Joe Biden is a Democrat from Delaware. Since the 1960s, the Democrats have been the political party most open to African Americans. And Delaware is 20 percent black.
So why is Biden so obviously tone deaf on issues of race? Is it because he's spent too long in the U.S. Senate, a body that tends to have only one African American member at a time?
Whatever the reason, Biden's recent "praise" of Barack Obama (in which he not only called him "articulate" but "clean") shows that he is completely unqualified to be President of the United States -- not because he screwed up answering a question (count me among those tired of "gotcha" journalism), but because what he actually said betrays a complete lack of understanding of racial issues in our country.
We already have a president who doesn't get it about race; we don't need another one.
Of course, Biden is far from the only politician -- or the only white American -- who doesn't understand. It's fascinating how so many whites can patronize black people on the one hand and yet argue that all discrimination issues have been solved. Attitudes like Biden displayed are the best argument for affirmative action.
I've met a lot of white people like Biden, people who hire minorities because they think it's the right thing to do, but who assume they're getting inferior employees when they do so. That's why they say dumb things like "he's so articulate" -- they don't really believe that anyone but a white man can be competent.
Eugene Robinson summed it up well in today's Washington Post:
Articulate is really a shorthand way of describing a black person who isn't too black -- or, rather, who comports with white America's notion of how a black person should come across.What makes Obama a viable presidential candidate is not that he is "a sterling example of his race" (I trust that even Joe Biden is smart enough to recognize how racist that phrase is, even if he doesn't quite understand that he said essentially the same thing). It's not even his obvious brains or his ability to make an eloquent speech -- we've got plenty of politicians who share those skills.
Whatever the intention, expressing one's astonishment that such individuals exist is no compliment. Just come out and say it: Gee, he doesn't sound black at all.
Rather, it's that Obama has an uncanny ability to bring a fresh approach to issues on which most people have a knee-jerk reaction. Obama can support affirmative action or oppose the war in Iraq without sounding like he's saying the same thing others have been saying for years. Jesse Jackson can't do that. Neither can Ted Kennedy.
I'm not sure how Obama does it. But it's that ability that gives him the potential to be much more than the first African American who stands a good chance of being elected president. Obama could be a uniter -- the role Bush has claimed but utterly failed to achieve -- and he might be able to do it without jettisoning his principles.
That's why people are excited about his candidacy. And Joe, trust me, nobody is excited about yours.