Joe Biden is becoming Mary Bubala writ large.
Bubala lost her job last month when she empty-headedly asked what she imagined was an innocent question and faced criticism for the racial baggage that it carried.
And now Biden’s political support’s gone shaky over remarks he made about some racist senators he worked with years ago — a time he somehow remembers for its “civility.”
In Bubala’s case, in a foggy moment she instantly regretted, she asked a question on WJZ’s Eyewitness News about Baltimore having three straight female African-American mayors, and how it hasn’t worked out too well for the city — and, therefore, should Baltimore voters consider going in a “different direction.”
As if anybody would ask whether Marylanders should have stopped voting for white males after the political scandals, years ago, involving Dale Anderson, Joseph Alton, Marvin Mandel and, oh yeah, Spiro Agnew.
White males, every one.
Convicted of being crooks, every one.
But nobody would ask such a question of those white men. Because, in every one of those cases, race and gender had nothing to do with the individual human beings who screwed up – just as race and gender had nothing at all to do with the failings of Baltimore’s last three mayors.
In Biden’s case, he stirred up racial sensitivities the other night with some sentimental references about former senators James O. Eastland, of Mississippi, and Herman Talmadge, of Georgia.
He invoked their names as measures of a more “civilized” time in Washington politics.
Civilized, can you believe that? These are the civilized men who tried to consign African-Americans to lives of second-class citizenship for the crime of skin color.
My memory’s not perfect, but I can’t recall anybody with a three-digit IQ previously connecting Eastland and Talmadge with “civility.” And that’s why Biden’s remark immediately drew flak from some of his Democratic presidential primary opponents.
That, and Biden adding, as he reportedly slipped into a comic Southern accent, in words to make everyone flinch in embarrassment, that the racist Eastland “never called me ‘boy.’ He always called me ‘son.’”
Was Biden trying to call these men great Americans? Of course not. Was it a terrible “boy” story he told? Of course. But Biden’s long history, in Congress and as vice president, says he knows better.
Just as Bubala’s previous history was benign.
But, like Bubala, Biden framed his reference in a way that left him looking not just foolish but racially insensitive.
Eastland and Talmadge were two of the worst relics of America’s shameful history of race-based cruelty.
But isn’t that exactly why Biden used them as examples?
Wasn’t he saying: I had to deal with the devils themselves — because the country’s needs came first?
If he’d said he worked with, say, Barak Obama…so what? You’d expect that.
In Washington today, as Biden pointed out, “You look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
In the old days, he said, “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. And we got things done. We got it finished.”
In our time of open contentiousness, that’s where he brought up his “civility” comparison.
What he was saying should have been made clearer. If he could make the country better by talking with these two creeps, as miserable as any two people on Capitol Hill, then why can’t we find a way to talk to each other today?
But his language was unclear and foolish, and it’s costing him.
Joe Biden, meet Mary Bubala.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Tonight at 6: A Daily Show Masquerading as Local TV News” (Apprentice House). His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.