Joe Biden And Sexual Politics

Since no fewer than 8 women have come forward to suggest former Vice President and potential Democratic candidate Joe Biden has been a serial personal space invader, feminist columnists have queued up to decry what they characterise as an abuse of male power. Speaking as a feminist columnist, I'm tiptoeing into this debate. Social media teaches you that there are many subjects - trans politics, the old firm for not so random instances - into which none but the brave choose to tread.

What prompts this contribution has been a number of commentators implicitly drawing a moral equivalence between Biden and Trump.  We'll come to how the man now being slagged off as "Creepy Joe" comports himself in a moment. But can we pause, please, to reflect that a man who boasted about grabbing women by their privates and kissing them without invitation was nevertheless voted into the White House. Even if the US electoral college system assisted by out gunning the popular vote tally.  President Trump is a full blown bully, misogynist, self described groper, and serial adulterer. None of which seems to have perturbed his supporters among American evangelicals who once had a fit of the vapours at any candidate contemplating divorce.

And so to the 78 year old former veep, who was moved to post a video this last week ruefully noting that social mores had changed and that he would have to re-think what had been his former default position of hugging and touching.  But not, as all his detractors noted with some asperity, quite getting around to saying sorry. To say, as they do, that it has long been the lot of women to feel obliged to accept physical demonstrations of unsolicited affection, is no more than the truth.  And to suggest that men would be more than a little discomfited if female politicians suddenly took to patting their cheeks (either variety) or grabbing them for an impromptu embrace is a statement of the obvious to all women and the more perceptive of men.

But the caveat I would enter is that this is just as much a matter of personality as culture. Clearly any man who takes advantage of power to subject women to serious sexual harrassment or worse is beyond the acceptable pale.  But there are many who would be honestly shocked to discover that their instinctive touchy feely approach to meeting and greeting was unwelcome.  And, if we're being completely honest here, there are people of both sexes who are natural huggers, and those who would baulk at the very thought of unwarranted, casual intimacy.

Biden, I suspect is amongst those unaware of what many women found unacceptable, and probably still confused about  how the #metoo movement has liberated them to articulate how uncomfortable he made them feel. Part of that confusion is down to his age and the fact that when he first strode the campaign stages such behaviour was the norm. Which doesn't make it right - just as historical sex abuse was never right - but that casual huggy stuff was ubiquitous. It was once thought one of Bill Clinton's most effective tactics!

If you want a comparator, let's see past Trump to HIS vice president.  The prissy Mike Pence, so convinced of the moral turpitude around every corner that he says he never dines alone with a woman without his wife present, is also the homophobic opponent of same sex marriage, funding family planning, and available abortion in any circumstances.  He is not a nice man.

The Biden charge sheet which is rather more pertinent in my view, was his treatment of Anita Hill when he chaired the committee which gave a hostile examination of her allegations about Clarence Thomas, who went on unchallenged to his job for life in the  Supreme Court. Or his support for the Iraq war. Or his opposition to funding abortion clinics.  His record as a liberal is patchy at best.  His bromance with Obama gave him a second political wind, and probably burnished his image. Many people report that in person he is genuinely emphathetic and  has been marked by personal tragedy in the death of his son.

In my view he should not be standing for the Democratic nomination because, at 78, he is too old for the burdens of presidency.  As is Bernie Sanders. American politics is littered with political bed blockers who cannot give way to the next, more energetic generation, and their fresh ideas. (Trump is also far too old to be president, but in his case that's probably the least of our worries.) The current wisdom seems to be that having a younger running mate would address this probelm and balance the ticket.  I'd rather they just plumped for a younger candidate!

So I hope Joe Biden decides that the time has come for fresh blood; there is, not all incidentally, a significant number of very talented of female possibilities in the current somewhat bloated field. And some yet to be persuaded on to the national stage like the feisty and impressive  Stacey Adams. But I hope that if he does throw in the towel it's not just because in some quarters he's being labelled creepy. We know what creepy is.  And it attributes a certain kind of horrible motivation to what, in Biden's case I suspect, was more likely uncomprehending abuse of privilege.