Former Vice President Joe Biden jumbled his stance on reparations at the third Democrat primary debate on Thursday, jumping between education and foreign policy issues when discussing the topic.
Biden, who came under fire earlier this year for praising two ardent segregationists, was asked what “responsibility” Americans needed to “take to repair the legacy of slavery.” In particular, the moderator noted Biden had once stated he’d be “damned” to feel “responsible to pay for something that happened 300 years ago.”
The 76-year-old former vice president appeared caught off guard by the question and began his response by citing his support for several civil rights initiatives of the 1970s, before rambling about his position on education.
“Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country,” he said. “From the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education.”
Biden then drifted further away from the topic at hand, even pledging his administration would “tripe the amount of money” spent on “very poor schools,” while simultaneously raising the salary of every teacher “to the $60,000 level.” The former vice president continued along such lines until he delivered a confusing broadside about how families in poor areas needed social workers to help with parenting.
“Social workers help parents deal with how to raise their children,” Biden said. “It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t know what to play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time we get there.”
The events attempted to cut Biden off as his time had run out, the candidate grew impatient, but continued rambling only this time about foreign policy.
“No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over. Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. By the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. You talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million, to see to it those three countries, in fact, changed their system to people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re acting like we just discovered this yesterday. Thank you very much.”
Biden perplexing response about reparations highlights not only the gaffes that have besieged his campaign in recent months, but also his tenuous relationship with communities of color. The best example of both circumstances came in August during a campaign swing through Iowa, where Biden claimed that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
“We should challenge these students, we should challenge students in these schools to have advanced placement programs in these schools,” the former vice president said when discussing the need to improve America’s education system. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor you cannot do it, poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
Biden quickly attempted to clarify his remarks by adding “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids” to the end of his previous sentence.
That gaffe came as Biden was moving past a controversy surrounding his praise of two segregationist Democrats, the late Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA). Biden had invoked the men, who dedicated their careers to halting the progress of civil rights, at a fundraiser in June while touting his ability to get “things done” in Congress.