Saturday, July 6, 2019

Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It's Deja Vu All Over Again

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

In the Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019, Kamala Harris attacked Joe Biden on his civil rights record on busing.  It was a foolish tactic. Joe Biden has an exemplary record promoting civil rights during his many years in the U.S. Senate, but in the 1970s and 1980s it was necessary for him to work with senators who were considered segregationists.

Biden and I are both old white males who are out of favor in politics these days.  I can relate to the problems he faced in promoting civil rights in the 1970s and 1980s.  I served on Columbia (S.C.) City Council from 1978 to 1986 and helped change an all white at-large city council to a 4-2-1 council that provided black representation for the first time in history. 

When Kamala Harris attacked Biden’s record on busing, she opened a bucket of worms.  I remember the strong emotions on busing among whites and blacks. If Democrats make busing and reparations campaign issues in the 2020 presidential race, they will resurrect those emotions and lose the election by further polarizing partisan politics along racial lines.

Apparently Senator Harris doesn’t appreciate the lessons of history and the need for compromise in politics.  Racism continues to be the biggest obstacle to social justice in America. Democrats would do well to make racism an issue in 2020, so long as they promote a politics of reconciliation and win the election.  To do that they need to acknowledge the painful lessons of history on racism, or they are doomed to repeat them.

Donald Trump has exploited racism and Christian extremism to promote a Republican Party based on white supremacy and distorted concepts of Christian morality.  Trump is a terrible president, but he understands politics better than Democrats. Democrats and the white church must recognize the gravity of the problem to save American democracy from its demise.

America has lost its moral compass, and churches have failed to be the keepers of America’s morality.  Partisan politics are defined by race, and that’s as much an indictment of the church as it is of politics.  Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week, and black churches consistently vote Democratic while white churches vote Republican.

            Democrats and the church need to promote a politics of reconciliation rather than the mean-spirited politics that have polarized America.  That requires pastors who have been silent on politics to speak out. Otherwise they are failing to make disciples of all people. That doesn’t require worshiping Christ as the alter ego of God, only following Jesus as the word of God.

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  That’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that emphasizes altruism and a politics of reconciliation, but they have been conspicuously absent in American politics.

President Trump has exploited racism to mobilize white voters, and Democrats are playing into his hands by raising issues like busing and reparations.  Those white Christians who elected Trump in 2016 are working hard to repeat their victory in 2020. As Yogi Berra would say, It’s deja vu all over again--but It ain’t over till it’s over.  To avoid a shutout in 2020, Democrats and the church must step up to the plate and promote a politics of reconciliation.


Following the Democratic Party debate on June 27, 2019, there were mixed reactions to Kamala Harris’ attack on Joe Biden for working with segregationist Senators in promoting civil rights.
Politico reported that Harris faces debate backlash: “Her ambition got it wrong about Joe.”  See

David Weigal commented on What the busing fight shows us about the Democratic Party.  He asked whether “the 2020 Democrats are really ready for a fight on busing,” noting that Biden didn’t seem ready for a fight on busing when Harris attacked him; and that “Biden wants to talk about Obama, while his rivals want talk about everything else.”  Weigal noted that Harris and Julian Castro were “trying to separate Biden from the good feelings that Democrats still have about the Obama years,” and that Biden defenders are ready to fight back.” Weigal suspects that “Democratic activists expect Trump to call any party nominee a socialist who supports ‘open borders,’ reducing the risk of left-wing policies.”  See

Matt Viser and Annie Linskey have noted, “That It has been a striking turn that in a little over two years after the first black president left office, his party is now consumed by a major dispute over decades-old policies aimed at desegregation — and the opposition to those policies by that man’s vice president. Civil rights leaders who have worked with and admired Biden have been surprised, both by his debate performance and his struggles to move past it.
...Harris said that she still supports busing and sees a modern-day use for it.  “The schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school,” she told reporters in San Francisco on Sunday. “And we need to put every effort, including busing, into play to desegregate the schools. . . . There’s no such thing as separate but equal, and so busing is one of the ways by which we create desegregation and we make it more equal.”
...Already, however, the debate is playing out in unpredictable ways. Gloria Major, a 66-year-old black voter from Columbia, S.C., grew up being bused to a white school in Florida.  “Racism is very real to me, but the realest thing is this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” she said. “Why are you debating something that happened 40 years ago? That came out of the clear blue sky?”  Before the debate, she said, Harris was among a quartet of candidates who intrigued her. After the debate, Harris was off the list for creating “a distraction.” See      

Eugene Robinson seriously doubts the centrist politics of Joe Biden, and says that Never Trumpers have a decision to make, and that decision is to support the Democratic nominee for president.  Robinson feels that leftist Democratic policies can gain public support and he denigrates “a super cautious, mealy-mouthed Democratic nominee.”  Robinson doubts “that aiming for the center point of the old, obsolete spectrum will get you anywhere.” But Robinson doesn’t take ownership of Harris’ support of busing, reparations and many of the other radical leftist and socialist Democratic proposals.  See

Polls on the reaction of Democrats and those leaning Democratic after the debate vary widely, if not wildly.  While Harris is given high marks for her debate performance by most Democrats, she still trails Biden in most polls taken since the debate:
CNN: Biden 22%, Harris 17%, Warren 15% and Sanders 14%
Quinnipiac University: Biden 22%, Harris 20%, Warren 14% and Sanders 13%
Washington Post-ABC: Biden 21%, Sanders 13%, Harris & Warren 7%
Economist/YouGov: Biden 21%, Warren 18%, Harris 13%, Sanders 10%
USA Today (in Iowa): Biden 24%, Harris 16%, Warren 13%, Sanders 9%
David Binder Research (Iowa): Warren 20%, Harris 18%, Biden 17%, Sanders 12%
In all the polls, support for Biden has slipped at least 10%.
What do these polls tell us?  According to Paul Waldman, “There are four candidates (Biden, Warren, Harris, and Sanders) getting the most support, with the differences between them not particularly large. Then there are a few others (Buttigieg, Castro, Booker, O’Rourke) who have at least measurable if still small support. Then there are many others who haven’t managed to get enough attention to get significant numbers of voters to consider them.  But they still could! Harris and Castro both did well in the first debates, which resulted in a lot of positive press coverage, which increased their support. It could happen to anyone. And for at least a couple of them, it probably will.” See

On the Republican side of the fence, see Inside the Trump campaign’s plan to re-energize evangelicals,

Related Commentary:

On the greatest commandment:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within

On religion and a politics of reconciliation:
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/16/16): Religion, Politics and Public Expectations
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era? 
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?
(5/4/19): Musings on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics 
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?

On religion, race and politics:
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

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