On Biden's 'Wall Street chains' remark

Vice President Joe Biden in Danville, Virginia 14 August 2012
Joe Biden's remarks were quickly seized on by the Romney campaign and the US media

So much for Paul Ryan's pick as Romney running mate elevating the debate to one of big ideas. We are back to mud slinging.

Media coverage is still on fire with reaction to that comment by Vice-President Joe Biden about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his number two, Wisconsin Representative Ryan: "They're going to put y'all back in chains."

Mr Biden's remarks, to an audience including many African-Americans, were about Mr Romney's plans to get rid of laws regulating banks.

This is what he said: "Romney wants to, he said in the first 100 days, he's gonna let the big banks again write their own rules. 'Unchain Wall Street!' They're going to put you all back in chains."

'Race-baiting'?

The Romney campaign said it was "reckless", "outrageous" and Mr Romney himself accused the president of running a campaign of "anger and hate".

Given that the usual complaint about Mr Obama is that he is too detached - too cool - that is quite a charge.

Most of the media seem to agree Mr Biden made an awful gaffe. Most of the media have skirted around why it was supposed to be so terrible. It was, of course, because he (perhaps inadvertently) used an image of slavery.

It is a striking feature of American political debate that it is not just using racist language that is out of bounds. For some, any mention of race or African-American history is on the index of forbidden topics.

Of course, Mr Biden's comments were provocative and perhaps over the top - but were they beyond the pale? (A phrase which does have a racial connotation, but perhaps not the one you would think).

Some have called on Mr Biden to resign.

Leading conservative commentator Michelle Malkin said he was "race-baiting" and guilty of a "racist racial pander".

Redstate says he is "inciting racial animosity for political gain". (One comment on the blog adds: "the Marxists insist on calling us 'racists' - no matter what we do, so we might as well wear it as a badge of honour!)

The blog White House Dossier says: "Biden's metaphor fits naturally into what is a clear strategy to make minorities afraid of Republicans. Whether planned or not, it emanates from the campaign playbook. It stinks."

It is, of course, offensive to accuse people of wanting to re-introduce slavery.

But there is such a thing as being too sensitive. So, what in all other countries would be a fairly normal metaphor is seen here as an outrage.

Sometimes it seems as if a curious moral equivalence has been established - merely mentioning the past treatment of African-Americans is just as bad as racism itself.