The knives are out for Joe Biden.
To read some of the media accounts, Biden is the latest politician to run afoul of the “MeToo” era. His accusers have followed the usual script, “breaking their silence” after much introspection. They insist they aren’t looking for fame or book deals; they just want the truth to come out.
What truth? Biden is handsy. And, to borrow a Bidenism, this is a big f***ing deal.
But is it?
I come neither to praise Biden nor to bury him. The allegation that he’s too physically familiar with people — and not just women, by the way — is only slightly more shocking than revelations that he talks too much, says weird things, and misuses the word “literally.”
As Biden himself might say, “We’ve known all this about Joe for literally, not figuratively, a billion years.”
Young’ns could be forgiven for not knowing that Biden is the most motormouthed politician of the past half-century. Everyone in Washington has a story that begins with Biden promising to offer a few brief remarks and ends with the storyteller waking up years later like Rip Van Winkle to Biden saying: “in conclusion.”
As for weird remarks, it’s a myth that he shouted at an intern, “My hovercraft is full of eels!” But Biden did say at an event, “Stand up, Chuck, let ’em see ya” to a man in a wheelchair. He also told Katie Couric that President Franklin D. Roosevelt went on TV to reassure the public after the 1929 stock market crash. FDR was elected in 1932. TV wasn’t introduced to the public until 1939.
Then there’s the word “literally,” which for Biden means: “Some too-good-to-check hyperbole is about to come at you like a rabid spider monkey.” He once said that hardworking Americans were “all of a sudden — literally, not figuratively — they were decimated.” Literally decimated would mean one out of ten of them were killed. He told students in Africa, “You are the keystone to East Africa — literally, not figuratively, you are the keystone.”
As for exaggerations, Biden has a trillion of them. On the raid to kill Osama bin Laden: “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan.” Suck it, Napoleon, Churchill, and Eisenhower!
Then there’s the handsy stuff. Biden is overly familiar with people. He touches and hugs them a lot. He rubs women’s shoulders uninvited. He sneaks up on them and smells their hair — which, admittedly, is the sort of thing you’d expect from a sex offender at a public library.
But that’s the thing: It’s not that.
As with the rest, we’ve known this about Biden for a long time. Conservatives had great fun with it under President Obama. Just Google the videos and images of Biden touching women like a chef testing the produce.
Hillary Clinton once told Biden she thought he and her husband Bill were so similar they must have been “separated at birth.” She meant it as a compliment. Really. But there’s no evidence Biden ever behaved in the allegedly sexually predatory way, or in the non-allegedly adulterous way, Bill Clinton behaved.
What Biden has in common with Bill is a particular kind of politician’s mix of insecurity and arrogance. It drives them to think they can win over anybody, sometimes by simply talking them to death. Biden’s touching is part charm offensive, part power move. It’s a way to make a human connection. It’s also a way to signal that he has the social authority to invade your personal space. It’s of a piece with his belief that everyone should feel fortunate to listen to him spend an hour offering a few brief comments.
I never liked Biden’s act, but the effort to demonize him now is so obviously driven by his potential Democratic primary opponents. I don’t think it will work. It may cost Biden with young activists in the party who think even gendered pronouns are triggering. But there’s a reason he leads the polls. Democrats may be unified in their opposition to President Trump, but I think the older ones (who tend to vote at a higher rate in primaries) are also nostalgic for “normal” politics. Biden is more liberal than people claim, but he’s a known quantity, and he’s not a socialist.
That may be why the left wing of the party is out to get him. It’s also why he would be a formidable nominee.
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