Sunday, February 11, 2007

Articulate the Articuless

You'll recall my post from last week, in which I discussed Joe Biden's odd description of Barack Obama.

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

And that storybook is...Song of the South.

Anyway, I don't think Joe Biden is virulently racist or anything. I just think he's kind of an out-of-touch idiot, and so we shouldn't elect him President. Democrats can not even consider nominating a guy for the leadership role in their party who might potentially say something this stupid again before January '09.

It would be bad enough just to put your foot in your mouth publicly in this way. People would think less of you, but a simple, well-written and sincere apology might allow you to move on. (Might!) But now it seems like Team Biden actually intends to defend his remarks. Here's a letter his Chief of Staff wrote to the New York Times:

In “The Racial Politics of Speaking Well” (Week in Review, Feb. 4), about Senator Joe Biden’s use of the word “articulate” to describe Senator Barack Obama, Lynette Clemetson suggests the following rule: “Do not use it as the primary attribute of note for a black person if you would not use it for a similarly talented, skilled or eloquent white person.”

During the recent hearings on Iraq that Senator Biden presided over as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he referred to the following people as “articulate”:

Leslie H. Gelb
Edward N. Luttwak
Lawrence J. Korb
Robert Malley
Senator Lisa Murkowski
Peter W. Galbraith
Frederick W. Kagan
Ted Galen Carpenter
Gen. Jack Keane
Senator Edward M. Kennedy

While Senator Biden has expressed his regret that anyone was offended by his words, we wanted to make it clear that his reference to Senator Obama was sincerely intended as a compliment.

Alan L. Hoffman Washington, Feb. 9, 2007

Alan clearly thinks we're all stupid and will fall for this BS strawman. Joe Biden is not in trouble for referring to Barack Obama as "articulate." Obviously, there are articulate black people. Sensible individuals would not argue this point.

No, Biden is in trouble for saying that Barack Obama is the first mainstream African-American candidate who is articulate. Also, clean. Which is ludicrous, and more than a little racist, because it implies that you don't expect blacks to be clean and articulate, and therefore that Obama's candidacy is something genuinely special.

One would only single out Obama's status as the first articulate black candidate as a point of comparison. Unlike all these other non-articulate, dirty blacks, this guy can speak well and showers daily! It's like some wonderful fairy tale!

When Biden was referring to those other individuals, like the articulate Mr. Galbraith and the not-particularly-articulate Senator Murkowski (whose Daddy appointed her to finish out his Senate term when he became governor), he wasn't making a comparison. He was simply issuing a common, everyday compliment. Senator Murkowski, to my knowledge, was not referred to as "the first articulate Senator from Alaska" or "the cleanest lady Senator I've ever seen!"

Hoffman thus makes Biden's crack far worse, because by trying to weasel out of it, he implies that Biden doesn't feel it was inappropriate to say. The attitude is, "well, we're getting a lot of flack over this comment so I'd better set the record straight." But Biden's getting flack because he legitimately misspoke. Again, I'm not saying he's therefore a racist. Maybe he just misspoke. But he should then apologize, not make it seem like he was offering Obama a genuine compliment that's being misinterpreted.


Peter L. Winkler said...

In Biden's defense, I think his use of the word "clean" was intended to mean that Obama was free of any past personal or political scandal or controversy.

Lons said...

Wouldn't you then say "a clean record," as opposed to just "clean." I'm used to hearing people use simply the word "clean" to mean "free of scandal" if that person had previously been suspected of wrongdoing and was then cleared.

As in, "the Duke Lacrosse team got off clean."

But IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE ARTICULATE crack? That's requiring we give him the benefit of the doubt twice in one sentence. Taking it in tandem with the Indian-American "7-11 and Dunkin' Donuts" faux pas, we're talking about a guy who has a lot of trouble not saying stupid shit that sounds vaguely racist.