Last month, Joe Biden called me to talk about his conduct during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991. There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether he has offered me the right words. Given the #MeToo movement and Mr. Biden’s bid for the presidency, it’s understandable why his role in the hearings is being debated anew.
If the Senate Judiciary Committee, led then by Mr. Biden, had done its job and held a hearing that showed that its members understood the seriousness of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence, the cultural shift we saw in 2017 after #MeToo might have began in 1991 — with the support of the government.
If the government had shown that it would treat survivors with dignity and listen to women, it could have had a ripple effect. People agitating for change would have been operating from a position of strength. It could have given institutions like the military, the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission greater license to take more decisive action to end the scourge of harassment. And research shows that if leaders convey that they won’t tolerate harassment, people within an organization typically obey.