Is it too late for President Barack Obama to pick up the phone, call Hillary Rodham Clinton and dump Vice President Joe Biden for playing the race card against Republican Mitt Romney?
Yep. It’s probably too late, y’all.
For years, Biden has suffered from a terrible affliction called Verpes (pronounced Vur-peez), the slang name for verbal herpes, from the Latin herpius verbulus. It comes from repeatedly taking your shoe with your foot still inside it and shoving it all the way into your mouth so that it smacks that little punching bag thing back there called an uvula.
Biden has had Verpes for years. This became apparent in 2006, when he was caught on C-SPAN greeting a supporter of Indian descent and telling him, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
He wasn’t joking then, and he wasn’t joking in Virginia on Tuesday.
Biden took a race card from the deck of Team Obama 2012, and stuck that race card to the tip of his shoe, and then slammed the whole darn thing into his mouth so hard that it must have scraped off half of the vice presidential taste buds.
“Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they’re proposing,” Biden said of the Republicans at a campaign stop in Danville, Va. “Romney wants to let the — he said in the first 100 days he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules.”
Then it happened. Biden began waving his right hand, palm up, and he adopted what he must have thought was the accent of a black minister.
“Unchain Wall Street,” said Preacher Joe, reaching to the heavens, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
Is that how people in Delaware talk? Or is it how white Democratic politicians speak when they’re using dialect to talk down to black voters? What’s next, Preacher Joe? Spirituals? Or are you going to carry around copies of “A Raisin in the Sun” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”?
Team Obama tried to defend Biden, but it was nonsensical babbling. And the Republicans were eager to pounce.
“The comments made by the vice president of the United States are not acceptable in our political discourse and demonstrate yet again that the Obama campaign will say and do anything to win this election,” said Andrea Saul, Romney’s press secretary. “President Obama should tell the American people whether he agrees with Joe Biden’s comments.”
Biden isn’t just some hack on the stump. He’s the vice president. And he clearly played the race card and the slavery card. Biden may have been talking to all of his audience when he used the word “y’all,” since both blacks and whites use the term in the South. But the “back in chains” part wasn’t for whites because whites weren’t the ones in chains in Virginia.
It should be a defining moment in the campaign, but that depends on people in my business. Only a few weeks ago, Obama personally slapped small-business owners in the face, telling them “you didn’t build that” about their businesses, as if some benevolent Obamaesque government shouldered the load. And immediately, many in my line of work twisted themselves like Gumby to argue he didn’t mean it the way it sounded.
But Biden meant what he said. It was ugly and racist and crude. He knew what he was doing.
If this were the last presidential election, the one of hope and change, Obama would have to dump him for sure. But now the president is fighting for his political life, and he’ll do what they all do, fight to win, whether it’s in an alley or a mud pit.
Yet back in 2008, Obama was the messianic figure determined to transcend “the broken politics of the past” and all that other baby talk that City Hall mouthpiece Dave Axelrod offered up to wiggly, adoring journalists. Back then, Obama would have no choice. He would have been expected to thwack Biden publicly, then pick him up by the tail and spin him around some before whomping him against a light pole — the way you might have to whomp a rabid cat that attacked you in your driveway.
Should Hillary Clinton come to Obama’s rescue? Why should she? When she and Obama faced off for the 2008 presidential nomination, Clinton and her husband, the former president, had the race card played against them by Team Obama. Bill had dared to suggest that Obama’s Democratic primary victory in South Carolina was similar to past victories there by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. For daring to state the obvious, the Clintons were savaged. Bill Clinton said it was Obama’s campaign that injected the race issue.
“They played the race card on me,” a still furious Clinton said in a radio interview after the campaign was over. “And we now know, from memos from the campaign and everything, that they planned to do it all along. I was stating a fact, and it’s still a fact.”
For all his vulgarity and faux-preacher dialect and smarmy pol tricks in Virginia, Biden showed the American people what they can expect from the Obama campaign in the months ahead. And he distilled the Obama re-election effort down to its basic elements:
Class war and race.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.