I went to Al Sharpton’s radio studio yesterday to watch him chat with Joe Biden, who phoned in to assauge Sharpton by expressing regret over his remark’s describing Barack Obama as “clean” in yesterday’s Observer.
Sharpton welcomed Biden to the program and then praised him for not trying to backtrack or wiggle out of his remarks.
“You have stood straight up on this,” said Sharpton.
Sharpton, aformer presidential candidate, nonetheless took issue with the notion that Barack Obama was the first “articulate” and “clean” mainstream African American candidate for president. He asked Biden if that’s what he said.
“Al, that’s exactly what I said,” said before quickly adding that the intention of his comment was to compliment Obama as someone new and fresh and exciting in American politics. He also offered the first of many compliments and peace makers to Sharpton.
“You’re one of the most articulate people in the country,” he said.
Sharpton said the problem he had with the describing Obama as clean was that it insinuated that since Obama is “Harvard trained” he somehow different from the other black candidates who have come before him, and, as a result, is “less connected to the African American community.”
Biden said he understood that concern among black leaders like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
“I get it and that’s what I regret,” Biden said, stressing that he himself came of political age during the civil rights movement, to which he feels closely connected.
“That’s where I come from,” Biden said.
Sharpton then turned uncharacteristically optimistic, and said that he hoped all the focus on Biden would give the Senator the chance to raise the level of public attention on issues important to the black community. Biden in turn talked about the government’s failure in Katrina and Iraq.
After a commercial break, during which Sharpton answered his phone, watched some television and checked the Internet, Biden began a full scale schmooze offensive.
Speaking about social justice issues, Biden said, “Al, you have been the one driving this, you have been the one driving this since the last campaign.” He pointed out that as a Senator, he had a 100 percent voting record with the NAACP and a “very high” record with civil rights groups. He emphasized that he wasn’t in anyway criticizing Sharpton, Jackson or Shirley Chisholm and reiterated his explanation that his use of the word “clean” to describe Obama in this case could be substituted with “fresh.”
“I have overwhelming respect for you and what you did,” said Biden.
With that, there was a hiss of dead air, and it seemed that Biden’s line had dropped.
Sharpton asked if he was still there. Biden said he was.
“I thought you were drowning in giving me flattery,” said Sharpton.
Biden ignored the quip and continued. He said he was “going to compete for every black vote,” an assertion that literally raised Sharpton’s eyebrows.
After the interview, Sharpton told reporters that “in some weird way” Biden might be bringing issues important to blacks to the fore and, though he though Biden’s remark went “a step passed George Allen’s calling an Indian Macaque” he didn’t want to go after Biden, because it would seem suspicious if he, as a potential candidate, tried to knock an announced candidate out of the race.