Talk to some politicians and they’re always looking over your head to see if there’s someone better in the room upon whom to bestow their attention. Not Joe Biden. He looks you square in the eye, exudes warmth, is generous with hugs to both men and women. Politics, he says, is about connecting with people. His every action signals he cares. He makes you feel valued and understood. I’ve experienced the “Biden touch” and wasn’t offended. But those signals, especially to younger women in this #MeToo era, are offensive and seen as violations of their personal space.
Mind you, they’re not talking about sexual assault or harassment. They’re talking about feeling discomfort at a boundary being crossed. And potential presidential candidate Joe Biden, a good guy but a good guy from another era, is paying the price for being slow to understand that, despite having no intention to harm, his touchiness is sometimes unwanted. That price, however, should not be an automatic disqualification from running for President. You can’t in any way put him in the same category as the misogynist-in-chief or even Al Franken the groper.
Admittedly, the montages of “Uncle Joe” holding women’s shoulders or waists and whispering in their ears are cringe-worthy. That’s undoubtedly what Nevada lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores experienced in 2014 when Biden kissed the back of her head and sniffed her hair. Yuck. In a recent op ed piece, she acknowledged his action wasn’t violent or sexual, but she found it “demeaning and disrespectful.”
Biden has stated he never intended to cause anyone discomfort, but Flores’ feelings and those of others deserve respect. Biden this afternoon released a video restating his pledge to adjust to the new norms and be mindful not to encroach on personal space. It seemed sincere and to the point.
It’s tempting to dismiss Flores as a former supporter of Bernie Sanders, now possibly a Beto activist, and ponder whether her coming forward five years later is politically motivated. It may be. But I also know from personal experience that it’s awkward to tell a friend you don’t want him or her to greet you with a mouth kiss, so you let the behavior continue for years. Maybe the #MeToo gave Flores permission to come forward. Clearly, the rules of personal interaction have changed.
A more important part of Biden’s baggage is his failure to stand up for Anita Hill in her 1991 testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Biden has apologized for that (though apparently not to her directly) and lamented his inability to do anything about it. But he was the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he could well have called witnesses to corroborate her testimony. Regrettably, he did not, and we have had Thomas on the Supreme Court for 18 years.
Part of me wishes that, for his own sake, Biden doesn’t run so he doesn’t have to endure all the toxicity of political life in 2019. But let’s face it. While Biden’s favorability may be at its peak the day he announces, he is now the candidate with the greatest ability to defeat Donald Trump in the general election.
If he is going to run, – and I think he should be in the mix – he has to move off the dime. Right now, his delayed entrance is leaving a vacuum, and others are filling it by defining him according to #MeToo nuances. Our democracy is a mess thanks to Trump’s relentlessly abnormal violation of norms of decency, rationality, inclusivity, and more. He is a clear and present danger to the best values for which this nation stands. The Democratic Party must quickly size up its multi-candidate field with an eye to finding the strongest candidate to defeat him in November of 2020.
I welcome your comments in the section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.