The #MeToo Movement Comes For Joe Biden

HOW IT STARTED

Nevada Democrat Lucy Flores wrote a piece in NY Magazine titled “An Awkward Kiss Changed How I Saw Joe Biden”. Flores was running for Nevada Lt. Governor when she appeared with Biden back in 2014. She alleges that Biden leaned in to smell her hair at a campaign event and kissed her on the head. Flores said this about the interaction: "I'm not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn't even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point - and the whole problem."

BIDEN’S RESPONSE

"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.

I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will. I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve.

I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. And I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.”

MEDIUM POST ABOUT A VIRAL BIDEN PHOTO

Stephanie Carter, who’s married to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, wrote a post in Medium about an online picture of Biden comforting her after she slipped on ice before her husband’s swearing in. The photo shows Biden’s hands on her shoulders and his face real close to the back of her head, like he’s whispering in her ear. She said this in the post: “Ash was giving remarks. Biden kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support. But a still shot taken from a video was misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends.” She took no issue with that encounter and wanted to set the record straight, as people were using that photo as another example of Biden touching women in an inappropriate manner.

FROM A FRONT PAGE NY TIMES PIECE ABOUT THE ISSUE

Biden has drawn attention in the past for his intimate touching of political allies, their family members and even supporters he has just met – gestures that are seen as excessive to the point of creepy by some but viewed as harmless by his defenders.

Click Here to read the entire piece.

LATEST ACCUSATION

According to the Hartford Courant, a Connecticut woman says Biden touched her inappropriately at a political fundraiser for Congressman Jim Himes in 2009. Amy Lappos, a former congressional aide to Himes, told the Courant: “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.” She said she never filed a formal complaint because she didn’t think anyone would believe her. She went on to say this: “There’s a line of decency and respect. Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It’s not cultural. It’s not affection. It’s sexism or misogyny.”

REACTION TO THE ACCUSATIONS

  • Biden’s spokesman said in a new statement that some of the photos being circulated on the internet that depict Biden inappropriately touching women and children have been mischaracterized and photoshopped, calling them “smears and forgeries.”
  • Mike Brzezinski on Morning Joe: “Joe Biden is extremely affectionate and extremely flirtatious in a completely safe way. I’m sure that somebody can misconstrue something he’s done. But as much as I can know what’s in anyone’s heart, I don’t think there is bad intent on his part at all.”
  • The View co-host Abby Huntsman: "Are we going to get to a place where we can't shake hands? Where we can't hug each other?"
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on if the accusations are disqualifying: "I don't think that this disqualifies him from being president. Not at all." She went on to say this: "To say I'm sorry you were offended is not an apology. It's I'm sorry I invaded your space."
  • Elizabeth Warren said she believes Lucy Flores. When asked whether or not Biden should run for president in light of the allegations, Warren said that’s up to him.
  • Bernie Sanders: "I have no reason not to believe Lucy Flores." On if the accusations are disqualifying: "That's a decision for the vice president to make. I'm not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody, but her point is absolutely right."

ANALYSIS

First of all, we knew this was coming. The videos and pictures of Joe Biden getting a bit too touchy-feely with women have been around for a while. In this #MeToo moment, it was only a matter of time before this reckoning arrived. Personally, I don't believe Biden's actions during the two incidents in question were nefarious. However, it's not about Biden's intentions, it's about how his actions were perceived by the women he interacted with. If you listen to what they're saying about the moments in question, Biden's behavior was unwelcomed and understandably so. Not everyone is OK with the kind of invasion of personal space that Biden is known for doing.

Normally when these situations arise the immediate questions center around whether or not the allegations are true and, if so, what level of criminality they rise to. Neither of those questions appear relevant in this case. Biden isn't denying the allegations and none of the women are accusing him of a crime. This is simply a matter of what's considered appropriate conduct and what's not.

One aspect of the #MeToo debate this country has been struggling with has been the lumping together of every accusation, regardless of severity. Joe Biden is not Harvey Weinstein and shouldn't be treated as such. That also means dealing with Biden differently than those accused of actual crimes. An apology for actions that made women feel uncomfortable and a promise to do better moving forward seems like a reasonable request. Disqualification from running for president seems a bit extreme.

Many times during significant societal changes there's a tendency to overcorrect. We're seeing that play out on this issue with a rush to condemn, vilify and banish the accused. In some cases that's warranted. In others, it's not. Handling this #MeToo moment with a one-size-fits-all approach will inevitably lead to unintended consequences. It's important to analyze each accusation on a case-by-case basis and determine proper disciplinary action the same way. We shouldn't be on a search for leaders who have never made mistakes, we should be looking for those who have the ability to learn and grow from the ones they've made. That's the question Democrats should put before Joe Biden when determining whether or not he's fit to lead the party in 2020.

 
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