Joe Biden and the Folly of the Pitchfork Brigade


joebiden2020We agree with Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol: “The piling on about Joe Biden’s sometimes unwanted affectionate touches by political competitors and media outlets is shameful.”

Biden is 76. He’s been a touchy-feely politician all of his career but he’s never bragged that the way to treat women is to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” like Donald Trump. He came up in the days before modern sensibilities about touching – even non-sexual touching – without permission.

He’s also got what Jerry Brown told us is most important in an executive leader: “You need a young spirit but you also need an old hand to get through the difficulties that you face.”

He’s got two choices: he can Franken, i.e. quit under pressure from the Twitter mob, like ex-Sen. Al Franken, or he can Trump it out. The choice is obvious.

Has Biden made mistakes and been on the wrong side of issues during his long career? You bet. He should have given Anita Hill a fair hearing when the Judiciary Committee was considering Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. He was overzealous in his support for the draconian Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

Biden’s record, including his handling of the Thomas hearings, is up for scrutiny – along with his role in advocating for women’s rights, gay marriage, civil rights and other progressive measures, domestic and foreign.

But touching women? It’s an insult to Jill Biden and Michelle Obama to suggest they would have tolerated inappropriate sexist behavior by Biden. And a trap for Democrats, laid by those who don’t want him as a challenger to Trump because of his established appeal to white working class men.

skocpolAs Skocpol noted:

“Both women who have come forward so far are not talking about workplace abuse or sexual misconduct. I can believe them, and still ask why they are speaking up now.

One person, who has supported a political competitor to Biden, acknowledges that she is speaking because Biden is considering entering the primaries; the other says that if Biden really respects women, he should not run and clear the field for the capable women candidates.”

We don’t know if Bernie Sanders, other candidates or some Russian bot are pushing the “Creepy Joe” meme, but the timing is no co-incidence. But as Skocpol, a serious feminist and scholar argues:

“Wait a minute: Is this what gender equality really means? Is this the kind of society we want to live in — where right-wingers can do any vicious thing they want to anyone and shrug it off, while people on the center-left are supposed to expel from public life anyone who says a single wrong word or has done something benignly intended in the past that now does not fit changed norms?

Not me, that is not the kind of America I want to live in. That is not the kind of Democratic primary I want to participate in. If Biden wants to run, I want to hear what he has to say and compare him, fair and square, to the others.”

It seems so quaint that back in 1988, Biden’s use of other politicians’ words without attribution caused him to have to withdraw from the presidential contest. We even helped expose that story and then – two decades later – declared that the statutes of limitations had run its course.

Compared to the gross, abnormal and immoral words and deeds of Donald Trump, it seems so trivial now. But so too does the parachronistic charge of over-familiarity against Biden.

nancypelosi“Join the straight-arm club with me,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Biden during an interview with Politico on Tuesday. “He’s an affectionate person, to children, to senior citizens, to everyone, but that’s just not the way.”

Says Skocpol:

“Biden has long been known as an emotional person who hugs just about everyone he feels positively about, male and female. Now the social mores have shifted. He needs to say he realizes this and change his behavior accordingly. Everyone else, meanwhile, needs to get a grip.

Anyone who experiences an unwanted word or gesture should tell the person involved that they would like them not to say/do that — not wait a decade and contact the media in an expedient moment. And Democrats must keep in mind that they need votes in 2020 from millions of older Americans who are really put off by this kind of out-of-context piling on.”

Amen, sister.

PS: The day after this post appeared, Biden released a statement saying in part: “Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying, I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar sqrjn says:

    Parachronism! Thanks for the great new word.

    The thing I struggle with is separating a person’s take on the issue from their tribalism. Ex. I agree with the professor too, but somehow I doubt that she would apply equally the standard she proposes, that people who recieve sexual harassment should be expected to speak up immediately and not wait until they have secondary motive for doing so. In our pursuit for greater equality I worry that the we are losing consensus on what equality even means.

  2. avatar Bob Mulholland says:

    Good summary of the political situation. When two women came forward and stated that Trump’s US Supreme Court nominee, Bret Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them, Trump and his Republican team attacked the women around the clock. In 2003 when 16 women came forward and claimed Schwarzenegger sexually assaulted them, Arnie and wife Maria accused all the women of lying. The Rules are different for older Republican white males- they can assault women and brag about it.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.