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Accusing Biden Of Racism Betrays The Term’s Flaccidity

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So it turns out that former vice president and current presidential contender Joe Biden is a racist. Or he used to be a racist. Or he isn’t and never was a racist, but the way he speaks about race is racist. Or something.

His offense stems from having worked with segregationist Democrats back in the 1970s, but oddly, it isn’t the working with segregationist Democrats that is the racist part; it is how he described it, including referencing the term “boy.”

These kinds of allegations of racism, led by Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, stemming from what Biden’s detractors might describe as tone deafness is nothing new. These kinds of attacks have been leveled against Republicans for decades now. Usually these Republicans are accused of dog whistling, which is to say, saying something racist that only racists understand as racist, although obviously those calling out the dog whistle hear it, too — generally much more loudly than anyone else.

What is new is for this policing of speech about race to take aim at a major Democratic figure. The motivation here is obvious. Lets be clear, as Biden’s old boss used to say, there would be no accusations of anything had Biden not run for president or if he didn’t lead in the polls. We know this because it was ignored both times he ran for vice president. Certain of his opponents see an opportunity to ding him here, and they are taking it

At the same time, they are being very careful about it. He’s not really being accused of dog whistling, because that requires intent. Nobody, at least thus far, is arguing that Biden is saying intentionally racist things to attract voters.

But in a way this is even worse than how progressive purveyors of critical race theory attack Republicans. The attack on Biden, one that presumably is intended to imply he is not qualified to be president, is based solely on the fact that he is not using the specific modern language that the left demands.

This is a critical and crucial point. The message is that if you don’t speak exactly as progressives demand, you are crossing a line, even if the meaning of what you are saying is something they approve of and agree with. This happened again on Friday when Booker tweeted an attack on Biden for remarks about Treyvon Martin that mentioned his “hoodie,” which became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of his killing.

Surely, Booker agrees with what Biden is saying. The problem is how he said it. But this is a game with no rules, a law with no guidelines. Apparently anything that rings a bit tinny to the ear, especially the ear of a person of color, can be outright condemned with no rational explanation other than “I didn’t like the way it sounded.”

A good rule of thumb is that anytime anyone says to you, “I’m not calling you a racist, but…” they are absolutely, 100 percent calling you a racist. For what is a racist, other than someone who is engaging in racism? So if Biden’s phraseology — even without any racist intent, because progressives argue intent is irrelevant — is, shall we say, an embodiment of systemic societal racism, then Biden is engaging in racism and is a racist.

Even the shallowest dive into this scandal shows that it is simply nonsense, and not just nonsense, but nonsense of a kind that can damage reputations based on capricious notions of wrong speak. The deeper dive is worse, because it betrays the fact that progressives have conflated innocent remarks with burning crosses, the result being that burning crosses gains a glimmer of respectability.

We cannot fight the real and powerful forces of racism in this manner anymore than a fire department can fight big, deadly fires if all their energy is spent snuffing out safe fireplaces and charcoal grills.

Politically, it’s not clear what, if any, effect this is all having. Thus far, Biden has survived the slings and arrows slung at him without losing much of his lead, or support. It is possible that attacks on him have stunted his campaign’s growth and staved off the sense of inevitability, but it’s too early to really tell that.

One major risk associated with this kind of attack is that non-progressive white Democrats will see themselves in Biden. If Biden can be accused of racism for such inoffensive speech, then what chance do they have? The white Brooklyn wokester knows she can never be “really” racist because she knows she is racist in the way all white people are. That doesn’t fly over so well in Kansas or Indiana.

Stepping back from politics, to the extent that is even possible is 2019: this is a bad trend for our society. And it carries potentially devastating consequences. One is that good, decent people like Biden get smeared, but arguably worse is that white Americans, and just white Americans, become numb to accusations of racism that have merit and need to be addressed.

Whether or not this hurts Biden, or helps Booker and Harris, it is a bad way to think about race and racism, and promises to do far more harm than good.

David Marcus is the Federalist’s New York Correspondent. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.

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