Joe Biden clarifies

Earlier today, as John noted, Joe Biden said the following to a predominantly black audience in Danville, Virginia:

We got a real clear picture of what they all value. Every Republican’s voted for it. Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they’re proposing. Romney wants to let the — he said in the first hundred days he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, ‘unchain Wall Street.’ They’re going to put y’all back in chains.

Biden was telling his black audience that a Romney-Ryan administration would put the people to whom he was speaking (“y’all”), i.e., black people, back in chains. What other meaning could his statement possibly carry?

To be sure, the king of saying “literally” wasn’t speaking literally. Even at his most wound up, Clueless Joe doesn’t believe that Republicans want to enslave African-Americans. Biden was just using a figure of speech. But it was an extremely distasteful one in any context, and amounts to playing the race card when delivered to a black audience.

So once the Romney campaign called Biden on his gaffe, the vice president should, at a minimum, have said that, of course he doesn’t think Republicans will put anyone in chains but that their policies will work to the significant disadvantage of the middle class, the poor, etc. That is, of course, unless Biden didn’t commit a gaffe, but rather intended to play the race card.

Here is what Biden actually said:

We don’t have to imagine anymore. The details are there. Here’s what Congressman Ryan said. He said, “We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy.” The Speaker of the House said, used the word “unshackled” as well, referring to their proposals. The last time these guys unshackled the economy, to use their term, they put the middle class in shackles. That’s how we got where we are.

Nine million jobs lost. Wage stagnation. 16 trillion dollars in wealth you all lost in your home equity, in your 401Ks and your pension plans. You’re the ones that got nailed. All of America, except the very few.

And I’m told that when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Virginia, the Romney campaign put out a tweet. You know, tweets these days? Put out a tweet, went on the airwaves saying, “Biden, he’s outrageous in saying that,” I think I said instead of “unshackled,” “unchained.” “Outrageous to say that.” That’s what we had. I’m using their own words. I got a message for them. If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies and the effects of their policies on middle class America. That’s what’s outrageous.

Stripping away the Bidenese, Slow Joe was trying to say that he merely accused Republicans of (1) shackling the middle class when they unshackled the economy and (2) wanting to do so again.

But even by Biden’s standards, such an accusation would have made no sense. The middle class wasn’t “shackled” by the recession; has anyone ever confused a bad economy with being held in chains before? Nor does unshackling the economy mean that anyone will end up in chains.

Biden plainly was invoking race — it is only African-Americans who have ever been chained in this country. The vice president even put a racial exclamation point on his Danville riff by resorting to a down-home dialect.

If Biden had any decency he would, at a minimum, have walked the remark back. Instead, as Politico says, he opted to “dig in on chains.”

Similarly, if Obama had any decency, his campaign would not have stood behind Biden’s remark. But its spokesperson, Stephanie Cutter, opted to “dig in” too.

Initially, in response to Andrea Mitchell, Cutter limited herself to saying that Obama agreed with “the sentiment” of Biden’s remark. But when Mitchell pressed her, she added that Obama stands behind the words too, on the grounds that Romney wants to go back to the days of Wall Street writing its own rules.

Wall Street writes the rules, huh. Sounds just like slavery to me.

No one should be surprised by Team Obama’s position. Having played the race card against Bill and Hillary Clinton, why would Obama have any qualms about playing it against Mitt Romney?

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