segregationists that he claimed to disagree with, but that he worked with these people to enact policies that were known to be against the best interests of African Americans.
For example, during the 1970s Biden not only flipped from favoring to opposing federally mandated busing which was designed to desegregate public schools, he also supported an anti-busing amendment by Senator Robert Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Delighted by Biden’s shift to supporting segregation, Senator Jessie Helms, an ardent segregationist, welcomed him “to the ranks of the enlightened.”
During the post-1960s civil rights era, there have been many instances of this shadow over substance game, but three stand out.
The first was by former President Jimmy Carter. I admire Carter for all the good and great things he has done. But as a candidate and president, not so much.
Carter’s use of shadow was with the memory and renown of Martin Luther King, Jr. As governor of Georgia, he hung King’s picture in the Capitol, a notable act, but did nothing that materially affected the everyday lives of African Americans.
During the 1976 presidential campaign, Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young let themselves be used as presumable surrogates for the deceased Martin Luther King Jr. They were heavily involved in Carter’s campaign, symbolically associating Carter with the civil rights movement, something that Martin Luther King was unlikely to have done, especially with Carter opposing critical issues for the civil rights movement at the time — full employment and fair and integrated housing.
During his presidential campaign in 1976, Carter opposed the Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill until it was so watered down as to have little effect. Further, during the campaign, and quite openly, Carter expressed his support for segregated housing. He stated this as a community’s right to have “ethnic purity.”
The next and probably the greatest shadow over substance practitioner was Bill Clinton. He cast a big shadow. Clinton knew the words to the hymns, he played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, he hugged people, and he was friendly to lots of black folks.
However, as president, his so-called welfare reform ended the government’s 60-year commitment to the direct provision of aid to poor people.
With his 1994 $30 billion crime bill — enacted as the crime rate was decreasing — Bill Clinton caused the most substantial increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. And Clinton pointedly refused to follow the request of the Federal Sentencing Commission to revamp the Federal Sentencing Act, which they agreed was racially discriminatory.
Biden had helped set the stage for Clinton by working with Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond to produce legislation in 1986 and 1988 that created the absurdly large disparities in sentences for crack and powder cocaine. This may have been one of the first steps in creating our current mass incarceration problem.
While doing all his liberal-like shadow dancing, Joe Biden collaborated with Bill Clinton and others to create the Democratic Leadership Council, which had the specific purpose of taking control of the Democratic Party away from leading liberals.
Biden gets major points for being the black president’s partner as running mate and then vice-president. This and his perennial argument about his support of the working class apparently overshadow his many racist transgressions.
How do we guard against being taken in as I have described? One way is to remember that saying of Saint Basil, “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.”
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