Biden Stances on Busing, Drug Offenses Repackaged as Racial Controversies

The headline over Thursday's piece by John Broder, "Biden's Record on Race Is Scuffed by 3 Episodes," intrigued. After running a series of unfair stories on Sarah Palin, would the Times be plumbing Joe Biden's history of racially insensitive (by liberal standards, anyway) remarks?

No. Instead, of the three "scuffs" on Biden's racial record, two were simply old liberal political issues from the '70s (forced busing) and '80s (allegedly discriminatory drug sentencing) repackaged by the Times as Biden racial controversies because Biden took the more conservative line on them - introducing legislation to outlaw certain types of court-ordered busing and increasing the federal penalties for the possession and sale of small quantities of crack cocaine.

But three episodes from his Senate career show how treacherous issues of race remain and have left scuff marks on what most agree is an otherwise admirable record. They concerned busing, criminal sentencing and the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

That last "scuff" is interesting - the Thomas hearings Biden presided over in 1992 as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But even that segment ended on an ambivalent note in the Times' telling, as Broder brought in old Thomasmentor, the former Sen. John Danforth, to offer up a qualified defense of Biden:

Mr. Biden said that polls taken after the hearings showed that the majority of the public considered them to have been fair. But he took heat from liberal interest groups for limiting the testimony about Justice Thomas's private life and from Thomas supporters for conducting a senatorial circus.

Justice Thomas, in his autobiography "My Grandfather's Son," essentially accuses Mr. Biden of leading the "high-tech lynch mob" that tried to string him up. Former Senator John C. Danforth of Missouri, Mr. Thomas's most ardent defender, said in an interview that while he considered the hearings a travesty, he did not completely blame Mr. Biden.

"I don't go as far as Clarence," Mr. Danforth said. "I don't think he was the leader of the lynch mob. I think what he was, was the park superintendent at the site at which the lynching took place."

Mr. Biden said only, "That was a very controversial nomination."