A touchy subject: Democrats can do better than Joe Biden

Illustration courtesy of Margot Heron

Last year, I was with my parents while they talked to their work friend, a man I hardly know. We moved to walk, and he placed his hand on the small of my back and guided me through the door. I recoiled, but he didn’t seem to notice. I don’t like being touched by strangers. However, like most women, I am very used to being touched, specifically by men. Men will touch my arm or my back to get past me, sling their arms around my waist for a picture or just get a little too close. That particular instance seemed small and innocent, yet I still keep my distance from him. To this day, I question whether he knew that what he did made me feel uncomfortable — and whether he, or others like him, would even care.

These questions now play out on a larger scale as Joe Biden’s “affectionate touching” comes under fire. Women have accused Biden of touching their shoulders, backs and thighs, as well as smelling their hair and rubbing noses. Biden made a video explaining his behavior as “gestures of support” and touting his work protecting women. “I’ve always tried to make a human connection,” Biden explained. “The boundary of protecting personal space has been reset. And I get it. I hear what they’re saying. I will be much more mindful.”

This is not an apology video. Biden, in fact, specifically stated that he was only sorry that he “didn’t understand more,” not that he was sorry for anything he had done. He proceeded to joke about consent at a conference in Washington D.C. If my experiences are a microcosm of the situation with Biden, then I finally have an answer to my third question on a national platform. Joe Biden does not care.

In the wake of the 2016 Trump tapes, Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken, the #MeToo movement has emerged, bringing greater understanding and empathy to the topic of sexual violence. This movement has brought up the very large question of what counts as sexual assault. Biden has not been accused of sexual assault like Trump, Weinstein and Franken have. Yet Biden’s dismissal of these incidents perpetuates rape culture.

Creator of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke responded to Biden’s video, tweeting that “these lesser talked about, often ignored violations and indignities are what help deepen a culture of silence around all sexual harassment and violence.” Instead of holding himself accountable for his actions, Biden diminished these accusations and the effect they had on women, instead choosing to flaunt his work for women and refusing to apologize. “Accountability starts with understanding what kind of harm you caused,” Burke tweeted. Biden’s jokes about his actions signify that he is not acknowledging the harm he caused these women. He has not even begun to grasp his role as a powerful male and take responsibility.

Because Biden is unwilling to accept his role as a perpetrator of inappropriate behavior, he does not exemplify the characteristics that Democrats claim to have. Under the “Women” tab, Democrats.org proudly states that “We are committed to ensuring full equality for women.” Full equality means a culture which renounces violations of women, no matter how small. Biden’s reaction to being called out for his actions shows that he is not ready to represent the Democrats’ platform. If Democrats want to continue to pride themselves on being the champions of women, then they shouldn’t support Biden for president.

President Trump, whose behavior has incurred much worse allegations, has a chance of being elected again in 2020. Those who know Biden insist that he is a touchy person in general. Former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-MO) tweeted, “Joe has a deep desire to share in the lives of others — their grief, pain, and joy. He reaches out through the human touch to connect and express those feelings.” Biden is leading the Democratic primary polls as a popular, moderate candidate with high name recognition. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote, “He could help Democrats solve a strategic dilemma: how to be tough as nails on Trump while still promising the more harmonious political future that middle-of-the-road voters long for.” As a former senator and vice president, Biden has the experience necessary to be the strong president that America needs in 2020.

But there are plenty of other strong, capable candidates who are able to unite America, be tough on Trump and stand up for women’s rights the way the Democratic platform claims a Democrat should. There are plenty of candidates who are willing to fully accept and apologize for their mistakes without trying to defend themselves or mock women who were hurt by their actions. Biden’s reaction shows that he is more focused on promoting himself as a presidential candidate than engaging in a productive conversation about inappropriate behavior toward women. If Democrats truly are looking for equality for women, then they need to denounce Joe Biden’s actions and focus on a new frontrunner for the 2020 election: a candidate who will care about ending a culture of silence around sexual harassment.

Corrine Schmaedeke is a sophomore Politics major. She can be reached at cschmaedeke@oxy.edu.