Joe Biden Lied in 1987 with Claim He Marched in Civil Rights Movement

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D. Del., talks to reporters after his appearance on the television interview program "Face the Nation", Sunday, Oct. 11, 1987 in Washington. (AP Photo)
AP Photo
MATTHEW BOYLE
Washington, D.C.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democrat frontrunner for president, lied in 1987 during his first of many runs for the Oval Office by claiming he marched in the Civil Rights Movement–something he never did.

The New York Times‘ Matt Flegenheimer, in a Monday report, resurfaced the 1987 lie by Biden before an audience in New Hampshire, where he was campaigning for the Democrat nomination for president for the first time in his long political career.

“When I marched in the civil rights movement, I did not march with a 12-point program,” Biden said in New Hampshire in February 1987, according to the Times. “I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes. And we changed attitudes.”

Flegenheimer, in describing the incident, writes that Biden was “riffing again,” including “an R.F.K. anecdote, a word about ‘civil wrongs,’ a meandering joke about the baseball commissioner,” and that Biden’s “aides knew enough to worry a little” given his tendency to make gaffes that severely hurt his political opportunities.

And when Biden made that false claim that he had marched in the Civil Rights Movement when in fact he had not done any such marching, his aides cringed, per the Times’ Flegenheimer.

“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,” Flegenheimer wrote. “And more than once, Mr. Biden assured them he understood — and kept telling the story anyway.”

A few months later, in September 1987, Flegenheimer writes that Biden’s lies and “recklessness as a candidate” had finally “caught up with him.”

“He was accused of plagiarizing in campaign speeches,” Flegenheimer wrote. “He had inflated his academic record. Reporters began calling out his exaggerated youth activism.”

On Capitol Hill, Flegenheimer writes, Biden called a “stop-the-bleeding news conference” at which he “vowed that day to fight on.”

“I’ve done some dumb things,” Biden said at that presser. “And I’ll do dumb things again.”

Despite his vow to fight through the mess and keep campaigning for the Democrat nomination for president, Flegenheimer writes, Biden “quit the race within a week.”

“Thirty-two years later, as Mr. Biden seeks the presidency for a third time, his disastrous campaign for the 1988 Democratic nomination offers a revealing look at the personal tics and political flaws of the front-runner in the 2020 race — traits that, in many ways, continue to color Mr. Biden’s public life,” Flegenheimer writes.

These revelations about Biden falsely claiming to have marched in the Civil Rights Movement come on the heels of other recently resurfaced comments that Biden made in 1973, when as a newly elected U.S. Senator he made a number of racially insensitive remarks.

In addition to lecturing the City Club in Cleveland on what Biden believed was “good for the Negro,” the then newly-elected U.S. Senator laid out his ardent opposition to being held accountable for racial divisions in America. The comments surfaced in a book published by Ryan Grim, a leftist journalist and editor at the Intercept.

“Joe Biden, elected to the Senate in 1972, was a leading voice in the attempt to win back white working-class voters by showing them how tough Democrats could be against affirmative [action], school integration, and other priorities of the civil rights movement,” Grim writes in a section of his book. He added:

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 told a Delaware weekly newspaper in 1975. “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.”

Grim, in the next paragraph, continues by turning to the speech Biden gave to Cleveland’s City Club in 1973, in which he gave his opinion on what he thought is “good for the Negro.”

“In 1973, during a speech at the City Club in Cleveland, Biden told an audience that the Nixon-era resurgence of Republicans in the South was a good thing,” Grim writes:

“I think the two-party system,” he said, “although my Democratic colleagues won’t like my saying this, is good for the South and good for the Negro, good for the black in the South. Other than the fact that [southern Senators] still call me boy, I think they’ve changed their mind a little bit.”

Biden’s “swaggering” style of shoot-from-the-hip first, ask questions and plan tight messaging later, Flegenheimer writes in Monday’s Times piece, is how he has always been.

“Biden allies insist this run will succeed where his others failed,” Flegenheimer writes. “His discipline has improved, they say. He is now widely known and admired in the Democratic Party, affording him more latitude for slip-ups. For the first time, he enters the race as a genuine favorite, requiring no introduction.”

But there is concern, Flegenheimer writes, that Biden’s style may not be disciplined enough for Democrats badly in need of a win and against a formidable candidate himself in incumbent GOP President Donald Trump.

“Can he credibly present himself as a man in step with the times without sounding off-key or stretching the truth, as he did while gilding his 1960s-era biography?” Flegenheimer writes. “Can he win while mounting another campaign premised as much on personal characteristics — his decency, his integrity, his presumed electability — as any particular policy platform?”

Flegenheimer’s piece carries on with many other details of Biden’s 1988 bid–which ended before 1988 even came, in 1987–like how aides used to distribute prepared remarks to reporters of the then-senator’s planned speeches”with a semi-wry warning in capital letters atop the page,” which was: “Senator may stray from prepared remarks.”

The question for Biden now, moving forward, is whether or not he can avoid these pitfalls and mistakes, or if his gaffe-proneness will come back to haunt him. He has already made a number of mistakes, particularly with regard to unwanted touching of women, but is still standing atop the polls facing down a weak and wide field of other candidates including a number of senators. But, for now, nobody is even close to him in the polls–as he has double digit leads over everyone else. But will it last?

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