Joe Biden’s otherwise fluent and strong performance at the debate was overshadowed by a fiery exchange which took place between the former Vice President and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California). Harris attacked Biden over his recent remarks in which he boasted of his ability to work with people with whom he disagrees “and get things done”-citing his work with notorious southern Democrats such as James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.

Harris preceded her comments by saying “Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist…” and proceeded to directly criticize Biden for his record on race, and specifically the hurt he caused by bringing up his record of working with segregationists like Eastland and Talmadge. She also criticized Biden for working with the senators to oppose attempts at desegregation by busing during the 1970s.

Biden’s response was enthusiastic, but lacking. He vehemently rejected the claim that he “praised” the senators, as Harris had accused him, and brought up his record as a public defender and not as a prosecutor, a clear swipe at Harris’ career as San Francisco district attorney and attorney general of California. While defending himself, and largely hitting the right notes, Biden stumbled and seemed genuinely surprised that once again, his civil rights record was called into question, something for which he should have been fully prepared before last night’s debate.

It was a remark made by Biden which to many captures his greatest weakness. While enumerating his successes in the Senate and voicing support for the E.R.A., Biden began rambling but caught himself, and even before a moderator could say so, Biden ended his comments with “anyway, my time is up. I’m sorry.” Harris and many others within the party could not agree more. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) also managed to get in a dig at the former VP, recalling a speech he made at the Democratic National Convention in which a 44-year-old Biden called for the torch to be passed to the next generation. “Joe Biden was right when he said that 32 years ago. He is still right today,” Swalwell said. Joe Biden smiled, but shot back that he was still “holding onto that torch.” That may have elicited cheers from fellow baby-boomers, who are still a significant voter demographic, but came off to younger voters as an old white man of a previous generation desperately clinging to power.


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Biden’s stumbling performance in the debate also revealed that his weaknesses can be exploited by other candidates and that he is, contrary to what many believe, beatable. Although he relies heavily on black voters, that may change if debate around his record and concerns about his age catch up with him. This is especially true considering that his possible future opponent, the President Donald Trump, has a notorious and uncanny ability to utilize his opponents’ political weakness with ruthless bullying.


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