Is Biden a creep or a threat?

Published 2:55 pm Friday, April 12, 2019

To those cheering for the downfall of Joe Biden or who’ve already predicted the end of his political career, take a deep breath and consider objectively whether the former vice president is the best hope for defeating President Trump next year.

Presumably the desired goal of the anti-Biden crowd is turning Trump out of the White House, retaining the House majority and winning a majority in the Senate.

Like Biden or not, for the moment, he embodies the best chance of pulling it off.

The half dozen women who’ve accused Biden of behaving inappropriately — unwanted touching, rubbing arms or shoulders, cheek kissing — caught Biden off guard and sent him into damage control mode, portraying himself as an affectionate, sympathetic and caring individual whose hugs are personal expressions of those traits and nothing more.

If his actions were misunderstood or if the women involved felt uncomfortable or threatened, he said, he realized in hindsight that his behavior could be construed in that way and he would be more considerate and understanding in the future.

Several women who worked with him or are family friends rose to his defense, relating personal stories of gracious, courteous and respectful treatment by a man unafraid and unembarrassed to display his emotions in public.

Biden’s history is well-documented, captured in thousands of photographs and videos, often in full view of large audiences. A Harvey Weinstein type predator prowling political gatherings in search of unsuspecting and vulnerable women? Hardly. Witnesses abounded, including millions watching television or reading newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the uproar that ensued following the first revelation of an unwelcome advance produced speculation over whether Biden’s competition was behind the effort to rough him up with sexual misbehavior allegations and rely on the ensuing media attention to drive him out of the race.

On cue, the same media that for years depicted Biden as warm, caring and compassionate quickly talked about “creepy Joe,” or “touchy feely Joe,” or “dirty Uncle Joe,” while the usual cast of cable television characters speculated whether he’d seek the nomination in light of the accusations.

Interest focused on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — Biden’s closest competitor and the one with the most to gain should Biden self-destruct — as a source for the stories of his interactions with women.

The Sanders-is-behind-it theory was given added weight with the revelation that the first to raise Biden’s behavior was Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada, who told of Biden placing his hands on her shoulders and kissing the back of her head. She joined the Sanders campaign in 2016 and served on the board of an advocacy group supporting him, raising questions about her motives.

If Biden was dusted for prints, Sanders’ fingers would be a ten-point match, according to some observers.

Polling has consistently shown the former vice president leading Sanders by single digits with California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke trailing. The remainder of the field is struggling to stay in the conversation.

Biden has remained resolute that it is his nature and personality to express himself in terms more intimate than a handshake, but that he never intended to offend anyone or behave in a sexually subtle or aggressive fashion. At the same time, he acknowledged he should have been more aware that not everyone shares his propensity for personal contact and that he will be more sensitive going forward.

Biden came to political maturity during a time when his actions were the norm, but he has failed to recognize and fully grasp the sea change by which behavior such as his is viewed in this era of heightened sensitivity. Being oblivious to making others feel uncomfortable is no excuse, however.

Regardless, it’s undeniable at this early stage that he enjoys considerable party support. He would be a formidable candidate, a serious challenger to Trump — perhaps even a victorious one — and writing him off at this stage would be a grievous error.

If he’s been mortally wounded, let the primary voters and caucus goers make that decision, rather than commentators, consultants and academics.

If Biden is to pay a price for his conduct, so be it.

CARL GOLDEN is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.