Was Vice President Joe Biden recent "chains" statement a gaffe in the classical sense? Was it a faux pas that also included the toxins of race?
In the current political season, where obfuscation of serious policy concerns is the preferred modus operandi, it is easy to conclude Biden is guilty of a gaffe. But what exactly was the gaffe?
For those who have yet to hear the looped video in context Biden said:
"He [Romney]... said in the first 100 days he's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. They're going to put y'all back in chains."
Was that racist?
Racism is perhaps the most elusive term in our public discourse that is used so freely. We can't define it, but we think we know it when we see it.
I must confess when I first heard Biden's remarks I felt uneasy. The second time watched it, I looked at the audience make-up, and it was a mixture of whites and blacks. Does that absolve Biden of racism?
Here is where my conservative friends would opine on cue, "Byron you wouldn't say that if a Republican made a similar statement!"
Fair enough, but here is a piece I wrote about then Governor Romney in 2006 who was criticized for making a racial comment, long before I had any idea he would run for president.
Romney stated at a press conference: "The best thing for me to do politically is stay away from the Big Dig -- just get as far away from that tar baby as I possibly can."
I didn't share the racist charge that many held for Romney back then. I was far more critical of remarks made by then Sen. Hillary Clinton earlier that year, who went to a predominately black church in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day and said, "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about."
The point is simply this: Biden's animated southern drawl was creepy and needless pandering, but was not racist in my view. Context matters, and the context was Wall Street.
The chains, though a poor word choice, was an inclusive declaration for anyone who was not immune from the potential downside of Wall Street's unfettered ability to maneuver in an enhanced deregulated market.
The real debate should be the validity of Biden's remarks. Is he right about Romney and Wall Street?
The latter question will be of far more importance long after we've grown weary of debating if Biden's "chains" statement was indeed a gaffe.