Rubbing noses, sniffing hair, pawing women…. what’s next for Joe Biden, licking faces?
That’s what Speaker Nancy Pelosi might have answered Monday when asked whether two allegations against the former Vice President of inappropriate touching should chill his presidential bid. Nope! Pelosi instead brushed concerns away: “I don’t think that this disqualifies him from being president. Not at all.”
To many, this smacks of hypocrisy, given how gleefully some Democrats have milked the “MeToo" movement for political advantage.
But remember, that for Pelosi walls are “immoral”(at least when it comes to border security) -- so maybe boundaries are mere expediencies, whether they exist to protect women (and men) from unwanted touching, or to protect countries from illegal crossings.
The first allegation came from Lucy Flores, who said Biden came up behind her, took a deep whiff of her hair, then planted a kiss on the back of her head, prior to their going on stage at a campaign rally back in 2014 during her race for for lieutenant governor of Nevada.
I’m an old-fashioned girl. I usually don’t let a guy smell my hair until the third date.
The second allegation came from Amy Lappos, who says Biden grabbed her head and pulled her in to rub noses.
Sexual harassment? In truth, maybe. Cultural appropriation? Definitely? No cries for Biden’s disqualification yet from Inuit and Alaska Native Peoples groups.
For his own part, Biden released this statement through a spokesperson:
I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve. I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. And I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.
Whether this impacts Biden’s much anticipated decision on whether to throw his hat in the race for the 2020 presidential race remains to be revealed. He’s got a lot of competition -- and maybe even some new opportunities, like a rumored shampoo endorsement deal for Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific. But it reminds us of what I wrote when allegations of sexual harassment by Al Franken first came to light, which is,
That tribe trumps truth when it comes to sexual harassment allegations against our political leaders. Partisans stick by their pols and their pols stick to their lies.
It’s fashionable to bemoan increased tribalism in politics. But having entered into politics three decades ago as a White House speechwriter, I think the conventional wisdom about an ever-increasing partisan divide is exaggerated. Still, treating democracy like a team sport is far from what our Founding Fathers envisioned. We should continue to call out hypocrisy, demand accountability, and insist that facts matter and truth exists. But far more importantly, we should look to our own behavior, take responsibility for our own actions, and try to live by example. That includes not just respecting other people’s boundaries and physical space, not just being true to one’s own promises of fidelity, but also taking a more assertive posture towards deterring unwanted advances.
I call this a #MeFirst vs. #MeToo approach to dealing with sexual harassment:
Instead of #MeToo as a guiding principle -- finding solace and solidarity among the ranks of fellow victims -- I propose #MeFirst as a much more powerful orientation to deter, prevent, and, when necessary, deal with unwanted sexual advances in professional environments.
By placing themselves first, by believing in their own agency, and working hard to create opportunities that provide more professional choices and leeway, women and men will find harassment becomes the least of their problems -- and their own creativity and self-confidence will create the greatest of their opportunities.
Making these kinds of changes requires more hard work than making fun of politicians. For now I’ll settle on both. Between all his verbal gaffes and now this touchy-feely thing Joe Biden has got more baggage to account for than United Airlines. It’s time for him to take that one-way ticket out of politics, and fly off into the sunset.
Jennifer Anju Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society.