“You wrote the crime bill!”, shouted billionaire Tom Steyer from two podiums away at Joseph R. Biden Jr.
No prizes were up for anyone who guessed that Steyer would go there last night at the Democratic debate in South Carolina.
The Palmetto State churned out 60% African Americans in the Democratic primary electorate of 2016.
The temperament and taste of the group Biden refers to as the “Democratic party’s most consistent” bloc will, therefore, be measured from South Carolina.
Prior to Tuesday night, polls showed that Steyer had made previously underestimated inroads in winning hearts in South Carolina.
An NBC News/Marist poll had Biden at 27% in South Carolina and Bernie Sanders at 23%. But it was Steyer’s 15% that was interpreted, according to conventional wisdom, as a stake which could have been for Biden.
In the middle of last year, Biden led polls in South Carolina by double digits. Sanders, the farthest second, could not seem to go beyond 15%.
It is Steyer who has gained the most between then and now. The party financier turned presidential hopeful can now smell a bleeding Biden before Saturday’s primary and the highly-anticipated Super Tuesday.
Biden’s poor performances in the first three contests of the marathon nomination process would already be giving his strategists sleepless nights. This makes the decision of South Carolina’s black electorate all the more critical for Biden.
Why Biden has lost ground with black people is not something those of us outside can perfectly capture. But it does say something about how we have been educated to believe his hold on black support was impenetrable.
Mainstream media drummed into the ears of all who had a pair, saying Biden could take his relationship with former President Barack Obama to the bank.
Biden himself took the chance sometimes to call the man “Barack” on the campaign trail, subtly inviting us to assent what the media conceived.
Well, the proof of that concept is gradually being falsified. The two men and their families, for what it’s worth, may be pretty close but that is not an all-access pass for Biden at the cookout.
You cannot blame Biden personally for what the most expensive media personnel sought to drive home.
It would, however, seem to many that Biden himself forgot what African Americans had to forgive to make him their first choice for November.
Biden is the one who opposed the federal government’s attempts to desegregate schools via busing. When California senator Kamala Harris brought it up in an earlier debate, Biden defended himself by arguing a rather hollow distinction.
Biden had called busing “an asinine policy” in the 1970s. But he found common grounds with infamous racist Strom Thurmond so much so that Biden called Thurmond “one of my closest friends” in 1988.
In praise of the then-senator from South Carolina, Biden preached:
“If you had told me when I entered the United States Senate that one of the people that I’d have the closest relationship within the Senate would be Strom Thurmond, I would have told you that you were crazy. And I suspect maybe Strom would have told you, you were crazy.”
And then there was Anita Hill, a black woman whose truth Biden treated with the utmost contempt in 1991 in order to facilitate a Supreme Court seat for incidentally, a conservative black male judge.
The crime bill of 1994, what Steyer brought up, was next in the sequence of Biden’s historic commitment to undervaluing black lives. In the last three decades, the law has been the single most disastrous piece of legislation in the war against an exaggerated and oversimplified menace.
We will not even bother touching on those times Biden lied about fighting along with civil rights activists as well as the more recent curious short tale of being arrested in South Africa during a visit to see Nelson Mandela 30 years ago.
In spite of all of the above, much of which is known among older African-American folks, Biden was preferred to others. There is a running theory that suggests that Biden is preferred simply because African Americans believe white people like Biden.
In this theory, Donald Trump has become the evil to which only some specific sort of antidote is allegedly needed. The Democratic candidate in November cannot be a gamble.
To say that black people want Biden because white people do too may sound insulting but not necessarily an invalid point. In a historical context, America’s white moderates have most often than not set the pace of change.
Maybe, black people just like Biden because he is an easy-going politician – “everyday Joe”. Maybe it has nothing to do with what he meant to Obama or what white people want.
Whatever the case, Biden has taken this support for granted. Instead of trying to appeal to younger African Americans, that generation’s support has been presumed as a natural consequence of their elders’.
Sanders, by far, is preferred among young black people.
Earlier this year, he dismissed concerns that the gap he held over his competitors in 2019 had been fast closing. Biden said:
“All I know is, I am leading everybody, combined, with Black voters. Name me anybody who has remotely close to the support I have in the African-American community nationally…I’m not saying, ‘I am Black,’ but I want to tell you something. I have spent my whole career with the Black community.”
Almost boastful. But he only verbalized what he has always believed – “I can’t be challenged in this demographic”.
In the coming days and weeks, the situation looks set to get direr for the Biden campaign. A Reuters/Ipsos poll that came out earlier this week puts Sanders ahead of Biden nationally with black support.
The Hail Marys have undoubtedly started in the Biden campaign. And Biden can only blame himself for the malarkey he has pulled.