Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference in Washington, on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg News
Joe Biden has yet to join the 2020 presidential race, but the former vice president is already getting the Hillary Clinton treatment from liberals who seem more interested in ideological purity tests than beating Donald Trump.
In 2016 the left took Mrs. Clinton to task for her husband’s support of bipartisan efforts in the 1990s to reform welfare and stem the tide of crime. It was an attempt to repudiate the former first lady retroactively for having voiced utterly mainstream views on race and social policy, and she had nothing to apologize for on either front. Between 1995 and 2000, welfare rolls declined by more than 50% nationwide, and by the end of the 1990s black poverty, black child poverty and poverty in female-headed families were at their lowest levels on record.
Similarly, the 1994 crime bill passed the Senate 95-4, and supporters included Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the upper chamber’s only black member at the time. Liberals have criticized the legislation in hindsight for increasing black incarceration rates. But blacks are far more likely than whites to be victims of violent crimes, and between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s violent crime in the U.S. declined by more than a third. Thousands of blacks are alive today who otherwise wouldn’t be had homicides rates continued at the levels of the early 1990s.
Now it’s Mr. Biden’s turn to be put through the same ideological wringer. Last week the Washington Post rehashed his forceful denunciations of compulsory school busing as a first-term senator from Delaware in the 1970s. “The new integration plans being offered are really just quota systems to assure a certain number of blacks, Chicanos or whatever in each school,” he told a newspaper in 1975. “What it says is, ‘In order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son.’ That’s racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?”
The Post speculates that these past statements could hurt a Biden candidacy among blacks in general and social activists in particular, but through a spokesman Mr. Biden told the paper that he still believes he was right to oppose busing and stands by the comments. And why not? Black people—the supposed beneficiaries of busing—also opposed it. Yes, civil-rights groups like the NAACP and other elites pushed these schemes on the poor—while sending their own kids to private schools—but a majority of blacks consistently objected to a policy that used their children like guinea pigs in a lab experiment to achieve more racial parity. Besides, assigning children to schools by their race caused all manner of unnecessary racial strife, including violent protests in places like Boston.
Like Mr. Biden, blacks wanted quality local schools more than they wanted white classmates, and liberals who insist that you can’t have one without the other are conveniently ignoring a long history of successful black schools in the U.S. The latest examples are today’s high-performing inner-city charter schools, which are full of black and brown low-income students who regularly outscore wealthy suburban kids on standardized exams and undermine the idea that racially mixed classrooms ought to be a priority for policy makers.
Given the recent chatter among Democrats about slavery reparations, it’s worth noting that Mr. Biden’s comments in 1975 went well beyond school integration. “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,’ ” he said. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
Who knows if Mr. Biden will be able to stand by those comments as well, but it’s easy to see them going over well in large swaths of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states that swung from Barack Obama to Donald Trump in 2016. And polling suggests that opposition to racial preferences wouldn’t necessarily hurt him with blacks or any other group. A Pew Research Center survey released last month found that 73% of Americans—including 78% of whites, 62% of blacks, 65% of Hispanics and 59% of Asians—believe that race should play no role in university admissions.
My free advice: Hang tough, Joe.
Jason Riley is a member of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.