Can Biden weather the storm?

Vice President Joseph Biden is under attack for his support of busing during the 1970s, but he says that he only opposed busing by the Department of Education. The Department of Education was only established in 1979 and could not have a role in busing.

I worked in the Carter White House and had a role in the groundwork for the new Department of Education in 1978. One of my jobs was to analyze all of the bills in Congress proposing the New Department.

Biden has suffered a major blow to his candidacy due to his comments last week regarding his working with two segregationist senators. Biden has a great record on civil rights, but this issue on busing is besmirching that record. The issue was further compounded when he spoke on the issue during the debate.

The storm clouds gathered the day after his first debate as the media began to digest the content of the debate. Biden was attacked by Sen. Kamala Harris when she said, “It’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country.”

Then, Sen. Harris accused him of opposing busing, and Biden replied, “I did not oppose busing in America,” he said. “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.”

Unfortunately, the Department of Education was not in existence for that time period. What Biden probably meant was that he supported a bill in 1976 that prohibited the use of federal funds to transport students beyond their neighborhood school. In 1977 he co-sponsored a bill that prohibited the federal government from using school clustering and pairing to desegregate city and suburban schools.

In his conversation with reporters, Biden said that in 1977 busing wasn’t a “North versus South” issue, but rather a “rural versus urban” issue. Biden said that most of the busing was taking place in rural areas. The Detroit and Boson desegregation plans were big issues that made a lot of news and belie that claim.

Biden, unfortunately, is digging his hole deeper. One way he could turn this around would be to admit that he was following the advice of those who argued that busing would not be effective in reducing segregation but that history has proven him wrong on the issue, and move on.

For him to double down on this story will further damage his campaign. He needs to move on and talk about the future. He must realize that this is further exacerbating his flaws. To admit you were wrong makes you a better candidate. Admitting you were wrong is a source of strength of your character, and it would be certainly a comparison with the present occupant of the White House, who never admits he is wrong.

Biden needs to retain his support in the Africa-American community. Without that support, he can’t win the nomination. Biden was attacked for his vote on the Iraq war and other issues, but none of them impact his African-American support like the busing issue. Hopefully, he can turn this around before it affects his frontrunner status.

Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View. He was a consultant to the President’s Reorganization Project in the White House, and worked on the groundwork for establishing the New Department of Education.


By Perry J. Mitchell

Special to the Coastal Point