Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I just listened to Joe Biden’s seventeen-and-a-half minute 2003 eulogy for his political friend Strom Thurmond, the former Dixiecrat segregationist from South Carolina who became a Republican in 1964. It’s clear Biden liked the man, who he worked closely with to pass crime bills in the early 1980s.  As Thurmond’s replacement as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden went on to push the now-controversial bill he proudly touts as “the 1994 Biden Crime Bill.” This is the bill about which, in 2015, former President Bill Clinton told an NAACP convention concerned about the mass incarceration of African Americans: “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it.” According to a 2015 NY Times story, “Today, about 2.2 million Americans are locked up in federal and state prisons and local jails, twice as many as when Mr. Clinton took office.”

Biden’s long eulogy is full of warmth and wit and, for a liberal like Biden, driven by a spirit of forgiveness and, more important, a pragmatic sense of political synthesis between the dead man’s racist past and what Biden claims as his political mission, the pursuit of civil rights. He had been asked by Thurmond himself to give it. The problem is, when we forgive past shortcomings or evils in order to get over hurdles to make change possible so we can move on to better things, there needs to be true atonement, or it can’t work. And even if one argues…

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