No Thanks, Joe

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When I read a recent account in The Cut recalling an incident with Joe Biden that made a young woman extremely uncomfortable, I wasn’t at all surprised. Biden has a history of “over-affectionate” acts that, while probably well-intentioned, have seriously creeped out those on the receiving end. The photo record on this is unmistakable, and women continued to come forward with stories of the discomfort they’ve felt from his gestures—though Stephanie Carter has said she felt the opposite.

There have been many takes on this issue, and I think one of the most thoughtful has come from Emily Jashinsky at The Federalist, a popular conservative online magazine, who argues that “the question of whether Biden’s behavior is wrong and the question of whether it’s disqualifying” are two completely different issues.

I’ll admit that before this latest exposure of the issue, it wasn’t one of the main reasons I didn’t want Joe Biden to get the Democratic nomination. But now, I acknowledge that my thinking needs to change, and I recognize that this ongoing issue might indeed be disqualifying for him, as stated by his recent accuser, Lucy Flores.

My other major reason for wanting Biden to keep his hat out of the ring is highly related to these incidents, though, so I want to lay out my thinking.

First, let me acknowledge that Vice-President Biden comes across to me as a caring and empathetic person, who’s dedicated his life to public service, and who should be admired for many reasons. His 2015 interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show really solidified this image in my and many others’ heads.

But Joe Biden has a blind spot. He’s an excellent example of the fact that when one has privilege, it’s so difficult to step outside of it and understand the experiences of those without it. As a straight, white man—a status that he and I share—Biden lives at the apex of basically all the convergent privileges that blind us to the plight of others. And in this case he has failed to understand the fraught dynamics that exist between powerful men and the women in their orbits.

While I’m willing to extend him the benefit of the doubt that he’s never intended to take advantage of his positions of power to target women for sexual predation, Biden does not seem to understand the experience of so many women who are forced to fend off flirtations from men on a regular basis, often in highly inappropriate circumstances. Only with the advent of social media do men finally get a consistent window into these experiences for women, with the message that this is not okay. But people have been commenting on Biden’s behavior for years, and it never seemed so sink in with him that his affectionate touch was crossing a line.

Onto my reason for preferring that Biden not be the 2020 Democratic nominee. It may seem offensive to some, at first blush, that my major reason is that he’s a straight, white man. Indeed, it’s not just those who lament the rise of “identity politics” who disagree with me on this. Plenty of progressive Democrats argue that it should purely be the best candidate, who perhaps is the most electable, who should get the party nod. Many of them, of course, support Bernie Sanders for the Oval Office.

But there are multiple reasons why demographics should be an actual factor in our choice for president. We absolutely need to have our leadership reflect the country it serves, and after 230 years of (ostensibly) straight, almost-exclusively white men, my preference is that we don’t have yet another in 2020.

Not only does diversity within the office help to engender the variety of experience we need for the role, but it also sends a powerful message about the opportunity for those who don’t look like Joe Biden or Donald Trump to be able to aspire to the highest office. It’s about time that everyone recognize that the “leader of the free world” can be a woman as well.

Better Angels fully recognizes that a leadership that doesn’t reflect those who it purports to represent has much less claim on legitimacy. For this reason, the organization has striven to achieve balance at every level of leadership, and done a remarkable job, from board members, to senior leaders, down to the newest workshop organizers. And since workshop attendees are leaders in their own right, helping to bring back what they’ve learned to their own lives and communities, Better Angels is pushing to have its membership be more reflective of the country that we serve as an organization. David Blankenhorn, our president, recently sent out a plea to support this initiative to potential donors—you can still support the Reflect America campaign with a donation—because it’s so central to who we are and what we do.

I feel the same way about our country. We should be doing everything we can to inject that element of diversity into every level of our government, and all organizations for that matter. But the office of the President is particularly important. Little black girls may not yet know who their senator is, but they sure know who the president is, and sending the message that they could one day have the top job is vital to building their sense of self and empowerment.

So, Joe, I thank you for your service to this country throughout your career. But I do believe that the public office portion of that career has come to an end. Let’s let the incredibly diverse generation that followed you, or even my generation—in the form of Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN, a 37-year-old who, if elected, would be the first openly gay president in our history—take the torch from you, and continue the drive for a more perfect union.

Photo: Creative Commons, 2017.

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12 thoughts on “No Thanks, Joe”

  1. Mervin Moore

    It became all too obvious that you had a particular candidate in mind while denigrating Joe Biden. You lost your credibility in my book.

    1. Mervin, just out of curiosity, which candidate did you think I had in mind? Was it Mayor Pete, who I mentioned in the piece?

  2. David Ludescher

    Randy,

    I don’t understand your logic – if there is any. You should not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or sexual preference. Period. For some reason, a reason that escapes most Americans, you think it is OK to discriminate against some Americans – like Joe Biden – because of his things over which he has no control, but you don’t think it is OK to discriminate against other Americans – blacks, women, or LBGT’s. The “white privilege” argument is a fallacy; it is not the reverse of discrimination. The reality is that others may have less because of past discrimination. Taking something away from Biden – a possible presidential run – doesn’t give others more.

    If you think this type of discrimination is justified, and should continue, then I ask you to consider Justice Clarence Thomas. He adds something that you desperately desire – racial diversity. But, I think his record proves that favoring minorities just because they are minorities is a dangerous path. When you discriminate on the basis of color, gender, or sexual preference the only sure result is discrimination. It also creates an unintended consequence. When justices like Clarence Thomas get their job, those who weren’t picked because they weren’t the correct minority believe, sometimes rightly, that the reason the person got the job was because of his race. It also diminishes those who would have qualified without the reverse discrimination tests.

    The sooner you, Better Angels, and America stop using “diversity” as a goal, the sooner we can focus upon the best person for the job, or the best representation. Lack of diversity may be a sign of a problem, but is far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, the lack of quotas on diversity (depending upon your particular definition of diversity) may be the best sign of all that justice is being served.

    If I am not going to vote for Joe, it won’t be for what Thomas Jefferson termed as light and transient reasons: it will be for something substantial. So far, I haven’t seen anything substantial. And, when I compare him to who is likely to be the other choice – a white, straight, male, I don’t intend to set very high standards for Joe.

    1. David, thanks for your comment, and I appreciate you laying out your thoughts carefully. That’s of course not to say I agree with them. Obviously taking demographic factors into account has a legitimate history in this country, particularly in terms of affirmative action. The courts clearly have taken mixed stances on this policy, so there will certainly be disagreement about policies that look like it, but there’s obviously a strong history of the idea of a demographic-based corrective being taken seriously as a policy idea.

      While you call this discrimination, I see it more in the opposite light, adjusting for the discrimination that’s already baked into the system. It’s no coincidence that the previous 45 presidents have been men. So while I’m not advocating for anyone, including Biden, being disallowed to run, I am saying that the candidate who will have my support most likely won’t look like him (or have a spouse who looks like his). I don’t intend to “take away” anything from Biden. I just feel that it would be best for the country if the Democratic nominee breaks the mold a bit. There are plenty of extremely qualified figures who can do this, so I’m declaring that I intend to give one of them a chance.

  3. Justin Naylor

    Randy, in your earlier column you advocated forgiveness and moving on in the case of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Why is your reaction to Joe Biden different?

    1. That’s a fair question, and it’s partly due to the fact that Gov. Northam is already governor, and what’s at stake is him stepping down, which I don’t think is wise. I certainly don’t rule out forgiveness for Joe Biden (assuming he fully owns his shortcomings, which even by his 4th attempt at an apology, he only seems to be getting close to; he joked about this stuff at a rally for goodness sake!). But even if Biden is forgiven, that doesn’t make it a good idea to newly select him for a position. If he were already president and had owned his BS, I would say let’s move on. But especially because a consequence of his not running would be to free up opportunity for women, people of color, and/or someone from the LGBTQ community, which would allow representation there for (mostly) the first time, I’d say please step back, Joe, and retire gracefully to work on other projects.

  4. David Ludescher

    Randy,

    So, you would be it OK with you if Donald Trump picked another Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court for no other reason than he is black? It seems to me that such thinking is just another form of “blackface”.

    1. If all else were equal, and it were between someone who resembled Clarence Thomas vs. someone who resembled Antonin Scalia, neither of whose jurisprudence I particularly respected, I’d go with Thomas every time, since yes, at least he would bring to the court a perspective and a message to the public about potential that Scalia would not.

      1. David Ludescher

        Randy,

        As an attorney, I can tell you that Scalia was much more a friend of the lowly, especially the criminally accused (who are disproportionately black) than Thomas ever was or could hope to be. When a minority, like Thomas, is elevated to a position based upon his minority classification, through a less rigorous process than someone else, he can consider himself the the lucky recipient of “white guilt” about “white privilege”. Hence, Thomas developed no affinity to those unlike himself – criminals. On the other hand, Scalia was brilliant, and very deserving of his position. His sentiments were first, foremost, and sometimes to a fault, with the Constitution. Although classified by the white gentry as a “conservative” because his tendency to vote against the social cause du jour, he was one of the friendliest jurists to the criminal defendant. He did 10 times more for the black man than Thomas.
        If all of this doesn’t convince you, then I would present another argument. A Democrat who is LBGTQ-friendly can’t govern the country until he/she/it/etc. can win. Focus on a candidate whose strongest quality isn’t that he/she/it/etc. is a minority. Any Democrat who wins is going to be a strong advocate for “those” people anyhow. Biden can capture middle America. He can win. Part of his appeal is that he makes mistakes, and pushes forward. Middle America doesn’t care that he kissed someone on the back of the head five years ago.

        1. I would generally agree with you that Thomas does not hold the stature of Scalia, whose reputation among the legal community was towering, and whose empathy and outreach to the left certainly exceeded that of Thomas, as represented by his close relationships with the more liberal justices, so I’ll grant you that all else was not equal in this example. Perhaps I should’ve picked another. Notwithstanding the specifics of that example, I think that demographics still plays an important part in one’s life experiences and ability to put one’s self in the shoes of others. Perhaps Scalia’s immigrant family background helped to inform his outlook.

          I’m certainly not focusing on candidates whose “strongest quality” is their demographic status. Every one of the prominent Democrats running who break the mold are strong candidates in their own right. As was Barack Obama, who many people believed couldn’t win, but I feel his election elevated the status of the office, and showed that it was open to more than just white people. He also governed largely without regard to his race, and I’m fine with that. He had to walk a very fine line, and we can see that anything he said regarding race would be thrown back in his face by people looking to claim his presidency was all about race.

          And yes, middle-American men may not care that he kissed someone (many people actually) inappropriately and made them feel uncomfortable, but many women do. And on that specific issue, I think we men should step back and listen to women for a change.

  5. David Ludescher

    Randy,

    I have searching my brain trying to formulate why I think your reasoning is flawed. I think I have hit upon the answer. Doing so reduces the dignity of the person seeking office. If you were to walk up to Joe, and tell him that you aren’t going to vote for him because he is white, male, and heterosexual, and explained affirmative action, he might agree. But, what if you would have said the same to Barack Obama? He was male, heterosexual, and half-white? Clinton was white, heterosexual, and female.

    1. Obama’s candidacy and election sent a message to black people in the same way Hillary’s would have to women, the same way Mayor Pete’s would to LGBTQ people, a message that “You belong here just as much as anyone else.” If we had a string of all men of different ethnic backgrounds, I would say to Obama, or Cory Booker, perhaps you should step back so we can elevate a woman to the post, so the world knows for sure that a female president is consistent with our values. People are still seriously entertaining the question of “Is America ready for a female president?” The only thing that at all belies the absurdity of that question is the fact that there has not yet been one. That fact itself reduces the dignity of the entire office, which in turn reduces the dignity of those who seek it.

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