Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is under fire for praising segregationists, lied about his stance on busing to desegregate public schools again on Thursday.
“I never, never, never opposed voluntary busing,” Biden told an audience gathered in Chicago, Illinois.
The statement, however, is in direct contradiction to Biden’s more than 40-year career in public office.
“I oppose busing,” Biden told a local Delaware newspaper in 1975. “It’s an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me… I’ve gotten to the point where I think our only recourse to eliminate busing may be a constitutional amendment.”
At the time, Biden recognized that his views effectively put him in the same camp as avowed racists and segregationists.
“The unsavory part about this is when I come out against busing, as I have all along, I don’t want to be mixed up with a George Wallace,” he said.
Biden proceeded to explain that if busing were allowed to go forward, there would be profoundly negative impacts on society.
“The real problem with busing,” he said, is that “you take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school . . . and you’re going to fill them with hatred.”
During the first Democrat presidential debate on Thursday, Biden was confronted about that position on busing by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me,” Harris said. “So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously.”
Biden claimed Harris had mischaracterized his position by conflating busing mandated by federal agencies and “voluntary busing” initiated by local governments.
“The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing, you would have been able to go to school the same way because it was a local decision made by your city council,” he said. “That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for that we should be breaking down the lines.”
Biden has sought to qualify his prior stance on the issue by invoking the notion of “voluntary busing.” The argument is not equitable because after Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation in public education, only some school districts opted to integrate through voluntary busing. Others, especially in the South and urban areas of the North and Midwest, opted to not take such an approach—thereby forcing federal agencies to step in and mandate busing.
Furthermore as Politico recently reported, Biden was a stringent opponent of busing in both a narrow and broad sense.
“Biden supported a measure sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a former Klansman who had held the floor for more than 14 hours in a filibuster against the 1964 civil rights bill, that prohibited the use of federal funds to transport students beyond the school closest to their homes and that passed into law in 1976,” the outlet reported.
After the passage of that law, Biden introduced legislation in 1977 to further prohibit the federal government from desegregating schools by redistricting and school “clustering.”
This month, Biden praised the civility of two of allies in the fight against busing, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), at a fundraiser in New York City. He invoked the two men while touting his ability to form “consensus” but did not elaborate on what they were able to accomplish together.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden told donors, attempting a Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
Biden’s praise for the two men was widely rebuked, as both were ardent segregationists that spent their careers opposing civil rights and integration.
Eastland, whom Biden has praised as a mentor, was known as the “voice of the white South” for his support of Jim Crow and propensity for referring to African Americans as “an inferior race.” Talmadge, as governor of Georgia, promised in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education to do everything in his power to protect “separation of the races.”