The presidential candidate increasingly referred to as “Creepy Joe” certainly had a bad weekend. The latest in what seems to be a long list of inappropriate intimacies inflicted on much younger women by the 76-year-old Joe Biden hit headlines via New York magazine on Saturday.
According to the alleged victim’s report, Biden came up behind 35-year-old Lucy Flores, who was a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Nevada, at a 2014 campaign event in Las Vegas. Flores claims he then proceeded to give her a slow kiss on the back of the head. In light of what others have accused the former vice president of doing, she got off rather lightly.
This makes Biden’s remarks against sexual harassment and the “white man’s culture” in a March 26 speech interesting. It turns out that the very faction of the Democratic party—the progressive #MeToo feminist wing—that he was attempting to ingratiate himself with (some might say pander to) just might decide that he’s the kind of man they don’t want representing the Democratic Party anymore, much less getting their nod for president.
Speaking at an event hosted in part by the Biden Foundation and It’s On Us to honor students who have worked to end sexual assault on college campuses, Biden bewailed the “white man’s culture,” and said that as our next chief executive, he would try to root it out. Addressing his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill cross-examination in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, Biden said he regretted not being able to give Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, “the hearing she deserved.”
Biden went on to say he not only needed to change “the law” but “the culture” and brought it all back to 14th century England, as though nothing had changed in America since then:
You all know where the phrase ‘the rule of thumb’ means? ….In the 1300s, so many women were dying at the hands of their husbands because they were chattel, just like the cattle or the sheep, that the court of Common Law decided they had to do something about the extent of the deaths. …You know what they said? No man has a right to chastise his woman with a rod thicker than the circumference of his thumb. This is English Jurisprudential culture, a white man’s culture. It’s got to change. It’s got to change.
[Editor’s Note: the original article has been changed to reflect the correct reference to the 14th century in Biden’s speech].
That of course was seven centuries ago. Today, thankfully men subject to “Anglo-American law” are not permitted to beat women to death, much less chastise them with a cattle prod. But it does make for good speechifying, reminding women what their 14th Century counterparts went through, as though it were yesterday. We’re surprised he didn’t allow for a “you’ve come a long way baby,” too.
The problem here is that the media gives Biden a wider berth than they would ever grant President Donald Trump or any other Republican. One of Biden’s most unforgettable performances as an oracle of liberal opinion came during the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito, who was then a nominee to the Supreme Court, on January 8, 2006. Biden went after Alito for opposing government-mandated affirmative action for college admissions and employment opportunities for blacks, Hispanics, and women. To Alito’s argument that this policy denied equal protection under the law to those being excluded, Biden retorted by reminding Alito (with characteristically garbled syntax) that they were both Catholics, and Catholics had been historical victims of discrimination in Ivy League law schools.
This response was blatantly dishonest for several reasons (and Alito displayed remarkable restraint by not pointing out the obvious). First, Alito was an Italian Catholic who attended Harvard Law School; Biden graduated from the Syracuse University College Of Law. Despite what he told a campaign audience in 1987—that he graduated in the top half of his class—he actually landed near the bottom, 76th out of 85 graduates. But if he failed to make it into a more distinguished law school or graduate with honors like Alito did, it was hardly because of his Catholic antecedents. He committed plagiarism as a law student in 1965, a misdeed that he finally confessed to in 2006. Equally obvious, there was nothing in the affirmative action policy that Biden required Alito to support that benefitted white male Catholics.
Bottom line: bringing up discrimination against Catholics in the past provides no justification for government action requiring discrimination against white males at the present time.
The view that Conservative Inc. is now peddling, that Biden is some kind of “moderate,” overlooks certain facts. Biden has a deserved reputation for making wild, often historically inaccurate statements. In 2012, he accused the Republican Party, including the utterly bland presidential nominee Mitt Romney, of “wanting to put people back in chains.” The clear implication was that if Republicans won the election, they would support a return to slavery. This charge was so hyperbolic that its effect was to get me to do the previously unthinkable—vote for Romney for president. In Biden’s case, this was not an isolated faux pas. It was simply one among other idiocies that this politician confidently pronounced with the ever predictable indulgence of those who should know better.
Unfortunately for him, the feminist wing of his party, and likely voters in general, are seeing that his actions, as well as his words, may not speak well of the man at all.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.