Far Away Empathy, Joe Biden’s Half Hug Response

“I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul…

And I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth. It must have been wrenching — to relive what he did to you all over again…

I join your global chorus of supporters, because we can never say enough to survivors: I believe you.”

The quoted text above reflects excerpts from an open letter authored by Joe Biden and published in Buzzfeed, addressed to an anonymous Stanford Survivor.

Biden, who introduced the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which is at risk currently of not being reauthorized.

Yesterday, a video message was posted by Joe Biden in response to an accusation made against him by Lucy Flores, a former Democratic assemblywoman.

The recording is about two minutes long, describing at length a political philosophy of humanizing himself through displays of affection and personability. That follows with a description of an evolving set of social norms, and a reiteration of his public record of supporting women’s safety.

In his own words, “The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. I hear what they’re saying, I understand. And I’ll be much more mindful, that’s my responsibility and I’ll meet it. But I’ll always believe governing quite frankly, life for that matter is about connecting with people, that won’t change, but I will be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space, and that’s a good thing. I worked my whole life to empower women, my whole life to prevent abuse, so the idea that I can’t adjust to the idea that personal space is important, more important than its ever been, is just not thinkable, I will.”

Jessica Taylor reported on NPR that “Lucy Flores writes in New York Magazine about her “awkward” experience with Biden, saying he grabbed her shoulders from behind, sniffed her hair and then planted a kiss on the back of her head before a campaign event. On Friday, a spokesman for Biden said that the former vice president and staff who were present do not “recall what she describes.”’

Ellen Cranley wrote in Business Insider, “Lucy Flores, a Democratic politician from Nevada, pushed back on former Vice President Joe Biden’s response to her claims he touched her inappropriately while calling for acknowledgment in her first television interview since taking her story public.

Lucy Flores offers in her TV Interview, “I want this to be a bigger discussion about how there is no accountability structure within our political space,” she added. “We are not protected in politics. And frankly, on a much larger scale, we also need to have a conversation about powerful men feeling that they have the right to invade a woman’s space whenever they’d like.”

When asked about her motivations for speaking out she articulates, “I would say politics was definitely the impetus, the reason why we’re having these conversations about Joe Biden is because he’s considering running for President, and frankly the reason why I felt so compelled to finally say something was because over the years as this behavior was documented as it was frankly dismissed by the media and not taken seriously, that conversation was not coming up in the discussions about whether or not in a complete analysis of his history, as we go through the vetting process for all of these candidates, that important aspect was being left out.”

We’re having a familiar conversation about how to react when our behavior is brought to our attention, and it is contradictory to your stated values and character.

We’re having a familiar conversation regarding who is more credible, supporters of someone who has been accused of something harmful, or the person bringing forth their accusation.

We’re having a familiar conversation about parallelism, and whether or not we can introduce plurality.

We’re having a conversation about legitimacy, and where and where not we see consent as relevant.

We’re also having a conversation about sympathy, and what rises to the level of harm that we choose to validate, as consent and an imbalance of power enters again into our political discourse.

We are having our support of survivors framed as conditional, testing our instinct to withhold our support and wait for an explanation or denial.

And we’re having a conversation about history, and whether or not we can integrate feedback into changed behavior and acknowledgement or harm.

Also, in the 90s as Joe Biden was concerned with creating support for survivors of sexual violence legislatively, he chaired the committee that interviewed Anita Hill following her accusations against Clarence Thomas. The New York Times wrote, “In an emotional speech, Mr. Biden said he recognized the part he played in the aggressive questioning that Ms. Hill faced during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas, when she testified that Justice Thomas had sexually harassed her.

“She faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said, at an event in New York City honoring students who helped fight sexual violence on college campuses. “I wish I could have done something.”

Madeleine Aggeler writes in the Cut, “Joe Biden has issued yet another non-apology to Anita Hill.”

What is contrasted in Biden’s embrace of an anonymous survivor’s disclosure, juxtaposed with his evading of responsibility here calls into question whether or not he’s integrated his value of believing survivors.

What is contrasted is a forsaking of control attributed to him, and a missed opportunity to attribute credibility to someone’s disclosure. Particularly two women of color, who here again 18 years apart have to wonder what has changed in his internalization of prioritizing the needs of someone harmed.

Here again there is a rejection and avoidance of the privilege that makes you insulated from being held responsible for your actions, and easily forgiven for your good or even aloof intentions.

Here again our memories are shortened as we’re reminded of only positive past actions.

What, Joe Biden, has been seared on your soul, if not consent on a practical level?

What, Joe Biden, is broken in our culture, if not our depersonalized frameworks?

What, Joe Biden, do you support if not every person’s bodily autonomy in their dealings with you?

What, Joe Biden, do you confess to, if not to a narrowed understanding of what violence against women includes?

What, Joe Biden, can you be mindful of, if what’s disconnected has remained disconnected.

Evolution in our behavior is a significant opportunity, and it hinges on our openness to owning our current missteps.

And, indeed, there are missteps happening here.

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Amanda Lindamood

Writer. Thinker. Facilitator. Advocate. Invested in accountability for power based violence, creative initiatives, and meaningful, nuanced dialoguing.