Whether he remains the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination or fades back into retirement, former Vice President Joe Biden is the most successful politician to come out of Delaware.

With its mixed economy and populations, Delaware is a lot more like the USA in miniature than the early-voting states of Iowa or New Hampshire. How did Biden rise there, and what does it say about his national appeal, and its limits?

In the early 1970s, consumer advocate Ralph Nader called Delaware “the Company State” and sketched how its government, economy, politics, and even charities were dominated by the DuPont Co. and a Republican corporate-paternal tradition.

But as that company declined and fragmented, Biden’s generation of Delaware Democrats built a broad voting coalition and a multistate fundraising machine that has placed Democrats in control of state government and every statewide office, including both U.S. senators and lone U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, one of the few African American women representing a majority-white district in Congress.

If all they cared about was winning, Delaware might offer Democrats a road map.

But Biden’s more liberal Democratic critics are using the planks in his long Senate record to whack him. What use is it electing D’s, they ask, if you end up with old guys such as Biden, who was friendly with segregationists in his long Senate career, questioned the wisdom of court-ordered school integration, and worked with Wall Street bankers to squeeze consumers?

There are dark shadows in Delaware’s long history: The state was the last to abolish public whipping, hanging and slavery. How did Biden approach a state like that?

“Forced busing”: Into the 1960s, Delaware had unequal black and white public school systems. A parent lawsuit against that system was combined into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court ordered an end to school segregation.

A federal judge rejiggered school districts in the Wilmington area where most Delawareans live, so each stretched from the black city center to the white state line, and ordered that schools balance enrollments, white and black.

Sam Waltz, who headed the Wilmington News Journal’s state capital bureau and covered Biden in the mid-1970s, says the elementary school in his suburban neighborhood, North Star, was one of several shut under the court order so his three kids and their neighbors could be “bused nearly an hour into the city. Even as a lifelong Democrat involved in civil rights, I didn’t like it. It was a federally imposed judicial solution.”

Was this a moment for a real leader to back the law even if it meant alienating some parents? “Many of us characterized Joe Biden as a ‘Ted Kennedy liberal’ — but he was also a politician who could count, and he wasn’t going against a mass of his white supporters to endorse ‘forced busing,’” Waltz said.

“Charm and B.S.”: In Congress, Biden approached the segregationist senators who controlled key committees, made friends, and got ahead. In the Senate, “you’ve got to see things from the other guy’s point of view, and Joe mastered that,” from the time he took his seat in 1973, aged 30, Waltz said. Like Bill Clinton, he pushed mandatory-sentencing prison legislation to show he was “hard on crime,” boosting support among white Democrats who otherwise backed Reagan, or Trump.

“Joe Biden is not a ‘blow-up-the-house politician,’” not like Trump, or even Obama, Waltz concludes. He’s “Irish charm and B.S.” The challenge for Biden was to keep his suburban white supporters without alienating the black voters who gave Democrats their statewide margins.

Where else could they go? By the time I worked at the News Journal in the early 1990s, black leaders in Wilmington wanted to reconstitute an urban school district where residents had more power. Instead of allowing that potentially divisive split, Democrats focused on boosting school funding, and diversity hiring, and making it easier to start charter schools, moves that helped keep their coalition dominant.

Payback: Biden was also among the Democrats who joined Republicans in giving credit card and student loan lenders what they wanted — laws limiting bankruptcy write-downs for people who borrowed more than they could pay and contributing, some economists say, to the late-2000s financial crisis. Those laws also fueled student debts that have made it tough for many young people to buy homes.

Biden became friendly with the late Charles M. Cawley, who built Maryland National Bank’s credit card arm into Delaware’s largest private employer, MBNA, now part of Bank of America. Biden bought his sprawling Greenville, Delaware, home from an MBNA executive at an attractive price. Bankers gave generously to Biden’s campaigns and hired his son.

Isn’t that selling a public office? Biden — like other Delaware Democrats, including current U.S. Sen. Tom Carper — could argue that he was boosting hometown employers and keeping University of Delaware grads in the state as DuPont and other old industries were cutting back.

Student lenders Sallie Mae and Navient followed the big card banks in moving to Wilmington and hiring thousands. (Biden’s son and political heir Beau Biden took a more aggressive anti-bank line when he was Delaware’s attorney general. The younger Biden died of cancer four years ago.)

None of this is new, including the outrage. “Progressive types” were critical of Biden back in the day, says Gary Hindes, the former Delaware Democratic chairman who has made his Delaware Bay Co. clients rich suing the government for botched corporate bailouts. “At the end of the day, most come to realize that in politics, you can’t allow the perfect to get in the way of the good.” A favorite Obama saying.

Hindes speaks for that kind of finance and business Democrat, accustomed to winning by checking the people’s pulse, and not running too far ahead: “Joe is our best shot at beating Trump.”

He worries the U.S. senators and local politicians who are Biden’s early rivals “aren’t yet ready for prime time. We’d better ride our best horse lest we end up with another ‘fluke’ election. The country — at least the 60 percent who do not support Trump — simply cannot afford to take that chance.”

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

(9) comments


Dems are in deep doo-doo thanks to the Dirty Double Dozen presidential candidates they have to choose from. Uncle Joe Biden is indeed the "most electable" of this distasteful lineup, but the man is ticking time bomb of gaffs and dim wittedness and he detonates frequently. He is also little more than a political weather vane as he demonstrated several times during the recent Dem "debate." It is a virtual certainty he wont be the last candidate standing at the end of the primary process. Which leaves the rest of the Democratic field to scratch, claw and crawl over eacht other as they attempt to reach the farthest left reaches of the political spectrum. The socialist bromides and cultural upheaval this crew is selling (open borders, "free" college, forgiveness of student loans, reparations, late term abortions, free health care for illegal immigrants, etc.) will not be bought by most Americans, including moderate working class Dems, independents and Never Trumpers. Deep doo-doo.


Obadiah is right. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/17/528822128/the-color-of-law-details-how-u-s-housing-policies-created-segregation This is the day in 1954 that the Supreme Court issued its famous ruling desegregating schools, Brown versus Board of Education. Today, schools remain largely segregated, and the author Richard Rothstein argues that's because housing is segregated. Even today, black and white people generally don't live in the same neighborhoods. Rothstein's new book is called "The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America." Welcome to the program.RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: Thank you very much.SHAPIRO: So the basic argument of your book is that while racist individuals might have contributed to housing segregation in specific cases, there was an overwhelming amount of government policy at the state, local and federal level that explicitly forced black people to live in different places from white people. And I have to admit that reading this book, the geographic scope, the longevity, the sheer creativity of these policies really took me by surprise.ROTHSTEIN: It takes many people by surprise. This whole history has been forgotten. It used to be well-known. There was nothing hidden about it. The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.SHAPIRO: The book gives so many different examples of how this played out, and one of the worst offenders is the FHA, the Federal Housing Administration. Explain why this one government agency has so much influence over where people live and what the FHA did to prevent black people from buying and owning homes.ROTHSTEIN: Perhaps the best-known example is Levittown, just east of New York City, but there were subdivisions like this all over the country. What the federal government did in the 1940s and '50s, it came to a developer like Levitt, the Levitt family that built Levittown. That family could never have assembled the capital necessary to build 17,000 homes on its own.What the federal government did, the FHA, is guarantee bank loans for construction and development to Levittown on condition that no homes be sold to African-Americans and that every home have a clause in its deed prohibiting resale to African-Americans. 


Forced busing does not work. P.G. County had it and it ruined the local school communities. It gave more integration - for awhile. But many whites fled, leaving the County to bus blacks from one school to another. Finally, P.G. County just gave up on forced busing. What forced busing succeeded in doing was to change the County demographics. If that was their goal, it succeeded. But it was a long run failure for school integration.


Some years back I read a history of DC / MD white flight. There was working middle class white flight from DC to PG County before busing and then again from PG to counties south and east both during and after busing. Busing certainly contributed to white flight but it wasn’t the only and possibly not even a major independent factor.


Hard to measure, Gladys, but P.G. has become mostly black. In the early 60's the company building new homes in Bowie, would not sell to blacks, That all changed and then busing came along, Which was the cause, I don't know, I do know that they gave up busing when they were just busing mostly black kids around and had few left to bus. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/pg/magnets/magnet.htmFrom Washington Post Sept. 2, 1998A federal judge in Greenbelt yesterday ordered the end to mandatory busing in Prince George's County, concluding a 26-year-old government effort to desegregate the schools and closing one of the most divisive chapters in the county's history.During the next six years, busing will be phased out as the county begins building 13 neighborhood schools and refurbishing older ones. Under a settlement to end busing, the school system also will focus on boosting the academic achievement of all students and closing the achievement gap between African American students and their peers. At the height of the Prince George's desegregation effort, 33,277 children were reassigned to schools to achieve racial balance, and the burden of busing fell evenly among white and black students. But by 1996, nearly 92 percent of the 11,332 students mandatorily bused were African American, many of them sent to predominantly black schools outside their neighborhoods.   

Obadiah Plainsmen

Dick by your comment I see that you are not a "native" of DC, PG. Your first sentence is entirely wrong. Bowie, Crofton and Largo are 3 of the original 7 Levittown's. Levitt and his company build these community's for WWII veterans as an alternative to cramped inner city apartments and housing. Levitt & Sons were not the ones who discriminated, it was the FHA. FHA lenders embraced a racist policy( Redlining) excluding communities of color allowing only residents to "the Caucasian race", as stipulated in housing rent and sales agreements, making them segregated communities. If an African American family trying to get a loan for to buy a house in Bowie the were automatic denied. Didn't matter if they could afford it. Once the practice of "redlining" stopped ( or has it?) the government realized what they created they decided on drastic measure such as busing to try to rectify a wrong.


Here is the federal law on housing for Maryland and other states too. In my opinion this did not have much affect on housing until after the school busing started, for P.G. County, Maryland. https://www.peoples-law.org/laws-against-housing-discrimination Federal Law Federal law prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, advertising and financing of housing on the basis of your race, color, religion, gender, national origin, family status, i.e., pregnancy or having custody of a child under age 18 or disability. Maryland and many of its local jurisdictions have at least similar laws, as well as additional protections.The national policy against housing discrimination is defined in the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. In addition, there are provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted as prohibiting “all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property.”  Unlike the 1968 law, the 1866 law contains no exceptions and no limit on the amount of damages which can be awarded to a plaintiff.


A native of P.G. County, no, only lived there 12 years...And I worked in the original Levittown Safeway, on Long Island. I didn't know it was FHA that wrote it into the contractsto discriminate. Are you sure, why would they care?

Obadiah Plainsmen

You can thank FDR. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

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