Before Tuesday night’s debate and on until the South Carolina primary, a pro-Trump super PAC is launching a powerful ad using quotes from former President Barack Obama’s book to slam former Vice President Joe Biden, who hopes his support among black voters in South Carolina will revive his flagging campaign. The ad arguably twists Obama’s words out of context but it does highlight the idea that Biden does not represent black voters as much as he claims.
The ad warns black voters against Biden’s “empty promises,” quoting a section from Obama’s book Dreams of My Father read in Obama’s own voice while showing reports of Joe Biden’s supposed betrayals of the black community.
“Joe Biden promised to help our community. It was a lie. Here’s President Obama: ‘Plantation politics. Black people in the worst jobs. The worst housing. Police brutality rampant. But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket. Sell our souls for a Christmas turkey.’ Enough. Joe Biden won’t represent us, defend us, or help us. Don’t believe Biden’s empty promises,” the ad says.
During the Obama quote, the ad presents three arguments against Biden. It claims that he “joined segregationists,” “wrote [a] bill that disproportionately jailed African Americans,” and “blamed African American parents for inequality.”
“South Carolinians need to understand that Joe Biden has repeatedly failed on the issues important to the black community,” Ted Harvey, chairman of the Committee to Defend the President, said in a statement to PJ Media. “From joining segregationists to supporting legislation that disproportionately jailed African-Americans, Biden simply can’t be trusted to represent South Carolina. No matter how much he panders on the campaign trail, Biden will fail again if given the chance, and it’s our duty to let all Americans voters know.”
The Committee to Defend the President will spend over $200,000 on TV advertising, as well as $50,000 on social media advertising as part of an ad buy pushing the ad. The ad will run on CBS all day before and after the South Carolina debate Tuesday and will run on CBS, CNN, and MSBNC from Wednesday, February 26, to Primary Day on Saturday, February 29.
PolitiFact rated a similar ad in 2017 targeting Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff as “Pants on Fire” because Obama’s words were not his own — they came from a Chicago barber he was quoting in the book. PolitiFact also dinged the anti-Ossoff ad for suggesting that voting did not make a difference when the broader story behind Obama’s quote intended to show that voting does make a difference.
Does the anti-Biden ad twist the quote out of context? Perhaps. Again, the words were not entirely Obama’s. However, Biden is often considered a safe candidate for blacks despite his bad record on criminal justice.
As for the claims in the ad, some are accurate and some overblown. It is true that Biden “joined segregationists.” In fact, he touted his civility with segregationists in Congress — for which he was unfairly slandered by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The NBC News article referenced in the ad also faults Biden for opposing forced racially-integrated busing, a red herring issue Kamala Harris used to attack Biden last year.
The ad also claims that Joe Biden wrote the “bill that disproportionately jailed African Americans.” This is true and bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts are attempting to reverse it. Biden once bragged that “every major crime bill” had his name on it. He has since apologized for his “tough-on-crime” stances, but this is a legitimate criticism.
Finally, the ad faulted Biden for blaming “African American parents for inequality.” During a Democratic debate in September, the former vice president brought up “problems that come from home” when it comes to helping black children succeed. As The Washington Post explained, “Biden’s answer here has him suggesting that the way to address a divide that he called institutional is to get black parents to do a better job.”
It is fair to criticize Biden on his “tough-on-crime” record and on the confusion in his remarks seemingly blaming black parents for what the former vice president himself called “institutional segregation.” The Obama voice-over was twisted out of context and involves the former president quoting someone else, which is arguably deceptive. The major message, however, that Joe Biden is not the kind of champion for black people he claims to be, does fit with the criticism in the Obama quote and it will be a powerful message to weaken Biden’s support among the pivotal black voters in South Carolina.
Obama’s decision not to engage in the 2020 Democratic primary has baffled many observers. If the former president supported his former vice president, that support would have catapulted Biden to the top. Using Obama’s words against Biden undercuts the basis for Biden’s support among black voters — they often associate him with the first black president.
While PolitiFact is likely to have a field day — and will be at least partially correct in slamming this ad as false — Obama can prevent this attack from hurting Biden by simply coming forward and vouching for his former vice president. The fact that he does not do so speaks volumes in the contested primary.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.