Biden Interview

Joe Biden Needs a Little Behavior Modification

Joe Biden had another “foot-in-mouth” moment a few days ago when he agreed to a radio interview with a gentleman who goes by the modest name of “Charlamagne tha God.” What most of us have heard is what Biden said more than seventeen minutes into the interview, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Charlamagne, who is African-American, did not cheer Biden on, instead he said, “It don’t have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact I want something for my community.”

There are so many ways to take this exchange. It’s possible that what Biden said would have gone largely unnoticed in the decade of the 1960s. The 1960 presidential election was when African-Americans took a commanding step away from the Republican Party (the party of Lincoln) and began voting in huge numbers for Democrats. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was largely responsible for this migration. But by 1970, the term “politically correct” came into our lexicon.[1] Such a comment by Biden or anyone would then have been unacceptable.

Regardless of how accurate Biden’s statement about African-Americans voting Democratic might be (approximately 93%), it certainly did not apply to all African-Americans and it assuredly was not politically correct. Generally, it is progressives who are tossing out the allegations of someone or something not being politically correct, but in the case of Biden’s words, conservatives joyfully jump to impugn both Biden’s words and his sentiments.

Biden will pay a price with conservatives for his words, particularly with the millions of African-Americans who do not identify with the Democratic Party. But he also pays a price with segments of his Democratic base because critical thinking, a skill that helps define many Democrats, rarely includes sweeping generalizations.

Some might say that Biden makes mistakes in his use of language because he is frequently over-energetic, or even hyper. That may be, and at his age (77; 78 by Election Day), it is unlikely that he will develop any more self-control than he already has. So, here are two suggestions as to how Joe Biden can minimize making mis-statements that come back to bite him:

  1. Be careful to whom he grants interviews. He does better when his energy and intensity is low, so it would behoove him to limit his interviews to reporters and other members of the media who are especially subdued and restrained in their manner.
  2. Stop the bragging. In his interview with Charlamagne, he dwelled on his accomplishments. This can be unseemly, especially to political introverts and others who measure words carefully. Biden needs to work with advisors to help him identify when he goes into “bragging mode.” The best way for him to avoid blowing his own horn is for him to focus on the future rather than his past. Let others promote his accomplishments. Biden should be the messenger for rational and empathetic policies in the future; essentially the opposite of everything that comes out of the Trump Administration.

Donald Trump is probably chomping at the bit to debate Biden. Trump always aims at the jugular, and the way to combat that is with calm reasoning and well-placed sarcasm. Biden has to avoid the boorishness of bragging and the echo chamber of laundry lists about this and that. Barack Obama may not have been the world’s best debater, but he never lost his cool. If Biden can stay calm, he will avoid doing anything that is self-defeating.

Whether we’re talking politics, sports, or any other kind of game, the wise competitor knows to never defeat oneself. Joe Biden has yet to show that he can avoid undermining himself. Let his interview with Charlamagne stand as a reminder that he needs to chill, or be as Trump would say, “low-energy.”

[1] William Safire states that the first recorded use of the term “politically correct” in the modern sense was by Toni Code Bambara in the 1970 anthology The Black Woman.