One of the great political themes of the Democratic presidential campaign is how much everybody loves Joe Biden.
Really. Just Google “I love Joe Biden.” Go past the T-shirts and memorial coffee cups and you’ll see a ton of stuff.
“I love Joe Biden. He’s a great guy and a great politician,” said Jerry Shriner, a Democratic National Committee member from Idaho, when the question of a Biden return came up. “I wish he were the president right now. But I’m not sure I wish he is president in 2021.”
“I love Joe Biden. I really do,” said Tom Courtney, a Democratic leader in Iowa. “But there comes a moment when it’s time to not run.”
He hasn’t announced yet, but Biden’s ahead in the polls. And thrashing around in the controversy over his long-standing habit of affectionately putting his hands all over women he meets.
“Social norms are changing,” said the former vice president via Twitter. It was not quite an apology. More like: “OK, OK. I’ll do it another way.”
On Wednesday, Biden sent out a video promising the world he’d be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”
“I worked my whole life to empower women,” he told the camera “ … so the idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important, more important than it’s ever been, is just not thinkable. I will. I will.”
Two problems here. One is that Biden is acting as though the whole don’t-touch business is a brand-new product of the #MeToo movement. That a person in his position could have accidentally missed the message until recently.
Let’s go back to 2006. At a G-8 summit in Russia, President George W. Bush came up behind German leader Angela Merkel and inflicted a quick back rub. Merkel appeared … grossed out. The picture went around the world. Comedians had a field day. Hard to believe a powerful U.S. senator with an expertise in foreign affairs could have missed the story.
A few months earlier, New Mexico Lt. Gov. Diane Denish had told a reporter she tried to avoid being around the governor, Bill Richardson, because “He pokes me. He pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg.” Like Biden, Richardson was a Democratic presidential hopeful.
People were talking about it a lot. “Have our leaders gone mad?” demanded a Times writer, who traced the new touchy-feely trend to political consultants like Republican Frank Luntz, who were trying to create more human interaction between their clients and the public.
Luntz was indeed encouraging his clients to go beyond the traditional handshake when it came to making contact. These days, he’s still consulting, but he’s pretty clear that times have changed. “What used to be seen as a demonstration of endearment is now seen as invasion of space,” he said in a phone interview.
Second problem with Biden’s video pitch. He has indeed worked to empower women — he was an author of the Violence Against Women Act. But he also has that really nasty history on the Anita Hill matter. Hill had the courage in 1991 to show up and testify before the world about Clarence Thomas’ lecherous behavior as a boss. And Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did nothing but ask her embarrassing questions. (“Were you uncomfortable, were you embarrassed, did it not concern you?”)
Maybe that’s why he made a particular point of lacing into Donald Trump’s history of grabbing women’s private parts. Last year Biden told some college students that if only he and Trump were in high school together, “I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”
At the time, I wrote a column about the inadvisability of advocating an assault on the president, even in the past tense. And the next day Biden called up to say thanks “for showing me what a jerk I was.”
See, this is the reason people keep saying they love Joe Biden. Right before they say they hope he doesn’t run for president.
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