The chattering classes are still talking about Joe Biden's "y'all" and "put you back in chains" turn of phrase from a speech that he made last week in Danville, Virginia. Republicans, members of the party of Willie Horton and Birtherism, have lept at an opportunity to call a Democrat "racist." The Democrats are playing damage control and highlighting how Vice President Biden was essentially correct: the banksters and usurious financier classes do in fact want to have their full boots and heels on the necks of the American people--and the Republican Party will free them to do so with full force.
Despite all of the posturing and partisan sniping about Joe Biden's comment, the facts are actually quite plain, all this fuss about chains is really much to do about nothing, a non-controversy.
Why? Because white Democrats in the post Civil Rights era can say things to black and brown folks, and talk about race, in ways that Republicans cannot. The pundit classes are afraid to acknowledge this simple truth because their money is made from drama and conflict.
Part of the challenge here also lies in how Americans are immersed in a culture of false equivalence, one in which every point of view, however ridiculous it may be, is somehow made legitimate and valid.
The decline of traditional TV news programming and the rise of opinion journalism is simultaneously both a reflection of this cultural turn, while also contributing to it.
The craven greed of the corporate media means that they must find talking heads, opinion makers, and others to fill airtime with "interesting" points of view without regard for accuracy, truth, rigor, or substance. From this logic, if there is a scientist who represents the consensus view that global warming is real, then an "expert" who argues the opposite must be interviewed in order to create the illusion that both arguments are equally valid descriptions of empirical reality. The serious economists who dismiss the absurdity of trickle down economics and the Laffer curve have to be "balanced" by Right-wing hacks who argue against the mass of data which suggests that such theories are specious and fallacy laden. And in my favorite example, evolutionary biologists have to share TV time with creationists who believe in magic and other assorted hokum.
Ultimately the phrase "both sides do it" is a lie--although it does make for a nice Twitter hashtag.
The reality based community is left shaking their heads from these post-truth contortionists; those who believe in the fictions offered up these virtual snake oil salesman are emboldened. The Fourth Estate fails once more in its responsibilities.
In all, the culture of false equivalency is a product of the same logic that rewards every kid with a trophy even if they finish in last place.
Despite their supposed disgust with the "self-help" and "feelings" industries--the purveyors of the psychobabble pablum that told us that children should not be subjected to the pressures of competition--"personal responsibility" conservatives are deeply immersed in a parallel cultural project. Every day, millions of them watch Fox News and listen to talk radio, drinking in the toxic ether of the right wing echo chamber. This is a form of group therapy and mass hypnosis on a national scale, what is a mix of old fashioned propaganda and brainwashing, combined with political theater, and where participation is incentivized by the secret edicts and "truths" of a cult that are revealed only to the elect few.
When discussing the the politics of race in America, the lie of false equivalence (and the "both sides do it" defense) is a common redoubt for aggrieved white conservatives and those people who are invested in defending and protecting (white) privilege.
For example, the latter is operative when white folks want to use the word "nigger" and then have the gall to get upset when someone suggests that they ought not to. There are certainly words that our gay brothers and sisters say to each other that folks who are heterosexual best not mutter. I am certain that there are inside turns of phrase spoken between members of certain ethnic and religious groups that outsiders do not have the ear for, or understanding of nuance, to use correctly. As a working class black guy I lose no sleep over these reasonable norms of public and private speech: they all seem like good common sense to me. However, this same set of life experiences also helps to explain why I cannot understand those (mostly entitled and privileged) white folks who would argue the opposite position.
Alternatively, the upsetness at being told that white folks should not say nigger could perhaps just be a result of rank and arrogant privilege; the owners of whiteness and white privilege rebel and bristle at any suggestion that there are things they ought not to do.
The controversy over Joe Biden's comment about chains and debt peonage reminds me of a close friend's wise words. One afternoon, she and I were talking about love and relationships. She made the great observation that relationships are about putting money in a metaphorical bank. Your good deeds are deposits; deeds that hurt or create emotional distance are debits. A successful relationship is the result of how people balance these debits and credits...all the while maintaining one's sanity and self-respect.
On matters of race, the Democratic Party, for all of its imperfections, has built up a ton of credits with the black community from FDR and the World War 2 era, on to the Civil Rights movement, and into the near present with the election of Barack Obama. The Republican Party is the party of the Southern Strategy, naked and subtle appeals to anti-black affect and white racial anxiety, is enamored with xenophobia and nativism, ruled by John Birchers in the Tea Party, drunk on Birtherism, and cannot avoid the addictive rhetoric of "real America" States' Rights Confederacy silly-talk.
Mitt Romney's repeated suggestions that President Obama, the country's first black President, is a lazy, angry, anti-American, welfare king thief have most certainly not helped to improve Tea Party GOP's negative ledger balance with people of color generally, and black Americans, specifically.
When Joe Biden spoke last week in Virginia there were black people in the audience. They heard his code switching and responded positively to it. If Biden had disrespected them, or African-Americans in general, we are most certainly capable of raising a stink and a fuss. Despite what tragic black conservatives and their white masters would suggest, black folks are not on a Democrat Plantation. We are shrewd political actors who are capable of making sophisticated choices about our politics, and possess a deep understanding of the realities of Power and white racism in the present.
Joe Biden can keep doing his thing. When he gets out of pocket, black folks, and those others with "money in the bank" on these matters, will certainly chime in and check him. Until Republicans get their own house in order, I would suggest they shut up and get to work on purging the racists from their own political party.