civil rights

An article highlighting the failures of Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign touched on one particularly problematic gaffe, in which Biden lied about marching with the Civil Rights Movement.

In the New York Times‘ latest piece in its series The Long Run, which delves into the records of current 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Biden’s lie about marching with the Civil Rights Movement is prominently featured early on.

In the first three paragraphs, the Times‘ Matt Flegenheimer noted how staffers for Biden’s unsuccessful 1988 campaign tried to get their candidate to stop lying about being in civil rights marches. Biden also suggested the movement didn’t do marches “with a 12-point program,” but simply to “change attitudes.” (emphasis ours)

“When I marched in the civil rights movement, I did not march with a 12-point program,” Mr. Biden thundered, testing his presidential message in February 1987 before a New Hampshire audience. “I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes. And we changed attitudes.”

More than once, advisers had gently reminded Mr. Biden of the problem with this formulation: He had not actually marched during the civil rights movement. And more than once, Mr. Biden assured them he understood — and kept telling the story anyway.

Activist Brett Banditelli even found video of the Biden statement:

While Flegenheimer didn’t expand on that initial opening scene for his article, others responding to the article on Twitter noted how Biden not only lied about being in civil rights marches, but about the Civil Rights Movement not having any policy agenda.

“[I]mplying that the civil rights movement didn’t have a policy agenda is utterly ignorant and offensive,” tweeted Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman.

“This is going to be such a problem if he’s the nominee,” tweeted New Republic contributing editor Jeet Heer.

The former Vice President and Delaware senator didn’t make himself available for an interview for the Times‘ piece about his 1988 presidential campaign, so it’s unknown whether or not Biden ultimately apologized for lying about his past affiliation with the Civil Rights Movement. However, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) could potentially pounce on Biden’s past statements about the marches, especially since Sanders himself marched (and did civil disobedience) during the Civil Rights Movement.

In fact, Biden was one of the biggest opponents of a key policy position held by the Civil Rights Movement — integration of public schools through busing. As Grit Post has previously reported, a 1987 interview Biden gave to a weekly Delaware newspaper recently resurfaced, in which he strongly came out against integration, affirmative action, and reparations.

““I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that,” Biden said at the time. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

Biden currently leads in Democratic presidential polls, though that lead may change after the initial Democratic debates, the first of which is scheduled for later this month.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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