To re-elect President Donald Trump over Democratic hopeful Joe Biden in November, despite the former vice president’s penchant for cringe-worthy remarks, would be akin to “torturing the country.”
That’s the view of Michael Christian, a retired banker in northern Virginia who closely follows politics after Biden set afire social media and political talk last week by saying on a radio show that African Americans “ain’t black” if they choose Trump.
“It all reeked of privilege,” Christian, 60, said, “but I understand his point. We don’t owe Joe Biden our vote; he has to be worthy of it. And I think he is. While I agree with him in the sense that I don’t understand a black person—or any person—who could support Trump, I also know that Biden can’t say that. Not just because he’s the nominee and because we’re betting everything on him to beat Trump, who is torturing the country, but because it’s not his place to determine who’s black and who’s not.”
“His comments have to be about why we should vote for him,” Christian said. “Not about what he thinks of us not voting for him.”
Biden made the comment at the end of an interview that aired last Friday with Charlamagne Tha God on “The Breakfast Club,” a nationally syndicated radio show.
“You got more questions?” Biden said. “I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain’t black."
Biden apologized for his remarks later that day, saying on a call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce that he “shouldn't have been so cavalier.”
“No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background,” he said. “I know that the comments have come off like I was taking the African American folks for granted ... but nothing could be further from the truth. I've never ever done that, and I've earned it every time I've run. I was making the point that I have never taken a vote for granted."
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, whose support for Biden is largely credited with helping him win the state’s Democratic primary on Feb. 29, said in an interview with ABC on Tuesday that he “cringed” when he heard Biden’s comments.
In most circles, it seems Biden’s apology has been accepted. He was out of line, the general view seems to be, but not so much that he lost support among African Americans. But the fact that he made the comments in the first place worries some voters.
“He needs to stick to the issues; he’s trying too hard,” said Karen Young, owner of Gourmee’ Bar custom lollipops in Los Angeles. “The goal is to end this reign of corruption and horror in the White House. Biden can do that by not messing up with comments like that. He can win by standing on his record—even if it’s shaky in some spots—and let Trump set himself on fire.”
Young said that Biden’s point was “What legitimate reason do we have, as black people to support someone who obviously disrespects the first black president every chance he gets, blames him for everything, dismantles his policies that help the underserved and won’t even host President Obama’s portrait reveal?”
Biden’s remarks simmered over the extended Memorial Day weekend, with politicians and celebrities adding their views. Trump also joined in on Twitter.
“The vice president shouldn’t have said it,” Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said during a television interview. “But I really think the gall and the nerve of President Trump to try to use this in his campaign, he who has since Day One done everything in his power, supported by his enablers, to divide this country, particularly along racial lines ... “
“Look, let’s talk about race because we definitely need to, we see it in housing, we see it in voting rights, we see it in health care, we see it in education. Mr. President, let's have a serious conversation about race in America and how about working for all people that you are supposed to represent, not just the privileged few,” Demings, who is being vetted as a potential running mate for Biden, said.
Charlamagne Tha God said the backlash over Biden’s statements were inconsequential to his concerns.
“I don’t even care about the words,” he told MSNBC’s “AM Joy” on Sunday, “and the lip service and the apology is cool. But the best apology is actually a black agenda. They got to make some real policy commitments to black people.”
Theron Jones, a dentist in Atlanta, said he was not surprised by Biden’s remarks.
“Joe Biden has a history of speaking off the cuff when it comes to African American voters,” Jones said. “He has a casualness about him when it comes to us that is both refreshing and frustrating because it takes us for granted in both instances.”
“As an older white man, he is not the arbiter of what is and what is not black, no matter how familiar he may be with the community,” Jones said. “It was a gaffe that is symbolic of a larger issue with the Democratic Party. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that it is assumed that we would vote for the Democratic Party because it’s a clear choice between the two parties. Regardless of his poor choice of verbiage, the Democratic Party offers a clear choice to Trump.”
That theme resounded, even amid the criticism. And for Young, something else bothered her.
“I take more issue with Charlemagne thinking we should have a black vice president,” Young said. “Although neither comment offended me, as I've lived 52 years listening to people try to define what being black is. It's part of the American experience. Both of them were assuming they knew what black people should want.”
“I don't want a black VP simply because he/should be black,” she said. “I'd like to see either Stacy Adams or Elizabeth Warren because their history is with the poor and disenfranchised, which are unfortunately two categories that black people are a part of.”
In the same interview on “The Breakfast Club,” Biden also made the NAACP cringe when he said it had endorsed him in the past. Derrick Johnson, the group’s president and CEO, responded, “We want to clarify that the NAACP is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates for political office at any level.”
Jones said that moving forward, the goal should be about changing presidents.
“At this point we must keep our eye on the prize and not miss out on a good opportunity looking for a perfect candidate,” he said.
“We demand better during the fall campaign and after the election,” he said, adding that Biden’s comment was “partly true in the sense that we can’t possibly vote for Trump during the current situation of black men in America under attack, much of it encouraged by Trump himself.”
“Even with the gaffe machine that is Biden, being taken for granted pales in comparison to being killed in the streets by a mob encouraged by Trump,” Jones said. “Easy choice.”