World

Biden’s ‘Friend’ Is the Enemy

I don’t know Joe Biden personally. I’ve never met the man.

However, I assume that he is a good and decent person. And I can certainly appreciate the fact that he and the Democrats were the only thing standing between us and the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020, an event that could well have heralded the desolation of the country, just as they are the only guard preventing Trump’s Republican Party from retaking Congress in the midterms and the White House in 2024.

In a two-party system in which one party has gone completely off the rails, Biden and the Democrats are the only option, the only chance for normalcy, sanity and truth. They are the only hope democracy has in this country.

And yet Biden keeps saying and doing things that are absolutely infuriating — not to mention alienating.

Last week at the National Prayer Breakfast, Biden said this of the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell:

“Mitch, I don’t want to hurt your reputation, but we really are friends. And that is not an epiphany we’re having here at the moment. We’ve always — you’ve always done exactly what you’ve said. You’re a man of word — of your word, and you’re a man of honor. Thank you for being my friend.”

Really?!

McConnell is a man of his word who’s always done exactly what he’s said? Are you kidding me?!

In 2013, when Harry Reid and Democrats eliminated the filibuster on most presidential appointments — but not Supreme Court picks — McConnell slammed the move as “a sad day in the history of the Senate” and a Democratic power grab.

But then when Trump was elected and nominated Neil Gorsuch, McConnell led Republicans to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominees. This allowed Trump to push through three justices, one accused of sexual assault.

The last of those justices, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed to the court on a near party-line vote less than 10 days before a presidential election, even though when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland months before an election, McConnell wouldn’t even hold a vote on the nomination.

He tried to rationalize his obstruction, saying: “All we are doing is following the longstanding tradition of not fulfilling a nomination in the middle of a presidential year.”

But as the Brookings Institution has pointed out, there was no such tradition. It was a lie designed to prevent Obama from confirming the man he wanted for the court. That “longstanding tradition” meant nothing when Trump was doing the appointing.

This has all led to a conservative Supreme Court that is not only threatening Roe v Wade, but is now also threatening affirmative action.

At the same time, McConnell has led his party to block voting rights legislation as racialized voter suppression bills sweep the country.

So, how can Biden maintain that McConnell is an honest, honorable friend?

It seems that Biden suffers from the same blind spot as other white liberal leaders throughout history: looking past the oppressive impulses of other white men to see kinship and commonality. Where the oppressed see an existential threat, men like Biden only seem to see a disagreement among decent men on a political issue. They see them as simply on the “other side” rather than “other than.”

It is akin to Abraham Lincoln trying to appeal to Southern slavers in his first Inaugural Address, saying, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Earlier in that address Lincoln had thrown the slavers a bone by defending the fugitive slave laws, for which Frederick Douglass blasted him as an “excellent slave hound.”

Even Lyndon B. Johnson — who signed the Civil Right Act — had a long friendship with astrict racial segregationist, Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, who considered Black people an “inferior race” and who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1967 schemed unsuccessfully to sink the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.

This happens to be the same Eastland who caused Biden headaches during the primaries when he bragged about working with the Mississippi senator to get things done, back when the Senate was an institution ruled by unspoken rules of “civility.”

As Biden explained:

“Even in the days when I got there, the Democratic Party still had seven or eight old-fashioned Democratic segregationists. You’d get up and you’d argue like the devil with them. Then you’d go down and have lunch or dinner together.”

But this version of politics is an extension of the Looney Tunes cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, where they are enemies on the clock but are friends off the clock, and is offensive to the people whose very lives are at stake. And yet Biden continues to proclaim his affections for those supporting oppression.

These bonds across bigotry smack of the insecurity of allies. They smack of a privilege of which only white men can boast, because the threat is almost always aimed away for them and at others.

When it comes to the issue of power and politics, the Bidens and McConnells of the world maintain their own affinity group.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and Instagram.

Back to top button