Clearly I’m in the minority among my friends and colleagues, both female and male, in how I see Joe Biden’s candidacy, what he offers the country at this moment, and his freewheeling physical approach to women. A male friend from Rochester with whom I correspond via email thinks Biden is clearly not sexually aggressive, not like Trump — and I agree. My friend thinks that Biden’s behavior is simply that of an old style tactile politician, a way to show that he cares and largely a successful approach to the electorate. My friend thinks that Biden will capture the Democratic nomination, and has the best chance of defeating Trump.
Clearly if Biden is the nominee, I’ll vote for him.
Let me try to clarify what I think, and why I’m so un-enthusiastic about Biden. I don’t think his behavior is sexually aggressive, but I do think it’s a tried and true way that powerful men express dominance over women in professional settings — in the same bucket as “talking over” women in meetings or decrying forceful women executives as “bitches” or “angry feminists”. The Biden Behavior is something I saw and experienced often in the business world during my professional career. Biden, or a male business leader, could rub my back along my bra line and have it be old fashioned tactile behavior to show he cared. If I rubbed a powerful man’s lower back along his underwear line, I can’t imagine it being seen in the same light.
I think Biden can’t separate himself from that understanding of how the world works — that powerful men engage in certain behaviors that signal to each other that they are reliably one of the guys, and remain in that framework for decision making. It’s like junior high boys in the shower at the gym. A dominant bully attacks a weaker kid — that’s Trump. The other guys don’t pile on in the same way, but they can’t separate themselves from the norm of remaining one of the guys. Biden couldn’t do that in the 1970’s, with the Anita Hill hearings, and I think he can’t do it now. For me, that makes him a deeply un-appealing candidate, dated and out of step with the promise of the times.
How he touches women isn’t going to be the do-or-die issue for whether Biden captures the nomination. I think his age will be a factor, whether he holds up over the long and rigorous primary season. I read one piece that included a comment by an older female voter, a Biden supporter, who said he seemed to slur his words a bit just like her husband does when his teeth aren’t in right. More of that, in larger settings like televised debates, would be deadly to Biden’s chances. I think Elizabeth Warren will try to make Biden’s history of carrying water for the banking industry, specifically MBNA in his home state of Delaware, an issue. But if union members see Biden as one of them regardless, I doubt Warren’s argument will stick. Helping Biden will be his ability to get under Trump’s skin, and the foreign policy expertise that clearly outshines all the other Dems who are running.
If it were up to me, I’d go with a Next Gen candidate and let the primary process sort out which one. But it’s up to Democratic voters, who may very well choose Biden in the end because he offers a return to normalcy. That, in addition to his various competencies, may carry the day.