Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner, made racially insensitive remarks and comments women might find offensive in a 1973 speech.
Earlier this year, the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio published the full audio of Biden’s hour-long address to its membership on May 18, 1973. While last week, among others Breitbart News reported on a new book by a leftist journalist detailing how Biden used the forum to outline what he thought “was good for the Negro,” no other full accounting of the then-senator’s remarks has been made until now.
Breitbart News has reviewed the full recording, and is providing an in-depth report of a number of questionable comments Biden made during these remarks.
In addition to this audio, Breitbart News has obtained a 1972 newspaper clipping showing he made more insensitive remarks—saying he was a “phony liberal” while discussing being nice to minorities.
At the time of the 1973 speech, Biden was 30 years old and had just won an upset victory to the U.S. Senate from Delaware—a seat he would hold for seven terms. Although new to politics, Biden was introduced that evening by the club’s then-president Bertram Gardner, one of Cleveland’s African-American civic leaders, as a rising star with a “frank and candid” demeanor.”
Since the speech took place against the backdrop of Watergate, Biden’s observations centered heavily on America’s fundamental makeup amid the scandal. At times, however, the young senator veered off course to offer his views on issues like race, perhaps an early indication of the gaffes and verbal missteps that would define his political career.
Biden began by joking he had a Capitol Hill elevator operator fired for not recognizing him as a U.S. Senator, before denouncing then-President Richard Nixon’s administration for “assaulting” constitutional government and the rights of everyday citizens.
To illustrate how Nixon tried to handicap Democrats ahead of the 1972 presidential election, Biden tried a football analogy. While explaining, he said women present in the audience would not understand football and that he was led to believe their attendance wasn’t welcome.
“The only analogy that I can really think of, is a football analogy,” he said. “And I apologize to you women in the audience for not being able to think of a more appropriate analogy, but they told me they didn’t want you here anyway.”
“I didn’t expect any women to be here,” Biden added.
He proceeded to defend the “virtues of the Republican Party,” claiming the willingness to pin the sins of “a bunch of administrative bureaucrats” behind Watergate on the GOP was symptomatic of larger issues in political life.
One of those issues, according to Biden who was only five months into his Senate term, was the public’s disregard for their elected officials. He claimed politicians like him do more good for society than doctors or lawyers or “Indian chiefs.”
“Politics should be the most honorable of professions,” Biden said. “Those of you who are doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs in the audience, how can any of you possibly do as much good, if you are very good at what you do, as I can do if I am very good at what I can do.”
“You can’t,” he added. “So the point is, this is where the action is.”
Nonetheless, Biden admitted he took “great offense” at being put in the “perilous position” of getting labeled a “thief” or a “crook” because he had achieved the high office of a U.S. Senator and prestige that comes from it was his “life’s ambition. ”
“I resent it, your senators resent it, and I think we, we who are in elective office, have an obligation not to play the game with you,” he said.
It was at this point that Biden steered the conversation to campaign finance reform with an indelicate joke about slaves.
“We all came here, with the exception of a few of my brothers who were forced to come,” Biden said, referencing slavery. “We all came here because we didn’t like it where it was, because power had corrupted …. [but] inherent in the system that we have to run for elective office is corruption within the law.”
Referring to himself in the third-person as a “young new white knight,” Biden told the story of how he raised nearly $300,000 for his 1972 Senate race. Although he said most of the money came from small-dollar donors, he conceded that was not his initial preference.
“It’s not because I’m particularly moral, it’s because nobody took me seriously,” Biden said. “Had in the beginning, when I started, big corporations or big labor, or big wealthy individuals, or big anybody come along and said, ‘here Biden we want to contribute $20,000 to you,’ I probably would have taken it.”
“Not probably, I would have taken it,” he added. “Because I had to go out and borrow $20,000 and put a second mortgage on my house to get that $20,000 to start. But nobody took me seriously.”
Later during a question and answer session, Biden disclosed he had taken money from “vested interests,” but it was different since he said groups supporting liberal causes had a much narrower donor base.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of people who want [low income] housing that have a lobby that can contribute to your campaign,” he said.
The audience, concerned about Watergate, posed numerous questions to Biden about domestic spying and executive overreach. One woman, who said she found Biden “very articulate,” inquired if the Democratic Party had also relied on “bugging” the phones of political opponents.
Even prior to her finishing the question, the recently widowed Biden commented on her physical appearance.
“I find you very lovely,” Biden said. “Come on up front.”
“The rest is not very good,” the women responded in regards to her question.
“That’s what I thought,” Biden said. “That’s why I tried to compliment you, thought I would scare you out of it.”
When Biden did answer her question, he began by referring to the woman as “kiddo,” before continuing to say Democrats had surely taken part in surveillance tactics in the past, but Republicans had elevated it to a new level.
“Bugging isn’t the question, kiddo,” he said. “We’re not even talking about bugging… I don’t know that there has been such an assault on the system before… such an overall comprehensive plan… to subvert the whole process.”
“For the record,” Biden added. “Clearly, Democrats are as immoral as Republicans and maybe in big cities a good deal more immoral in the traditional sense.”
It was in the final minutes of this question and answer session that Biden’s controversial lecture about what he believed was “good for the Negro” took place. The comments, which are included in the new book by the Intercept’s Ryan Grim, arose when Biden was asked if he had spoken to his southern colleagues about their attitude towards the “problems of the Negro in America.”
In response, Biden cited the evolving positions on race of former segregationists in the Senate Democratic conference, like the late-Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC), as proof things “were changing.”
“I think the two-party system, although my Democratic colleagues won’t like me saying this, is good for the South and good for the Negro, good for the black in the South,” he said. “Other than the fact that [the southern senators] still call me boy, I think they’ve changed their mind a little bit.”
Biden’s remarks on race are similar to those he made in December 1972 after the tragic passing of Neilia Biden, his first wife. Neilia Biden and Naomi “Amy” Biden—their 13-month-old daughter—were killed in a deadly car accident while the newly elected senator was in Washington, D.C. interviewing potential staffers. Both of their sons, Hunter and Beau Biden, were severely injured but survived the crash.
“The truck carrying corncobs broadsided the Bidens’ white Chevrolet station wagon returning from a trip to pick the family Christmas tree,” a Politico profile decades later described the accident. “It sheared off the left rear wheel and drove the back door into the back seat and pushed the car some 150 feet into a thicket of evergreens. Neilia Biden, 30, and Naomi ‘Amy’ Biden, 13 months, were dead on arrival at the hospital. Joseph ‘Beau’ Biden III, 3, had a slew of broken bones, and Robert Hunter ‘Hunt’ Biden, 2, had head injuries that doctors feared might be permanent.”
A 1972 newspaper clipping from the Delaware News-Journal, quoted Biden eulogizing his deceased wife by saying she was not a “phony liberal” like himself who went out of his way to “be nice to a minority.”
“I was probably one of those phony liberals…the kind that go out of their way to be nice to a minority and she made me realize I was making a distinction,” Biden said, according to the News Journal. “But in dealing with minorities, she made no subtle condescending gestures…she made no distinctions.”
“I’m going to be that way…I’m going to follow her example,” he added.
The unearthed comments cast light on an early, but formative period of Biden’s political career. Biden has been reluctant to discuss those early years, especially the central role he played in opposing school integration via forced busing. The former vice president’s silence is likely strategic considering the large role African-American voters play in the current Democratic coalition.
The lessons of Biden’s first unsuccessful presidential campaign are also probably a factor. In 1987, Biden was forced to abandon his bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination amid a slew of scandals including revelations he engaged in widespread plagiarism and falsely claimed to have marched in the Civil Rights Movement.
“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 a recent report in the New York Times comparing the mistakes of his failed 1988 campaign to his already-gaffe-prone 2020 campaign. “I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes. And we changed attitudes.”
Biden’s campaign did not return requests for comment on this story.