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Explain To Me Why This Isn't A Scandal

(CBS/The Early Show)
It's not every day that we see a Democratic Senator from the Northeast pandering to Southern Republicans by associating himself sympathetically with the Confederate cause during the Civil War – so isn't it newsworthy when that actually happens? Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has made no secret of his desire to test the presidential waters for the Democratic nomination. As part of that quest, he showed up in South Carolina, an important early primary state, where he took the unusual step of speaking to a mostly Republican audience at the Columbia Rotary Club. According to The State's preeminent political reporter, Lee Bandy, here's part of what Biden said to his strange-bedfellow audience:
"I want to thank you all for allowing me a trip here to speak to only Republicans. It's like my hometown. I just won every district in my state except the one I live in," he quipped.

The crowd howled.

The senator then pounced on a member's announcement that the club would hold its annual Christmas party at the state Department of Archives and History where members could view the original copy of the state's Articles of Secession.

Biden asked, "Where else could I go to a Rotary Club where (for a) Christmas party the highlight is looking at the Articles?"

Biden was on a roll.

Delaware, he noted, was a "slave state that fought beside the North. That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way."

In all fairness, as Bandy points out, Biden's remarks were clearly made in jest as he warmed the crowd up with a laugh or two before moving into his speech on the Iraq war. But it's not the first time Biden has made similar comments. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" in August, Biden made the case for his candidacy in the South, according to an AP account at the time, saying, ""You don't know my state. … My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a Northeast liberal state."

Then again, Republican Senator Trent Lott said he was only joking in 2002 in comments he made at the 100th birthday party for his colleague Strom Thurmond. Lott noted that his home state of Mississippi had voted for Thurmond when he ran for president on a segregationist ticket in 1948. Lott then added, "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Lott was clearly kidding too. But the furor over those remarks led to Lott's resignation as the Republican leader in the Senate (although he was just recently elected to the party's second top spot in the wake of November's elections).

Outside of a couple blog entries, I haven't seen Biden's comments reported anywhere else. Is there a media double-standard being applied here that makes it acceptable for a Democrat to tout his "slave state" credentials while hammering a Republican for boasting of his state's support for a segregationist candidate?

The answer is yes and no. Lott's problems were exacerbated to some extent by tensions within his own party and reports that the White House was less than happy with his performance so there was a little more to the story than just his comments. Also, it's fair to note that Lott held a leadership position that justifies more media examination than some other politicians. But Biden is a senator, now chairman of a key Senate committee and is seeking the presidency . So why did Lott get in trouble and why didn't Biden? Maybe this time it really is pro-Democratic media bias.

Biden's contention that hailing from a "slave state" will help his appeal to Southerners is troubling on several levels. Maybe the Lott episode was blown up in the first place. Still, I'm not sure which is more disturbing – Biden's apparent belief that this somehow helps him politically or the audience's reaction. According to Bandy's report, "the crowd loved it."

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