Although Joe Biden has been known to stumble on his words, leave it to the internet to get riled up over comments he made last summer.
Yesterday, a video of then-presidential candidate Biden claiming George Floyd’s death had a greater global impact than the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr received renewed criticism amid resurfacing in new posts across social media on MLK Day. Biden made the comments in June 2020 at an economic reopening roundtable in Philadelphia held weeks after Floyd’s death. Biden’s point was emphasizing the role smartphones have played in mobilizing people all over the world to participate in the movement against police brutality.
“Even Dr King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did,” Biden said during the discussion. “It’s just like television changed the civil rights movement for the better when they saw Bull Connor and his dogs ripping the clothes off of elderly Black women going to church and firehoses ripping the skin off of young kids.”
Given Biden’s recent invocation last week during a speech on the need for the Senate to pass new federal voter registration, perhaps some assumed the clip was new. Alas, politicians tend to repeat themselves. Especially when they have been around for as long as Joe Biden has. Still, his claim doesn’t really seek to offend the late Dr King as some purport.
“What happened to George Floyd — now you got how many people around the country, millions of cellphones,” Biden added. “It’s changed the way everybody’s looking at this. Look at the millions of people marching around the world.”
Well, Black Lives Matter was deemed the largest social justice movement in history in 2020, so the role cellphones and social media has played in showing the world just how Black people are treated can’t be understated.
This newfound criticism of an old Biden clip — that it’s “disgusting” or “despicable” — tells me people like to be mad about anything, but often not the right things. In this case, Biden — perhaps less than artfully — made a specific point about how George Floyd’s death and the way it was captured amplified the message about police brutality. That doesn’t mean his life mattered more than Dr King’s or anyone else’s. It’s a shallow way to think about human lives that were stolen – and that is me being generous.
Those barking at Biden over a comparison about how Black people are murdered are conveniently glossing over the largest horror: many of us are still being murdered. But, call me cynical, I doubt most of these people making a fuss online about the video clip care that much. Not if this is the focus of their grievances.
However, there is plenty of reason to be mad at Joe Biden when you consider that he is failing both Dr King and George Floyd in terms of enacting any legislation to help curb police brutality, voting rights, and fight poverty.
A year ago, it was reported that “President Joe Biden is taking more steps to expand the government’s role in public life than any US leader since Lyndon B. Johnson — and, unlike LBJ, he’s doing it with the slimmest of ruling majorities.” A year later, Biden has a plague that remains out of control, inflation at a 40-year high, and for all of his legislative accomplishments thus far, the biggest is a bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s arguably nothing more than a glorified highway bill that voters won’t even see the benefits of until 2025.
Biden can do better, but only if he and his people try a lot harder.
The Biden administration gave up on passing a police reform bill in honor of George Floyd last fall. And now, as Senate Democrats seem doomed to pass any new voter rights legislation, Biden’s speech last week feels even later than it did when it was delivered. I want this administration to succeed because I don’t want to live under the tyrannical rule of a racist like Donald Trump ever again, but Dr King’s warning of the white moderate 60 years ago rings truer than ever in the wake of Biden’s failures to pass legislation to help the Black voters that delivered him the presidency.
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will,” King wrote. “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
When I think of a reason to get upset with President Biden as it relates to men like Dr King and George Floyd, it’s not that he dared compare the two. Instead, it’s that he is repeating the patterns of politicians before him, and failing them both in the process.