The MSM and blogosphere has hooked on to the word "clean" as the most offensive word in the statement. On the Daily Show last night, Biden said he should have instead said "fresh," at which point I wanted a beat to drop and Joey to start rapping along with that Outcast song.
"O-bama fo' Presi-dent
he's just so fresh and (so fresh and) so clean clean"
Sadly, that didn't happen.
Refering to a black man running for president as "clean" is certainly a bit of a head-scratcher (or just racist), but the Chicago Tribune pointed out their problem with a different word: articulate. Usually I have problems with the Trib's Editorial Board, as they are right-wing hawks, but this time they were right on. They write:
This also reminds me of a Chris Rock joke that goes something like,
Note to Biden. Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them “articulate.” It’s the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying “He’s a credit to his race” they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.
Those dated words, like Biden’s comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.
"White people are always saying how Colin Powell is so well-spoken,
he's so well-spoken...HE'S AN EDUCATED MAN!
What kind of voice were you expecting to come out of him?!"
The issue here is that these words, "clean," "articulate," don't really make sense when applied to other candidates. Think about how strange it would be if John Edwards came out and said,
"Joe Biden is a really clean guy."
"I'm sorry, I don't think I understand."
"And he's articulate."
And so neither do they make sense when applied to Obama, execpt in the way that as a black man, some white people feel the need to characterize him with these "positive" words that, as the Trib editorial points out, are historically problematic as well as just plain stupid.
The most complicated issue here, I think, is that Biden was trying to be a good guy. I think he was trying to be complimentary, and "straight-forward," and I don't think he's a racist in the way that Bush ("doesn't care about black people") is. That doesn't excuse his poorly worded, awkward re-entry into Presidential Politics, but I do think that given the chance, he could elborated on his initial statement to get to something closer to what he meant, and futher away from the insensitive condescention that actually came out of his mouth.
PS- Biden has also said some really insentive things about Indians working at 7-11s, and something else really stupid that escapes me at the moment. So, maybe he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt after all.