Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
One of the more interesting fronts in the Democrat internecine struggle between the rich, old People of Pallor and the “woke,” young People of Color centers on Joe Biden and his penchant for inappropriately touching women. Biden’s bad habit of invading the personal space of women and girls in sexually suggestive ways has long been known and dismissed as a personal quirk of his regular-guy persona.
But with Biden making noises about entering the 2020 presidential race, many Dems on the left are suddenly having epiphanies about Uncle Joe’s sexist sins. With a dozen candidates vying for the nomination, Biden’s long-forgiven antics are now coming back as “woke” political karma.
Once more, for Democrats, claims of alleged identity-politics principle come down to questions of whose political ox is being gored.
Take Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, who claims that five years ago at a political event Biden stood close behind her and kissed her hair, leaving her feeling “uneasy, gross, and confused. She made no bones about her political motivations, telling CNN, “The reason why we’re having these conversations about Vice President Joe Biden is because he’s considering running for president.” Flores supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, and has attended a campaign rally for “Beto” O’Rourke, the Irish gringo with a culturally appropriated nickname.
Now we have another woman piling on. Amy Lappos says that during a 2009 fund-raiser, Biden grabbed her: “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.” Lappos made her political motives clear as well: “If Biden truly supports women and gender equality he would step aside and support one of the many talented and qualified women running. The same goes for the other men who have thrown their hat in the ring. . . After 45 male presidents it is time we elect a woman.” Don’t be surprised if this is the start of a conga-line of accusations chipping away at Biden’s current lead in the polls. Lucy Flores could be just the beginning of a feminist deconstruction of Biden if he announces he’s running.
The old guard, however, still has friends. The Washington Post, protecting an apparatchik of the status quo, ran a preposterous defense of Uncle Joe that doesn’t even pass the laugh test: “This affectionate and sometimes intimate physical style is one of the former vice president’s trademarks, a defining feature of the warm and upbeat persona he has built during more than four decades in the national spotlight.” As for the copious footage of Biden’s handling females, “they were often framed in past news accounts as harmless and sometimes entertaining.” Even a couple of former objects of his “intimate physical style” and “upbeat personality” are now defending Biden, claiming the stills from video footage misrepresent what he’s doing. Just Biden being Biden, as the exculpatory cliché goes.
Let’s see that explanation getting past the woke commissars, or even anybody with common sense. Apart from Handmaid cultists, most grown-ups understand that physical affection between the sexes isn’t always a prelude to rape or an announcement of patriarchal hegemony. With a friend or even acquaintance who is familiar, a pat on the shoulder or a chaste hug is not a problem. Human beings communicate through touch, and such gestures can signal encouragement or sympathy or just the simple pleasure of being friends.
What Biden has done, however, is nothing like that. For one thing, such innocent gestures usually are suitable for either sex––a good rule for those uncertain whether a gesture is appropriate. The objects of Biden’s physical “affection,” however, are all women and, making it even more creepy, young girls. Then there’s the ambush factor: he usually walks up behind a woman and puts his hands on her shoulders, something a man usually does not do to another man without squeezing the hell out of the guy, or following up with a playful shake or a punch.
Next comes the sniffing or kissing the hair. Hair is a secondary sex characteristic, which is why male-dominated cultures and religions require women to cover their heads. Until the end of the 20th century, respectable women in the West wore their hair bound up, again to minimize its sexually suggestive meaning. This custom led to expressions like “let your hair down,” which suggests shedding inhibitions and enjoying some transgressive behavior. How many old movies have we seen where the woman’s unbinding of her hair is a signal for sexual availability? Sorry Joe, whatever you thought you were doing, kissing the hair of a woman you barely know is not innocent “physical affection.” Neither is whispering in her ear, another cliché denoting sexual interest; watch this creepy version from Key Largo.
There’s nothing “upbeat” or “entertaining” about such behavior. It does raise, however, legitimate questions about Biden’s judgment.
The larger issue, though, is why hasn’t Biden been called on this juvenile behavior before now, even after last year’s “me too” movement that revoked the tacit free pass earlier Democrat sexual predators got for sexual improprieties and assaults. Bill Clinton, of course, is the textbook example of the so-called feminist progressive’s double standard. Every feminist law was broken by Slick Willy: his targets had less social power than he; he used physical force, including alleged rape, on some; and with the help of Hillary and the Clinton goons, “slut-shamed” and “silenced” them.
But the feminist establishment and most of the Democrat Party defended him, one feminist magazine editor publicly professing her eagerness to fellate the president for defending abortion. And to this day, Bill’s adventures on the statutory-rape themed Lolita Express raise a collective shrug from the Democrat media and feminist Javerts, even when candidate Hillary campaigning on her feminist bona fides. Bill’s political value outweighs his offenses, the same reason why Virginia Democrat Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax is still in office despite claims of sexual assault, one harrowing, from two women whom we are supposed to hear and believe without question.
But political utility can change. When the cascade of sexual assault revelations about high-placed progressives like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein––his predations long an open secret–– and Senator Al Franken were unfolding in 2017, even Bill found himself in the crosshairs. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, then already bruited as a 2020 candidate for the presidency, broke protocol and criticized Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal, suggesting he should have resigned.
Why this rectitude 20 years later? Democrats defending Clinton had the correct answer: One anonymous Democratic strategist told The Hill, “All this [criticism] reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career.” Gillibrand made a political calculation that the sexual scandals embarrassing the Democrats would make a hard stand on sexual misdeeds politically valuable. Now that Gillibrand has announced her candidacy, we’ll have an opportunity to see during the primary debates if she calculated correctly, or whether the outlandish overreach of the Kavanaugh hearings––during which she took a visible role, excoriating the Republicans in speeches from the Senate floor–– has changed the political landscape.
The current controversy over Joe Biden is not about predatory males or the patriarchy or “cisgendered” male privilege. It’s about politics. From its beginnings, modern feminism has been about identity politics, the leveraging of grievance for political and social power. Progressive feminists today care more for the mythic claim that females earn only 77% of what men do, than they care about the plight of their “sisters” across the globe. They allow themselves to be bullied by two female Muslim House Representatives, and never question them about the sex slaves in the Muslim Middle East, or female genital mutilation, or the illiberal, misogynist sharia laws that put overwhelming power, often lethal, into the hands of fathers, brothers, or husbands. Of course, oppressed Muslim women don’t vote in U.S. elections, or hire women in U.S. corporations, law firms, or universities.
Progressivism feminism is about power, not principle. If Biden continues to be wounded with more allegations and criticisms, it won’t be because people are now “woke” to his long record of groping women. It will be because he’s now in the way of progressive feminists vying for the same job.
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