Knock It Off With the ‘Black Shirt’ Stuff, Mr. Vice President

By March 18, 2011Labor Unions

We took Vice President Joe Biden to task in 2009 when he use the term “black shirts” to refer to Bush Administration officials that oversaw labor issues. They weren’t impartial referees wearing striped shirts, Biden told labor audiences, they were wearing “black shirts.” (Shopfloor, “‘Black Shirts’ – Just Words or Scripted Talking Points for VP Biden?
 and “Card Check: Vice President Biden Calls Somebody ‘Black Shirts’.”)

The term black shirt has an ugly history and its use, however innocently, in a political context suggests you view your critics as fascists.

Since the summer of 2009, we hadn’t heard the Vice President utter the “black shirt” slur again — until last evening on the AFL-CIO sponsored telephone call with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Richard Trumka, the union president. There it was again, thrown out amid a wide range of over-the-top comments and pro-labor exhortations. (Audio)

Thankfully, we were not the only one to notice the return of the black shirts. Michael Gonzalez writes today at National Review Online’s The Corner blog, “No ‘Biden Will Be Biden’ Free Pass for the Veep“:

[Biden] says that the people who worked at the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board during the Bush administration were “wearing black shirts.”

Whatever was the vice president referring to? We’ve asked his office for a clarification, but have received no response in the past four hours. His office owes those people either an explanation or an apology, lest they believe that a sitting vice president of the United States meant to compare the people who worked in the last administration to Benito Mussolini’s paramilitary brutes….

There is a regretful tendency in Washington to dismiss what the vice president says with a shrug and say, “Biden will be Biden.” But Mr. Biden is not some loveable if overeager golden retriever who will overturn the china from time to time or do something worse to the carpet. He’s our vice president, and some decorum should be expected.

Absolutely right. After all the lectures on rhetorical tone and “civility,” it’s galling to hear the Vice President of the United States of America use such inflammatory terms for people who just disagree with him. Please referee your rhetoric and hang up the black shirts, Mr. Vice President.

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