Vice President Joe Biden sparked controversy for telling an audience in southern Virginia that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanted to put them “back in chains,” by deregulating Wall Street.
Romney criticized Biden, saying the remarks were part of a pattern of “reckless” comments by the Obama campaign and his surrogates “that disgrace the office of the presidency.”
Biden’s comments drew a rebuke from conservative media and leaders as well as from L. Douglas Wilder, a former Democratic governor of Virginia and Artur Davis a former Democratic congressman from Alabama who is now a Republican.
Wilder and Davis, who are both African Americans, said Biden’s remarks were inappropriate appeals to race.
“Biden’s remarks brought race into the campaign and they were not necessary,” said Wilder, who served as governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994 and later served as Richmond’s mayor.
Others including President Barack Obama, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, said the remarks were not appeals to race.
The evidence suggests that Biden’s remarks were not an appeal to race and not an allusion to slavery.
Biden was not speaking to audience composed of only African Americans or at an African American-sponsored event. His comments were made during a speech to a racially mixed crowd of nearly 900 at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
Biden was not speaking about civil rights or some other issue commonly associated with African Americans. He was speaking about Wall Street.
“Romney … said in the first 100 days he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules — unchain Wall Street,” Biden. “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains.”
Obama defended Biden in an interview with People magazine. The president said Biden meant consumers would be worse off if Republicans were able to eliminate new restraints on financial institutions.
“In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that,” Obama said.
Based on the audience Biden was addressing and the context of the speech, Obama is right to conclude that the vice president was not making a racial appeal.
At their worst, Biden’s remarks were poorly phrased.
He conceded he meant to use different words. He said he meant to say “shackle” to counter Republicans who say they want to unshackle Wall Street.
The irony of the so-called controversy is that there have been clearly inappropriate appeals to race and loaded code words that have largely gone unchallenged.
During the primary campaign, Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum accused Obama of actively seeking to put more people on food stamps rather than proposing policies that would help create more jobs.
Gingrich frequently referred to Obama as the “food stamp” president.
Journalist Juan Williams questioned Gingrich on his race-baiting remarks during a presidential debate.
Romney recently accused Obama of seeking to undermine welfare reform legislation passed in the 1990s.
Conservative media repeatedly bring up the New Black Panther Party, as if the small fringe group has any relevance to the presidential race.
Beyond real or perceived racial remarks there are serious issues of concern where race and ethnicity is a factor. Many African-American and Hispanic voters see efforts to clamp down on voter fraud such as new photo ID laws and purging non-citizens from the voter rolls really efforts by Republicans to suppress votes.
The U.S. Justice Department is looking into voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and suing Florida over the purge.
These are the real issues that voters should be outraged about.