A video of President Joe Biden’s Veterans Day speech on Thursday had gone viral and was seen more than 4.5 million times. While there was nothing particularly moving or even controversial in the speech, critics of the president missed no opportunity to jump on it nonetheless after he misspoke, calling mid-20th century legendary African-American baseball player Satchel Paige, “the great negro of our time.”
However, while that is actually what Biden said, the context is missing. The president delivered the speech on Veterans Day while wishing former Ambassador Donald Blinken a happy 97th birthday.
According to the official transcript published by the White House, Biden said, “And I just want to tell you, I know you’re a little younger than I am, but, you know, I’ve adopted the attitude of the great Negro — at the time, pitcher in the Negro Leagues — went on to become a great pitcher in the pros — in the Major League Baseball after Jackie Robinson. His name was Satchel Paige.”
Anyone reading that transcript should realize that Biden had a slip of the tongue, something that isn’t exactly uncommon for the 78-year-old who has a long history of verbal gaffes. Biden has admitted he’s a “gaffe machine” who often says the wrong thing, but unlike some of his actual misstatements on facts or questionable stories, there wasn’t really much to this story.
“Biden has never been the best orator, and he’s known to make mistakes,” said Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven. “It isn’t that different from some of George W. Bush’s verbal gaffes.”
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Certainly no one would suggest either Biden or Bush were orators for the ages, but it seemed to reopen the door that Biden may have a history of making such controversial remarks.
The hashtag #RacistBiden was trending on Friday, with many dredging up past comments or statements that Biden has made in his career and sharing them on social media. While some of these may seem controversial, few were actually new, so the question could be asked why it was necessary to do so?
“This is really similar the strategy that Donald Trump used when he was accused of being sexists, in that he’d turn the tables and accuse his rivals of the same or worse things,” said Haynes. “His followers are simply adopting the same type of tactic. They love calling the establishment for being hypocritical.”
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Of course it didn’t end there, and many Biden supporters of course jumped into the fray – not to defend Biden’s record, but instead to tear down Trump’s and others in the GOP. This has remained par for the course on social media where the best defense to a controversy seems to be to go on the attack against the other side.
“This is the new norm in our back and forth, where we try to label someone for small comments from the past,” said Haynes. “These types of gaffes have been covered for years, and in the past the media might jump on it, but social media allows everyone to weigh-in. We see that it can come from our leaders in Congress who too often feel the need to make these comments, but increasing it is casting aspersions on someone’s personalities rather than their actions.”
It is part of the social media tribalism that is a sign of the times.
“This really isn’t that different of a tactic that a bully would take, where the bully would say something to make himself feel better,” added Haynes. “With social media we see these hashtags trending because if we can make the other side look bad, it makes us look better. This is where we’ve crossed the lines of civility.”