At last count, seven women have come forward to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of “inappropriate behavior,” which, in the eyes of many progressives in the “Me Too” movement, disqualifies him from running for the presidency. None of these women are claiming that Biden engaged in any form of sexual misconduct. Instead, his once famous and now infamous tactile style made them “uncomfortable.”
What these people are saying isn’t that Joe Biden is unfit to be president because he’s a sexual predator. What they are saying is that Joe Biden is unfit to be president because they don’t like his personality. It’s not what Joe Biden has done, it’s what he is and how he relates to other people.
No woman should ever be subjected to sexual assault or even actual sexual harassment. That’s axiomatic. But we’ve gone far beyond that now. Many progressives are taking the position that “Feeling uncomfortable is never OK.” That is, of course, absurd. Anyone, man or woman, is going to find themselves in uncomfortable social situations, whether it’s politely listening to someone overshare about something or accepting a hug from a well-meaning but overly demonstrative acquaintance. That’s the price we pay for living in a vibrant, diverse society.
One of the incidents Biden is now being “accused” of is worth a particularly close look because it is so well-documented. At the 2016 Oscars, Lady Gaga brought 52 survivors of sexual assault on stage during a song called “Til It Happens to You.” Biden was backstage and after the performance was over, Sofie Karasek, one of the women now complaining about Biden, spoke with him personally. Here’s how the Washington Post described it:
Karesek, 22, told the vice president that before she went on stage she had been thinking about all the women and men who weren’t there because they’d taken their own lives after being sexually assaulted. Karasek began to cry, her eyes fixed on the floor, as she told him she hoped the performance would make others feel less alone, that it would save even just one life.
Joe Biden responded like Joe Biden. He stooped down, clasped her hands, and told her why her bravery and what she had done was so important. The moment was captured in an instantly iconic photograph.
Karasek confirms that her complaint has nothing to do with sexual harassment but is about “personal space and boundaries.” She agrees that Biden was “well-intentioned” but that, while she appreciated his support, having their faces so close made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. Fair enough. It would have made me feel uncomfortable, too. But, then again, so would having a total stranger start telling me very personal things while breaking down in tears. I can guarantee that I would definitely not have clasped her hands and pressed my forehead against hers. Like many of us faced with such raw emotion, I’d have nodded politely while backing away and looking for an exit. But I don’t think my vigorous respect for Ms. Karasek’s personal space makes me a better person than Joe Biden. On the contrary.
Empathy is what Joe Biden does. Real empathy, not the fake, for-public-consumption kind. Maybe you don’t like that. Maybe that makes you uncomfortable. But that’s the real Joe Biden.
In a way, Biden is just like Trump with an often unfiltered id on display to the world. The difference is that Biden’s id is a far pleasanter and happier place than Donald Trump’s. Like Trump, Biden wears his emotions on his sleeve. Unlike Trump, those emotions aren’t always about him.
In logic, there is a technique known as reductio ad absurdum. The idea is that if your argument can be used to prove ridiculous things, then there must be something wrong with your argument. When this happens, you should take a close look at it to see where you are going wrong. The MeToo movement seems to have reached that point if its logic requires declaring Joe Biden unfit for the presidency and lumping him in with a serial rapist like Harvey Weinstein. If the ethos of MeToo compels us to reject Joe Biden because he has too much empathy and Harvey Weinstein because he has none, perhaps some reconsideration is in order.