Lately, former vice president Joe Biden has encountered sharp criticism for his nostalgia over his early days in the Senate. Praising the collegiality of the 1970s, when liberals like Biden and Ted Kennedy could cooperate with white supremacists like Mississippi senator James Eastland, Biden chastised current politicians for their ideological purity and rigidity. “We got things done” then, he proclaimed of those bygone days at a recent fundraiser. Until Kamala Harris’s targeted critique in Thursday night’s Democratic debate, some outraged commentators have failed to ask what, precisely, Biden got done working with James Eastland and company.
One thing he got was a seat on the Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by Eastland. Another was support for legislation so important to Biden that he returned to it repeatedly: laws restricting federal support of school desegregation.
It is hard to exaggerate white opposition to busing schoolchildren in the late 1970s, when Biden teamed up with, among others, Kansas senator Robert Dole and James Eastland to contain the role of the federal government in implementing it. In 1976, Wilmington, the largest city in Biden’s home state of Delaware, was under court order to desegregate its school—22 years after Brown. Throughout the course of the 1970s, Biden supported the anti-busing legislation of others and introduced some of his own.
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