This is an undesirable way to kick off a presidential campaign, but it’s the situation in which former Vice President Joe Biden finds himself. Facing various allegations from women coming forward saying that Biden touched them inappropriately and/or made them feel uncomfortable in some way with his overly personal friendliness are piling up.
As a result, Biden released this video contained in a tweet on Wednesday:
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
In the video, Biden pledges to “be more respectful of personal space,” which is the way his campaign is framing this issue. In other words, Biden’s actions were simply out of love and affection for these women, but only in a jovial and friendly kind of way.
Missing from Biden’s video statement is an outright apology since that would admit something he did was wrong which would open this can of worms even further.
“Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset,” Biden said. “I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying.”
That’s….not exactly what these women were complaining about, and the time frame in which some of these incidents occurred was a mere three years ago, not a decade ago.
The Hill reported yesterday on more women coming forward all basically saying the same thing, that Biden made them feel uncomfortable with his “hands-on” approach:
Three additional women came forward on Wednesday to say former Vice President Joe Biden touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable shortly after Biden, in a two-minute video, pledged to be more mindful of women’s personal space.
The women, Vail Kohnert-Yount, Sofie Karasek and Ally Coll, recounted instances in which they said Biden touched them in a Washington Post article published late Wednesday.
Kohnert-Yount told the newspaper that Biden introduced himself to her and shook her hand when she was a White House intern in 2013.
“He then put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me,” she told the Post in a statement. “I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl.'”
Kohnert-Yount said she believed Biden’s intentions were good and that she did not feel it was an instance of sexual harassment or assault.
“But it was the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace,” she said.
The common thread between all these women? None of them allege anything more than being made to feel uncomfortable with Biden’s flirtatious behavior. The scene is similar for each one. Biden touches them in some way that makes them cringe or freeze, and they don’t know what to say or how to handle it because, well, he’s the Vice President of the United States. What do you say in that instance? Take your hands off me?
Another thing that’s clear is that most of these women, who all share similar politics with Biden, are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but still not sold that he’s truly grasping their complaints.
This quote from Ally Coll, a woman named in the article above from The Hill, explains the point which we’re at right now:
“There’s been a lack of understanding about the way that power can turn something that might seem innocuous into something that can make somebody feel uncomfortable,” she told the paper. She added that Biden’s video represented “a continued lack of understanding about why these stories are being told and their relevance in the #MeToo era.”
I think it’s worth asking whether Biden is going to be derailed by this issue. He and his team seem to be pushing ahead as best they can. In releasing a video, Biden is attempting to diffuse the situation and somehow acknowledge these women, but trying to walk the line of not admitting what he did crossed some sort of line in the #MeToo era of politics.
The real bottom line here, for Democrats, is whether this affects Biden’s electability argument. He’s part of “old guard” establishment in the Democratic Party. He’s getting support right now based on name recognition and the fact that many Democratic primary voters feel he has a good shot at defeating Donald Trump.
If sentiments turn against the latter point, that these issues will continue to dog him during the campaign and prove damaging in a race against Trump, it could signal a downward trend in his polling and his campaign prospects.
Another notable point is that one of Biden’s closest friends and political mates, President Barack Obama, hs remained silent during this ordeal. Certainly one reason for that is he doesn’t want to come out early in the primary and tip the scales for anyone. This is normal since most former Presidents try to stay quiet until a nominee is chosen. On the other hand, Obama could simply lend Biden a little support here and it might help clear this up.
There’s also the argument that maybe Obama doesn’t want to help Biden because he feels it’s time to pass the baton to the next generation in the party, and maybe Obama would rather let Biden flounder in the wind and sink or swim on his own merit. After all, if he can’t handle a thorny political pseudo-crisis now, how would he handle it in the thick of a campaign against Donald Trump?
Biden is getting some support against this onslaught from some unexpected sources. Meghan McCain spoke highly of Biden and defended him earlier this week on The View where she serves as a co-host.
Another defense of Biden came on Wednesday in the New York Post, where conservative columnist Andrea Peyser urged voters to judge Biden on the issues, not on this sideshow:
We’ve lost all sense of proportion. Many can’t — or choose not to — discern the difference between sexual violence and innocent flirtation, between a Harvey Weinstein and a Garrison Keillor.
In the case of Biden, 76, I can’t for the life of me pinpoint the outrage he supposedly committed, one that threatens to end his career ignominiously.
He was placed on political life support Friday after former Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores posted an attention-grabbing essay in New York magazine’s The Cut, detailing a 2014 close encounter with the then-veep, who came to Nevada to stump for her campaign for lieutenant governor. Initially, she was “grateful and flattered’’ by his appearance.
The rest of her screed reads like a cross between a girl-power manifesto and a racy romance novel.
In other words, as Peyser argues, Biden is harmless. Handsy? Yes, but harmless in general. For these women to now go on a tirade against Biden and attempt to prevent him from running for President is, in Peyser’s view, a travesty for a man who is so respected and loved by many on both sides of the aisle.
From all accounts, it seems Biden is not slowing down due to these complaints. In fact, it’s arguable that this laundry being aired now will genuinely help him down the road. Get this all out in the open in April of 2019, leaving months and months until the primaries begin in January and the general election in November of 2020.
If Biden survives this, which it looks like he will, then this may be nothing more than a blip on his Wikipedia page by 2020.