If anyone on Team Biden thought that his recent comments were going to put the whole “creepy Uncle Joe” thing in his rearview mirror, there are no signs of it happening just yet. We have another entry in the Creepy Biden Derby this week from a woman named Lilly Jay writing at Slate. By this point, there are enough of these Biden stories filling up the ether that we’d probably have to hire an extra, full-time writer if we wanted to cover them all. But Jay’s story caught my attention because of the tenuous nature of her account and it seems worth bringing into the ongoing discussion.
Her story takes place in September of 2014 when she was selected to introduce the then-Vice President at the White House during an event introducing a new initiative to combat sexual assault on campus. It’s a long story you can read for yourself, but here are a couple of relevant portions describing her physical encounter with Joe Biden. (Emphasis added)
“Now I know,” I thought to myself, “what a vice president’s breath smells like—coffee.” An interesting fact gleaned on a surreal day. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that perhaps he should not have been close enough to me that I could smell him at all…
I introduced Biden as an ally. When he came to the stage, he leaned in and gave me coffee-scented words of encouragement. Then he held my hand and pointed at me as he said something to the crowd.
Holding hands with the vice president felt a little odd—when was the last time I had held hands with anyone? But I didn’t experience it as intrusive or unsettling. I remember later being disappointed that most of the press pictures of me that day captured some degree of physical contact with either the vice president or president.
You can scour through the rest of the essay, but that’s what you’re going to find. Joe Biden took the stage, leaned in close to greet the person who introduced him, then held her hand on stage for a few moments and pointed at her. The author goes on to describe how she felt “a knot gathered in [her] stomach” when hearing the accounts of some other women who had experienced their own Close Encounters of the Biden Kind.
It’s worth noting that Lilly Jay is a self-described survivor of an actual sexual assault on campus and we should be sensitive to the fact that such trauma can no doubt leave the victim more readily prone to unease or distress when encountering strangers, particularly males. Did Biden know about that? If not he probably should have. Should he have avoided touching her hand because of it? You could make that argument, I suppose.
But let’s zoom the camera back to a reasonable distance here and ask ourselves just what Biden did “wrong” on that day. In a crowded room, up on a stage, he leaned in close enough to be heard and for the woman to smell coffee on his breath. He took hold of her hand in front of a large crowd and pointed approvingly at her to honor her participation in that initiative. Not only was there nothing sexual going on, but there wasn’t even anything taking place that was remarkable in any way.
I understand that it’s 2019 and all goalposts now come with training wheels installed, but surely we can draw the line someplace, no? I’ve recently seen a couple of people on social media engaging in whataboutism and trying to draw comparisons between the accusations against Joe Biden and those brought against Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation proceedings. Do me a favor, please. Stop. Just stop it already.
The initial, primary charge leveled at Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford involved a real case of physical sexual assault. Biden is accused of uninvited hugging, shoulder rubbing, head kissing, and hair sniffing. Okay… when I write it all out in a sentence that way it does sound really creepy, but it doesn’t rise to the level of any sort of assault, to say nothing of sexual assault. Kavanaugh vigorously denied the incident (or anything resembling it) ever took place. Biden hasn’t tried to deny anything, mostly because almost all of it was captured on camera and the highlight reel alone would be longer than the director’s cut of the final Lord of the Rings movie.
In short, the two situations are completely unrelated. But where does the line between assault and uninvited intrusion into our personal space get drawn? Look, I’m not trying to smooth out the road for Joe Biden or help elect him, but we need to play this game on a fair, level field. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a family with plenty of “creepy” aunts and uncles who would always hug and kiss everyone and pinch the children’s cheeks. I honestly don’t know. But if people were going to publicly declare Biden’s handsy interactions unacceptable and demand he stop, you’d think someone (perhaps Barack Obama?) could have called him out and forced a change in his behavior long before he was leading in the polls for a likely presidential bid.
To the best of our knowledge, Biden is innocent of any crime in all of this. And yes, political careers have been ended before without anyone seeing a day in court. But this seems extreme even for 2019 political warfare.