There can be no other explanation for former Vice President Joe Biden’s latest statements other than to view them through the prism of launching a presidential campaign. It’s no secret that Biden’s 40 years in politics has left him standing on the outside of progressive circles on many issues, but it’s clear that his team has identified the weaknesses and moves are being made to shore up the loose ends before he officially launches a campaign.
It’s through this lens that we can understand why Biden is lamenting the role of “white man’s culture” in reference to the testimony of Anita Hill during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1991. Biden, who directed the hearings as Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, has continued to take flack for the way Hill was treated during the process as she made claims of sexual harassment against Thomas.
It’s from here that the Associated Press picks up the story:
Former Vice President Joe Biden condemned “a white man’s culture” as he lashed out at violence against women and, more specifically, lamented his role in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings that undermined Anita Hill’s credibility nearly three decades ago.
Biden, a Democratic presidential prospect who often highlights his white working-class roots, said Hill, who is black, should not have been forced to face a panel of “a bunch of white guys” about her sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas.
“To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said Tuesday night, echoing comments he delivered last fall as the nation debated sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh amid his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “I wish I could have done something.”
Biden’s role in the 1991 Thomas confirmation hearings is among his many political challenges as he considers making a 2020 bid for the presidency. Should he run, he would be among a handful of white men in a Democratic presidential field that features several women and minorities.
Biden’s statements are an attempt to mitigate this issue, but from all appearances, this matter won’t go quietly in the night. Several prominent activists have already seized on the shortcoming and have been criticizing Biden before he even enters the race:
“It literally does not matter what else Biden says about sexual assault if he cannot acknowledge his own culpability in putting a sexual assaulter on the Supreme Court and then pretending for years like he was powerless to stop it,” tweeted Jessica Morales Rocketto, a former aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign who now serves as the political director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Actress and political activist Mia Farrow called Biden’s role in the 1991 hearings “shameful.”
“Love you Joe but you were in a position to do better — and you didn’t,” she said.
With the brutal hearings for Supreme Court Justice Bett Kavanagh still fresh in our minds, the issue of Hill’s treatment during the Thomas hearings was afforded new life and given new examination when compared to the backdrop of the #MeToo movement of 2018.
With Biden making moves like this, it’s clear a campaign launch is likely just weeks away. He’d like to get these statements out and on the record so he can simply refer to them when inevitably asked by reporters or challenged by other candidates. “I have already addressed that matter and expressed my deeply personal regret for not taking stronger action… etc…”
Biden does have bright spots in this realm, such as his 1990 legislation, called the “Violence Against Women Act,” which sought to more formally recognize the severity of the crimes associated with domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
However, writer Chris Cillizza, in an article for CNN, says that in making these new statements, Biden just revealed his greatest weakness:
Biden’s comments were part of a broader condemnation of what he called a “white man’s culture” that has dominated in society — and the Senate — and that Biden believes has “got to change.” (He added that he did ultimately vote against Thomas’ confirmation.)
Which is a good sentiment! And the right sentiment for a candidate who very soon will be running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The problem for Biden — and the Hill testimony makes it plainly — is that he came of age in a very different political time, when “white man’s culture” was totally and completely dominant. And, even more problematically for Biden, he has decades upon decades of recorded Senate votes that, if properly utilized by one of his Democratic opponents (or several of them) could cast him as someone who simply is not made for these times.
Is Biden made for 2020? His Democratic opponents will make the argument that he served admirably under President Obama, but it’s time to let the next generation take the helm.
Biden, however, should not be underestimated as a politician. He’s very shrewd and clearly has a strong team of advisors carefully planning his 2020 rollout and painstakingly working to address the immediate questions that will dog him on the campaign trail.
Biden is serious about 2020, and these statements prove the length he’s willing to go to clear himself a path to the Democratic nomination.