Joe Biden Unchained

The Obama campaign fans the flames of racial hatred.

In the race for the presidency, the mudslinging by Democrats remains at a hyperbolic level. During a campaign speech in Danville, VA, Vice President Joe Biden told an audience including many black Americans that Republicans would "put y'all back in chains" if the Romney/Ryan ticket wins the election. “Romney wants to let the--he said in the first hundred days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street,” said Biden. “They’re going to put y'all back in chains.”

Andrea Saul, Mitt Romney’s press secretary condemned the remarks. “After weeks of slanderous and baseless accusations leveled against Governor Romney, the Obama Campaign has reached a new low,” she said in a statement. “The comments made by the vice president of the United States are not acceptable in our political discourse and demonstrate yet again that the Obama campaign will say and do anything to win this election. President Obama should tell the American people whether he agrees with Joe Biden’s comments.”

Gov. Romney himself blasted the Obama camp in much harsher terms. "Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago," he said, in one of the boldest salvos yet to come from the Republican presidential candidate.

Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, was quick to defend the Vice President. “We have no problem with those comments,” she said during an appearance on MSNBC. After defending Biden, she was asked if the president also agreed with his remarks. Cutter said he likely did, but that context was important. "[Obama] probably agrees with Joe Biden's sentiments," she contended. "[Biden's] using a metaphor to talk about what's going to happen." She then directed her remarks at the Romney campaign. "I appreciate the faux outrage from the Romney campaign. But if you want to talk about the use of words, then take a look at Mitt Romney's stump speech where he basically calls the president 'un-American,'" Cutter added.

Saul released a second statement following Cutter's remarks. "In case anyone was wondering just how low President Obama could go in his campaign for reelection, we now know he’s willing to say that Governor Romney wants to put people back in chains," she said. "Whether its accusing Mitt Romney of being a felon, having been responsible for a woman’s tragic death or now wanting to put people in chains, there’s no question that because of the president’s failed record he’s been reduced to a desperate campaign based on division and demonization.”

Division and demonization are a given, but more curious is whether or not a remark about putting people back in chains, uttered in front of an audience with a large contingent, of black Americans, might have been a purposive reference to slavery to incite racial hatred. New York Magazine's Dan Amira attempted to deflect that obvious connection. "We guess the question is, if Biden wasn't making a wildly provocative allusion to slavery, what was he doing?" Amira writes. "Possibly, making a still-over-the-top but not as provocative allusion to the perils of an unrestrained financial industry...In other words, when Wall Street is unchained, the rest of America is 'back in chains'--that is, back at the mercy of the banks. Hyperbolic? Yes. Demagogic? Yes. But it's a totally plausible explanation when you consider the context."

The Obama campaign must have sensed the danger of such context. A campaign official told ABC News Biden "was clearly using a metaphor to describe the devastating impact of deregulating Wall Street and the financial industry, as well as how Governor Romney’s policies would take us back to the same failed formula that led to the 2008 financial crisis--the same failed formula that benefited a few, but crashed our economy and hurt the middle class.”

Yet as former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer contended via Twitter, some metaphors are apparently more acceptable than others. He noted that Sarah Palin was hammered when she used the term "blood libel" to describe the media's obsessive criticism of her. “The press pounded Palin when she talked about ‘blood libel,’” Fleischer wrote. “What will they do about Biden’s ‘chains’ remark?”

CNN provided a rather telling answer to that question. In the opening paragraph of story on the controversy, they said Biden "leveled a heavy charge at Mitt Romney" arguing that the Republican's policies "would be detrimental for Americans." Yet further in the piece, they said it was Republicans who made the racial connection between the vice president's remarks and slavery -- even as they conceded that "Biden was speaking to a largely black crowd in Danville, in the heart of Virginia, a city with a long history of racial tension." The Huffington Post compared Biden's remarks to a statement made by Republican Rick Santorum during his presidential run, when he referred to "chains called 'Obamacare." CBS News made sure to use the term "diverse crowd, including many African Americans" to describe who Joe Biden was addressing, even as they ignored any reference to slavery at all.

Yet perhaps the most fascinating word Biden used wasn't "chains." As Wikipedia notes the word "y'all"  has its origins in the Southern United States and is "associated with Southern American English, African-American Vernacular English." Is "y'all" part of Joe Biden's regular speech pattern, or was he in fact a making exactly the kind of not-so-subtle inference Republicans (and apparently only Republicans, according to the media) contend?

We may likely never know Biden's intention, and the ambiguity may itself have been the intention. But one thing is certain: Biden's penchant for making unscripted remarks remains a large X factor in this campaign. And sure enough, towards the end of his speech, the Vice President once again reminded Americans why the term "Bidenism" is part of the political lexicon. “With you we can win North Carolina again, and if we do, we win the election if we win you,” he said to the Danville crowd.

As noted in the opening paragraph, Danville is in Virginia.

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