‘Black Shirts’ – Just Words or Scripted Talking Points for VP Biden?

We took note last week of Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks to the political and legislative conference of the Communications Workers of America, checking to see what he had to say about the Employee Free Choice Act. (Transcript.)

Amid the expected exhortation, one phrase jumped out when the Vice President attacked union opponents generally and the Bush-era National Labor Relations Board specifically for being biased against union organizers.

You know, the National Labor Relations Act says we should “encourage” – paraphrase – “encourage” unions, not mandate them, encourage them. Why? It’s good for the economy. It’s gotten lopsided, folks.

The guys who were supposed to be wearing striped shirts have been wearing black shirts the last eight years. We don’t have referees out there doing it the right way. We’re switching out the shirts, because we’re switching out the people wearing the shirts.

Black shirts? Black shirts? That’s the term used to describe the Italian paramilitary squads and bully boys who helped Mussolini’s rise to power after WWI. (Oswald Mosely’s fascists in England were also known by the term.) If you call someone a “black shirt” you’re calling him a fascist.

We chalked the use of the term up to rhetorical haste, a confusion of black hats — bad guys — and striped shirts — referees. True, you would think someone with vast foreign policy experience would be sensitive to a term like black shirt. Still, a mistake.

But the Vice President has used the term in other speeches to union groups. It’s obviously part of his stump union speech. At some point he or his speech writer said, “Yeah, black shirts. That’s good. Put that in.”

From Vice President Biden’s remarks to the 2009 Legislative Conference Of The American Federation Of State, County And Municipal Employees, May 12, 2009:

There has been a steady drumbeat. The guys wearing striped shirts were wearing black shirts, not striped shirts as referees. They’ve done anything administratively, legislatively and creatively for someone who wants to join a union to join a union.

Black shirts AND drumbeats.

And, Vice President Biden’s Speech to the AFL-CIO Executive Conference, Miami Beach, FL, March 5, 2009:

[In] the early ’70s, some parts of the business community decided that labor was the enemy. They supported politicians who felt the same way, and they began to fix the game, so that the refs — the NLRB, to name one — weren’t calling things — being square and fair. They started wearing black shirts instead of striped shirts.

Are we being too sensitive? After all, it’s a rare American who’s conversant in the rise of Italian fascism. Black shirts are, well, just a dated fashion look.

However, if you look around the web, you’ll see that the term is still in common use — especially among the left — as an insult, the same thing as calling someone a fascist. It’s in the news — a lot.

Retire the term, Mr. Vice President. Stop referring to employers, past members of the NLRB, and principled opponents of unionization in inflammatory terms favored by the left. Even when inadvertent, “black shirt” is a slur. It should not be used in speeches by America’s elected leaders.

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