Biden doesn't deserve to be given the race card

Whatever happened to fairness?

Despite his nearly 50 years of public service, Joe Biden is not owed the Democratic nomination. But, after a recent flap over race, the former vice president is owed a big apology.

Democrats are tangled up in racial politics again. They play the race card so often it's a wonder there are any left in the deck.

It's never fun for someone to publicly accuse you of being racially insensitive, or even merely behind the times on race. You try to defend yourself, but then you get slammed for sounding defensive. You can't win. And the experience is especially unpleasant if the whole thing is a bum rap.

Now factor in that the attack has been led by - of all people - a former prosecutor who herself as a lot of explaining to do to liberals and progressives who are concerned with police violence, prosecutorial misconduct, and a corrupt criminal justice system. That is especially galling.

Finally, imagine having to endure all this from a party that is in your debt because your presence on the Democratic ticket in 2008 reassured working-class whites in crucial states and helped set the stage for the election of the nation's first black president - someone who you served faithfully for eight years as vice president.

Over the decades, Biden has - on matters of race - been right more often than he has been wrong. That's the truth.

Therefore, he deserved better than to find himself on the business end of an unfair racial attack by California Sen. Kamala Harris in the second Democratic debate over his opposition to forced busing in the 1970s. This was hardly an outlier position back then, given that the idea of busing children across town in all directions was unpopular with blacks and whites alike.

Harris has some nerve. As a black former prosecutor who - according to some liberal advocates for criminal-justice reform - did African American defendants few favors as she climbed the political ladder, she is poorly cast as a civil rights champion. While serving as San Francisco district attorney and later as California attorney general, she was not the "progressive prosecutor" that she makes herself out to be. In fact, she directly contributed to the phenomenon of mass incarceration.

That's the racial issue - along with police violence - that African Americans care about today. Not busing, but a criminal justice system that - due in large part to the 1994 crime bill, which Biden and other Democrats supported - locks up a disproportionate share of African Americans and Latinos.

Is this any way to treat a front-runner? A recent Quinnipiac poll found that Biden led the Democratic field with 22%, with Harris close behind at 20%. Biden is down 8 percentage points from last month, while Harris is up by an impressive 13.

Not for nothing, but Biden also leads those surveys that ask which candidate is most likely to defeat President Donald Trump. The Quinnipiac poll also found that, when asked who could beat Trump, 42% of Democrats chose Biden while only 14% picked Harris.

Biden's perceived electability is about more than name recognition. It's because those white voters put off by "identity politics" can more readily identify with a seasoned white male like Biden.

In fact, that is how the former senator from Delaware wound up on the ticket in 2008. Harris seems to have forgotten that.

The California senator recently told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that, if the Southern segregationists whom Biden had expressed pride in working with had carried the day, Barack Obama would never have been the presidential nominee and had the chance to "appoint" Biden as vice president.

Someone needs a civics lesson. Biden wasn't appointed. He was elected - after he was selected by Obama as his running mate. Like all running mates, Biden deserves partial credit for the electoral victory that put Obama in the Oval Office.

Democrats should show Biden respect. And some gratitude would also be nice. In 2008 - without the pride of Scranton, Pennsylvania, on the ticket - it's unlikely that white working class "lunch bucket" voters would have put four vital industrial states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin) in the Democratic column.

Don't hold your breath. Race-baiting is now standard operating procedure in the Democratic Party. And the fact that, now and then, innocent people get caught up in its web apparently is of no concern to its leaders.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is

© 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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