A "CLEAN" BILL OF HEALTH: BIDEN DECLARED TOO ARTICULATE BY WHITE GUYS. Here in Washington we have this marvelous thing called C-SPAN Radio, which on Sundays airs all of the big political TV talk shows back to back, allowing one to do one's laundry, cook a duck or practice one's ukulele with the sound of self-important white men droning in the background. And so it is that I spend my Sundays. (Don't cry for me, Argentina...)
Senator Joe Biden's "unfortunate" comments last week about the presidential candidate from Illinois, Sen. Barack Obama (last discussed here by Garance) proved to have legs, leaving a lot of white guys, and the occasional white gal (occasional is all we gals are allowed in world of punditry) to roll their eyes at Biden's apparent eccentric-uncle act, and then assert that the senator from Delaware is not a racist.
Herein lies the problem: In the American media, if you say about an African-American something based on racial stereotypes that is not overtly malicious, but simply condescending, you're given a pass because you're neither burning a cross nor using the N-word. And that's precisely the recipe for the kind of racism that lingers even in light of the raft of laws passed that declare black people to be equal to all other citizens. This is the kind of prejudice embedded in the marrow of most white people (myself included), and the most difficult to excise.
The one person to really get this right Sunday in TV-land -- in a way so complete as to include gender along with race -- was Juan Williams, the NPR correspondent and Fox News Sunday (FNS) regular. From the FNS roundtable:
I think the difficulty that Biden had is you've got a woman, Hillary Clinton, and a black man, Barack Obama, as the two top leading [Democratic presidential] candidates. I don't think that white males are accustomed to talking about people in a way that's effective without getting into race and gender, and gender on military issues. It's a difficult moment in American politics.
So, no, Biden isn't a racist in the KKK sense of the word. As Donna Brazile was quick to point out on ABC's "This Week," Biden has one of the best civil rights voting records in the Senate. But to simply chalk up the senator's revealing moment to a "gaffe" or a "slip" is to render Biden, whose intelligence many were quick to point out, little more than a camp figure -- camp being a sensibility, as defined by Susan Sontag, that offers a content-neutral appreciation of things that are over the top. And the senator from Delaware is nothing if not an over-the-top representation of the garrulous hail-fellow-well-met school of politics. The silver lining in all this? Camp has evidently survived the earnestness of the 21st-century gay rights movement. It's just gone into the hands of the straight people.
--Adele M. Stan