Joe Biden is our third Black president
Twenty-five years ago, novelist Toni Morrison famously labeled Bill Clinton as “the first Black president.”
The first actual Black president, Barack Obama, would come later. But Morrison’s memorable one-liner still gets laughs. It was a smart way to say that Clinton broke new ground by elevating Black leaders and policies that helped Black people.
By Morrison’s standard, President Joe Biden is our nation’s third Black president.
But Biden’s 2024 campaign is worried about getting Black voters to the polls. Last week, the Biden campaign put $25 million into a radio advertising campaign to pump up enthusiasm among Black and Latino voters with message “Joe and Kamala are getting it done for us — and that’s the facts.”
This comes after former President Trump made the absurd, provably false claim to talk radio host Hugh Hewitt last month that polls show his support among Blacks has “gone up four of five times” since he was indicted for election interference in Georgia and police took his mugshot.
“The Black community is so different for me … since that mug shot was taken,” Trump said with no shame at tying Black people to criminal processing.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the polls,” Trump claimed, “my polls with the Black community have gone up four and five times.”
Even if Trump’s claim is false, it is true that Black enthusiasm for Biden, especially among young Black voters, is sagging. And that concern is the reason for the advertising campaign aimed at Black voters.
In the ads, Biden is reminding Black voters that he named the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
It is not in his ads, but last week Biden’s vice president — the first Black vice president, Kamala Harris — swore in a Black woman, Laphonza Butler, as a U.S. senator. It is amazing to me, after 50 years of covering Washington, to see a Black woman sworn in as a senator while her wife — another Black woman — holds the bible, and the oath is administered by a third Black woman, who is Biden’s Vice President of the United States.
There are now three Black people serving in the Senate — Butler, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is currently running for his party’s presidential nomination.
In the House, there are 58 Black members including House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the first Black person to serve as a top party leader in Congress.
There have only ever been three Black women in the Senate. The first, Carol Mosely-Braun (D-Ill.), told the story of boarding an elevator in 1993 with North Carolina’s Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Helms had vociferously opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, savagely disparaged the civil rights movement (including Martin Luther King), and tried to filibuster the renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 1982.
According to Moseley-Braun, Helms “saw me standing there, and he started to sing, ‘I wish I was in the land of cotton…‘ And he looked at Sen. Orrin Hatch [R-Utah] and said, ‘I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing Dixie until she cries.’”
In contrast to that insulting treatment just 30 years ago, Biden can talk about naming the first Black secretary of defense, former General Lloyd J. Austin. He also selected Charles Q. Brown, an Air Force General, as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Biden also stripped confederate names from military bases.
And in all the negotiations over the debt ceiling, Biden put his trust in a Black woman, Shalanda Young, Biden’s director of the Office of Management and Budget and the first Black person in that job.
Apart from elevating Black people, Biden’s record includes real help for Black America:
Biden has achieved the lowest Black unemployment rate on record. He lowered the cost of prescription drugs and hearing aids; he has the faster rate of creation of Black-owned small business in the last 25 years; he can point to an increase in Black enrollment in government-sponsored health care plans and a double-digit reduction in Black child poverty.
Last week he cut $9 billion more in student loan debt. He has fought to cut student loan burdens which disproportionately weigh on low-income students and a large share of Black students.
Biden failed to get past GOP obstruction on police reform and voter suppression. But he took on Republican standing in the way of new laws to stop voter suppression. He bluntly asked them if they “want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?”
Biden has lived up to the pledge he made on the night when he declared victory in the presidential election. Standing next to Harris he told Black voters: “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Now, Biden often tells audiences they should not compare him to the Almighty but to the alternative.
It looks likely that the alternative to Biden in 2024 presidential race will be Trump and a GOP that is hostile to Black people and Black interests. It is not much of a choice.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.