I love Joe Biden. It’s hard not to love Joe Biden. He’s smart, humble, relatable, and jovial. He’s a statesman and has served our country admirably and faithfully. If he were the nominee, I would have no trouble voting for him for president. Like all human beings, though, he’s flawed, and as often comes with age, those flaws have become so hardwired that even he has trouble recognizing them.
Biden is physically demonstrative, and now, people are beginning to take notice. To my knowledge, no one has accused Biden of being a sexual predator. He simply takes “pressing the flesh” just a bit too far for some people’s comfort. So far, four such women have come forward saying Biden’s legendary touchy-feeliness was a little creepy.
The first complaint came from a former Nevada Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Lucy Flores. She wrote an op-ed where she described her encounter with Biden this way:
I found my way to the holding room for the speakers, where everyone was chatting, taking photos, and getting ready to speak to the hundreds of voters in the audience. Just before the speeches, we were ushered to the side of the stage where we were lined up by order of introduction. As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.
As many Biden defenders, and people simply wondering whether we’re heading down a path of outlawing any sort of physical reactions are quick to point out, Flores was on Team Bernie. She endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and was a campaign surrogate. People claim that this could be proof of something fishy, and it could be, but no one is denying that Biden likes to touch people, both men and women. There are several other pictures of Flores floating around the internet, of her touching or being touched by other politicians.
#LucyFlores‘ allegations against #JoeBiden must be respected, along with the fact that politicians are often touchy. That includes Ms. Flores’ choice, #BernieSanders , and even Ms. Flores herself. That’s her standing behind Biden with her hand on his shoulder. (AP photo).
#LucyFlores' allegations against #JoeBiden must be respected, along with the fact that politicians are often touchy. That includes Ms. Flores' choice, #BernieSanders , and even Ms. Flores herself. That's her standing behind Biden with her hand on his shoulder. (AP photo). pic.twitter.com/KkL5bGIrhM
— Hank Plante (@HankPlante) April 1, 2019
Of course, these pictures are proof of nothing. Allowing yourself to be touched by one person doesn’t automatically mean you want to be touched by everyone. That’s what consent is all about. It’s handed out individually. Also, I don’t see Bernie Sanders or Bill Clinton smelling her hair. Still, a little presumptuous shoulder touching and hair sniffing shouldn’t destroy decades of laudable public service. I think all reasonable people can agree on both facts. It’s also possible that Biden was set up by Flores, but that her story is true. Yeah, it gets confusing.
Flores is not the only person saying Biden made her uncomfortable.
Caitlyn Caruso, 22, told the New York Times on Tuesday that she felt uncomfortable when Biden rested his hand on her thigh and hugged her “just a little bit too long” at an event about combatting sexual assault at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when she was 19.
D. J. Hill, 59, told the Times that, while taking a photo with Biden at a fundraising event in 2012, he put his hand on shoulder and then moved it down her back, making her “very uncomfortable.”
Another woman, Amy Lappos, told the Hartford Courant that Biden touched her face with both hands and rubbed noses with her at a fundraiser in 2009, when she was an aide to Connecticut Rep. Jim Hines.
Many on social media complain that we’ve gone too far. Many see the #MeToo movement turning into the weaponization of touch. Most rightfully note that we have an admitted p*ssy grabber sitting in the White House and Biden’s “offenses” don’t even belong in the same universe. The first is a conversation I suspect we’ll be having for a long time. The second is undeniable. I can’t stress enough that as far as I know, Biden is not a sexual predator.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to write an article about Biden without mentioning that he’s long been an advocate for women. He wrote the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Since then, domestic violence has significantly declined. He is still working to prevent violence against women.
Biden’s record as a women’s advocate is not without blemishes, though. Most notably, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas hearings, Biden allowed the all white male panel bully and badger Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.
Biden has apologized for his role in the Anita Thomas grilling, sort of.
“A brave lawyer, a really notable woman, Anita Hill, a professor, showed the courage of a lifetime talking about her experience being harassed by Clarence Thomas,” Biden, who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Thomas’s nomination, said Tuesday at The Biden Courage Awards in New York. “But she paid a terrible price. She was abused in the hearing. She was taken advantage of. Her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something.”
“There were a bunch of white guys … hearing this testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So when Anita Hill came to testify, she faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell it was all about. And to this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved given the courage she showed by reaching out to us,” Biden added, noting that he ultimately opposed Thomas’s confirmation.
Source: The Hill
This is the problem with Joe Biden
The problem with Joe Biden is not his handsiness. It’s clearly not sexual, and any seasoned politico should be able to get past such a relatively minor scandal. The problem with Joe Biden is that he falls short on self-reflection and on expressing contrition. And can we please stop talking about this as if it’s about hugging or putting hands on shoulders? It’s about hands a bit too far south, whispering into people’s necks, and sniffing hair(?).
It’s true that during the Thomas hearing, half the committee was pasty old white men who likely thought chasing interns around the office counted as cardio. As Chairman, though, Biden could have called some things off limits. He says he wishes he could have said something. He could have said something, but he didn’t.
His apology without accepting responsibility approach hasn’t changed. When Flores’ op-ed first appeared, Biden said this:
“I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
“I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve. I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. And I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.”
A simple “I’m sorry I made Ms. Flores uncomfortable,” would have at least shown some accountability.
On Wednesday, Biden made a more personal appeal, but the words “I’m sorry” were nowhere to be found.
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
Joe and his defenders on social media seem to feel the criticisms (“allegations” is far too strong a word) are from whole cloth. They’re nothing new. In 2012, The Atlantic compared Biden to the “creepy guy who works in accounting at your office holiday parties.”
In 2015, Karol Markowicz, a GOP operative, wrote this:
What then can be said of people, today, looking the other way as the vice president of the United States paws woman after woman in public, with cameras flashing and their husband or parent three feet away? We’d love to imagine that the husband or father would step in, remove Joe Biden’s hands from his wife or daughter, and give him a hard, warning look. The truth is, Biden’s harassment often comes at the swearing-in events of the husband or parent. These men, reaching the pinnacle of their career, stand on a stage or at a podium with their supportive families at their side. The vice president’s attendance is itself a showing of respect and a recognition of their success. It is not the time for anyone to make a scene.
You might wonder why I would include a quote from a GOP anything, but you can bet that this will come up, and will keep coming up, until Biden finds a way to put it behind him. As a presidential hopeful, Biden has considerable strengths. His experience makes him the anti-Trump, and could be one of the only people skilled enough to reverse Trump’s damage to the country. Biden is a rust belt candidate. He could help bring back the disenfranchised Trump voters, those who might not watch Fox News at home, but can’t avoid it in their doctors’ offices, local pubs, and gyms, where they’ll be subjected to an endless loop of (probably doctored) Creepy Uncle Joe moments.
Biden needs to take a lesson from his BFF, Barack Obama, and listen.
Instead of listening, he lectured Millennials.
The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here’s the deal guys, we decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement in the first stage. The women’s movement came to be. So my message is, get involved. There’s no place to hide. You can go and you can make all the money in the world, but you can’t build a wall high enough to keep the pollution out. You can’t live where—you can’t not be diminished when your sister can’t marry the man or woman, or the woman she loves. You can’t—when you have a good friend being profiled, you can’t escape this stuff. And so, there’s an old expression my philosophy professor would always use from Plato, ‘The penalty people face for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves.’ It’s wide open. Go out and change it.”
Damn it Joe, we need Millennials.
Liberals’ criticism of Biden is not going to ensure Trump’s reelection. If he does win the nomination, though, his apparent inability to own up to his blindspots might. We need to talk about this issue for what it is, a generational issue, instead of framing the complaints as sexual assault allegations. They are not. Biden is an aging man who, like many, is struggling with changing mores and with women who feel empowered enough to express their discomfort. He can overcome this, but not with defensiveness. I bet he could even continue touching shoulders, as long as he literally keeps his nose out of it, and keeps his hands off their thighs.
Featured image via Wikimedia.