Joe Biden says ‘10-15 per cent’ of Americans ‘not very good people’

Joe Biden's remarks echo those made by Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in previous elections

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 05 June 2020 10:04 BST
Joe Biden talks about 'not very good people'

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has accused Donald Trump of playing to a small sliver of the American public that consists of “not very good people” – echoing comments by previous candidates who sought to explain rifts in the electorate at times of bitter division.

“Do we really think this is as good as we can be as a nation?” said Mr Biden during an online discussion with black supporters. “I don’t think the vast majority of people think that.

“There are probably anywhere from 10 to 15 per cent of the people out there that are just not very good people, but that’s not who we are. The vast majority of the people are decent, and we have to appeal to that and we have to unite people. Bring them together. Bring them together.”

Mr Biden’s remarks come as the US is roiled by the largest protests over racial inequality in a generation, fired up by the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white police officer, the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her apartment by a police officer, and the killing of unarmed Ahmaud Arbery by two white neighbours.

Mr Trump and many of his supporters, however, are currently focused on imposing “law and order” on the protesters, including by deploying military forces to “dominate” the streets.

In the early reaction to what Mr Biden said, more than a few people pointed out that his remarks echo sentiments expressed by candidates in recent elections – and in the last two, the losers.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 description of “half of Trump’s supporters” as bigoted “deplorables” has become one of the most remembered quotes of her campaign; pro-Trump rallies now feature supporters wearing hats saying “adorable deplorable”.

However, Ms Clinton’s description of the other half of Mr Trump’s base has been largely forgotten.

“That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.

“They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathise with as well.”

In 2012, meanwhile, Mitt Romney landed himself in trouble with words uttered at a private fundraiser in which he dismissed nearly half of Americans who were always going to vote for Barack Obama “no matter what”.

“There are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement …

“My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

And in 2008, Mr Obama – again at a private fundraiser – reduced the political views of white voters in middle America’s poor post-industrial towns as a proxy for other anxieties. “They get bitter,” he said. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

The Clinton campaign he was fighting at the time seized on his comments as “elitist”.

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