Over the last few days, former Vice President Biden has made the rounds promoting his new book with talk show hosts who pretend to have read his new book. During these breezy little chats, Biden has teased that he hasn’t ruled out running in 2020. On behalf of all left-leaning people who also care deeply about our current national conversation about harassment and consent: Please, Joe. Please. Not now. Now is extremely not the time.
While Joe Biden has been jokingly depicted as a kooky uncle or Obama’s wacky sidekick or Leslie Knope’s grin-flashing celebrity crush, he’s also got a troubling history of acting weird in public around women who don’t seem entirely on board. This isn’t just based on whispers or rumors; there are so many photos and clips of Biden looming over, or massaging, or gently nuzzling, or whispering to, or kissing women and girls who don’t seem all that into it. For awhile, a few years ago, it was a bit of a meme. Gawker wrote on it. So did The Washington Post. And there are plenty of YouTube “Creepy Joe Biden” compilations, in case you want to spend the next hour or so feeling vicariously mortified.
Recently, there’s been a groundswell from the left and center-left about how Democrats must reckon with their complicity in Bill Clinton’s mistreatment of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct (I wrote on it, briefly, last week.) Michelle Goldberg wrote about it in The New York Times, Chris Hayes discussed it on Twitter. Caitlin Flanagan addressed it in The Atlantic. Matt Yglesias argued that Clinton’s conduct should have led to his resignation. I’m still waiting to hear from the Clintonian champions— Hillary included—who pummeled Monica Lewinsky as an insane bimbo and also jumped aboard the #MeToo anti-Weinstein train (Hi, Maureen Dowd!)
In order to retain any moral authority on the issue of sexual abuse and harassment, Democrats must decide that sexual abuse and harassment is wrong no matter who does it. Only then will they be nominally, morally, better than the Roy Moore acolytes who compare molesting a 14-year-old girl to stealing a lawn mower.
Joe Biden’s off-putting caresses and whispers are by no means the same thing as what Bill Clinton allegedly did to Juanita Broaderick, or what the Clinton camp did to Monica Lewinsky. But the #MeToo moment, the post-Weinstein moment, whatever you want to call it, isn’t about only sexual assault; it’s about women standing up and saying that when men do things to them non-consensually, women don’t like it. It hurts us. It should stop. As long as Democrats want to be taken seriously when they take a stand against Republicans who commit sexual misconduct, they have to demonstrate that they are equally uncomfortable or outraged when Democrats do it.
Right now, a society grappling with men, power, sexual exploitation, and consent does not need Joe Biden’s highlight reel playing alongside Rep. Jackie Speier’s pledge to fight sexual harassment on the Hill.
Biden keeps stoking presidential speculation. He has lengthy and accomplished political resume. He genuinely seems to be bothered by the salient economic issues of our time. And he can muster a compelling electoral case against Trump. I worry, however, that he will undercut this important moment in American politics in the name of selling books.
Please, Joe. Sit this one out.