Bian: Let’s hold Joe Biden accountable

Andrea Bian, Opinion Editor

I wasn’t really surprised when Joe Biden was first accused of inappropriate invasion of personal space by multiple women. For years, Biden’s questionable closeness to women has seen sporadic airtime in the media. What makes these recent, more concrete allegations different is their proximity to his predicted 2020 presidential run.

Joe Biden has remained a steady fixture in American politics for decades. Besides his most well-known position as vice president alongside former president Barack Obama, Biden has seen generational change in America during his 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate. In part because of the public tragedies he has endured in his life — losing his wife and child in a car accident and then losing his son Beau to brain cancer — Biden has managed to appear in modern media as generally kind, likable and affectionate towards his friends and family.

This recent wave of accusations isn’t the first time Joe Biden has seen controversy. His first presidential run in 1987 was marred by the discovery of his plagiarism in law school. In 2007, he received backlash for describing then-fellow Democratic candidate Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” in 2007, which received backlash. Despite these blunders, Biden’s image as a kind politician has been popularized in the last decade.

I specifically mention Biden’s history in the media because his positive public image — especially in the past few years — is currently being used to defend him. He’s no stranger to controversy, and has made mistakes in the past. And now, with a new set of allegations being brought against him, there is no reason his affable, kind image shouldn’t change accordingly.

On March 29, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee, wrote in an article in New York Magazine’s the Cut that Biden sniffed her hair and gave her “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head. “I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me,” she wrote.

On April 1, Amy Lappos, a then-congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), accused Biden of invading her personal space at a Connecticut fundraiser in 2009. “He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth,” she told the Hartford Courant.

In a video posted to Twitter, Biden vowed to be “mindful” of other people’s personal space in the future. He did not, however, directly apologize for his actions; instead, he attributed them to his innate desire for “human connection.”

It’s important to note these women have not accused Biden of sexual assault. The reality, though, is that Biden made women feel uncomfortable. In an era focused on believing and supporting people affected by harassment, I was surprised to find many vocal supporters of the movement defending Biden.

Alyssa Milano, actress and one of the biggest voices in the #MeToo movement, tweeted in a thread on April 1 that she would stand by Biden in leadership positions. “I believe that Joe Biden’s intent has never been to make anyone uncomfortable, and that his kind, empathetic leadership is what our country needs,” she wrote.

The hosts of the daytime talk show “The View” also defended Biden, choosing to focus on his actions rather than the women.

“I feel it would be really unfortunate if we got rid of everybody who was just an affectionate kind of person,” co-host Joy Behar said in an April 1 broadcast. “Those are nice people too.”

It’s true that Biden may be nice or kind, but his kindness does not excuse his actions. It does not erase the fact that he made women feel uncomfortable or touched them inappropriately without their consent.

There are different levels to harassment or personal violation, and I agree that not all women’s experiences are the same. Ultimately, allegations against Biden shouldn’t be dismissed in the name of his affectionate nature or good intentions. And not just because he’s about to launch a presidential run: past allegations should have been taken seriously, no matter who is being accused. But especially now, in an era of believing and supporting women, they should be taken seriously more than ever.

To defend Biden without a proper apology from him is to remove support from women. It is to discount their experiences simply because of a personal connection or similar political views.

Yes, Biden may be a great leader in 2020. But he isn’t infallible.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.