Former senator and vice president Joe Biden has been taking steps to join the 2020 presidential race. Although he has not yet formally announced his intent to run for office, there has been much discussion about what Biden joining the 18 other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination would mean. While some people have embraced the possibility of a Biden presidency with open arms, it is imperative that we question whether an older, white male career politician with a reputation for befriending his political opponents is the best choice for the country.
During his time as vice president, Biden was often referred to as an honorary uncle figure to America. Photos of him tucking into an ice cream cone with gusto and wearing aviator sunglasses endeared him to people. He was painted as former President Barack Obama’s affectionate and jovial sidekick who was known for hugging and shaking hands with anyone, whether they were a close friend or a stranger.
However, Biden’s reputation as an “old-school backslapper” with a knack for forging connections has been called into question. Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores has accused Biden of inappropriately touching her, smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head backstage at a campaign event when she was running for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014.
Flores is not the only person to go public with their stories about uncomfortable interactions with Biden. In an interview for The New York Times, Caitlyn Caruso said that Biden rested his hand on her thigh even though she squirmed in discomfort when they sat together at an event on sexual assault — where she had shared her own account of sexual assault. Biden has been heavily involved with the It’s On Us campaign, which was created by the Obama administration in an attempt to end sexual assault on college campuses. Caruso, who was 19 at the time, said that members of advocacy communities were scared to come forward because of Biden’s ability to provide funding for organizations that benefit survivors of sexual assault. “It’s almost like there is this unspoken rule, you can’t go after Uncle Joe,” she said.
Biden was also behind the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. While it seems he has used his political power for good, it is troubling that a man who has been granted so much praise for being an ally to sexual assault survivors has had a history of misreading personal space and making women uncomfortable.
Critics have also brought up Biden’s role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Anita Hill’s hearing when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Biden has been criticized for not doing enough to protect Hill from the relentless questions thrown at her by the all-white, all-male judiciary committee. Biden has publicly expressed regret about the way the hearing was handled.
“She paid a terrible price,” he said. “She was abused in the hearing. She was taken advantage of. Her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something.” In this way, he was able to simultaneously express remorse while not accepting any personal responsibility for his role in why it went wrong. Hill has said that she has not received a personal apology from Biden. “It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company,” Hill said in an interview with Elle. “‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?’”
Some Democrats both in and out of government seem to not be particularly bothered with Biden’s behavior. They maintain that his actions pale to those of President Donald Trump, and that Biden will simply have to tread more carefully. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has said that Biden should respect people’s personal space, but also maintains that he should not be disqualified from the 2020 race. However, Amy Lappos, who has also given accounts of an uncomfortable interaction with Biden, said, “Referring to this type of behavior as ‘simply affection’ or ‘grandpa-like’ or ‘friendly’ is ridiculously dismissive and part of the problem. Saying ‘But Trump … ’ is dangerous and sets the bar for [D]emocratic men far below where it should be.”
Biden has been painted as the savior who will deliver the United States from a Trump reelection. However, his track record of inappropriate contact and moderate tendencies should be properly addressed if he does decide to join the presidential race. It is important to not turn a blind eye to a politician’s missteps just because they could be perceived as the lesser of two evils.
Annick Tabb is a junior double-majoring in political science and English.