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Jim Crow Joe

Photograph Source: Chuck Kennedy – CC BY 2.0

It was the days of purple haze and the post-civil rights movement that President-elect Joe Biden cemented his political legacy, yet he was rarely on the right side of history. The era was marked by assassinations of political leaders, spurred a coalition opposing the Vietnam war, and produced police violence carried out on demonstrators. The unrest set the stage for Richard Nixon and advisor Lee Atwater’s southern strategy.

Nixon’s ‘68 campaign strategy relied on polished racist dog whistles and rhetoric promising law and order, which delivered the southern vote along with the White House. With a political realignment — where segregationist southern Democrats found refuge within the GOP — political newcomer, Joe Biden found opportunity.

Delaware’s Dixiecrat

Before the 1972 elections, then a city government official, Biden launched a bid for the U.S. Senate. In his campaign against Delaware’s Republican incumbent, J. Caleb Boggs, Biden set himself apart from his opponent and supported the integration of schools through federally mandated busing. Yet in a few years following his first Senatorial win, he would reverse his stance and sharpen his words.

After a deciding vote that nixed a 1974 anti-busing amendment, the freshman Senator faced backlash and pressure from constituents. Biden’s vote against the ‘74 amendment would stand as his sole exception of supporting school desegregation through federally mandated busing. After his controversial vote, constituent outrage ensued. Parents began to heckle the Senator at a town hall meeting and he would promptly change his position to match his base’s sentiments.

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