Former Vice President Joe Biden praised the late South Carolina senator Fritz Hollings during a speech Wednesday, calling the Democrat a "great, great friend" who "helped me a great deal through some very difficult times."
Hollings's long political career included a segregationist stint when he was governor of South Carolina from 1959 to 1963. During this time, the Confederate battle flag was flown above the South Carolina State House and beneath the United States and South Carolina flags. The Confederate flag was moved to fly over the building's dome in 1961, as part of a commemoration of the centenary of the Civil War.
In the final address of his gubernatorial career, Hollings softened on segregation, telling the South Carolina General Assembly that the integration of Clemson University must be done with "law and order."
But Hollings's turn on segregation did not prevent him from criticizing his colleagues with offensive language. While serving in the Senate in 1981, he referred to Democratic Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum, who was Jewish, as "the senator from B'nai B'rith," during a floor debate.
B'nai B'rith is one of the oldest organizations devoted to promoting Jewish identity as well as combating anti-Semitism. Metzenbaum interpreted the remark as offensive.
"I wish the senator would refer to me as the senator from Ohio," he said in response. "I resent being referred to as the B'nai B'rith senator."
Hollings later apologized for the remarks, saying, "It was said only in a moment of levity. I said it only in fun."
During his unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1983, Hollings criticized supporters of California senator Alan Cranston, a fellow presidential contender, after Cranston finished in second in an Iowa straw poll.
"You had wetbacks from California that came in here for Cranston," Hollings told reporters, in reference to his frustration at not receiving as many votes in the poll.
Hollings renewed his anti-Semitic attacks in 2004, asserting that Israeli government officials knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Hollings also asserted that Bush had invaded Iraq to please his Jewish supporters in America.
"With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country? The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel," he wrote in the Charleston's Post and Courier.
Biden heaped praise on Hollings at a South Carolina event in 2010, saying that the senator was "more responsible for my standing at this podium as vice president than any man alive. That is literally true. That is not hyperbole. That is literally true."
Biden himself has a history of making off-color comments. During the 2008 election cycle, he praised then candidate Barack Obama as the "first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" and joked that "in Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."
Biden resurrected racial controversies in June when he praised segregationist Democratic Mississippi senator James O. Eastland and Georgia senator Herman Talmadge for working constructively with him over his long career.
Biden weathered backlash from fellow Democrats for the remarks and said on Tuesday that he would no longer praise Eastland and Talmadge.
"I'm not using those examples anymore," he told Politico.