Regular readers of this blog will know that I have never been a fan of former senator, vice-president, and now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. I strongly favored Bernie Sanders and Biden was way down the list of the many people who sought the nomination. Biden has always seemed to me to be shallow, lacking a central core of convictions, and thus easily swayed by pressure groups, lobbyists, and those whom he considers more powerful than him. He has been, like the Democratic party establishment, a loyal servant of the business class, especially those in the financial sector. His home state of Delaware is the choice of tax-evading and money-laundering companies because of its very loose regulatory structure.
All that is bad enough but he also has problems on the personal front. He is prone to saying and doing things that are thoughtless and offensive. His attitude towards, and behavior with, women have always been problematic, going all the way back to the shockingly bad way he treated Anita Hill and other women during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 which is what led me to first realize his shallowness and lose respect for him. The recently revealed allegations of sexual assault by a former staffer Tara Reade when she worked for him back in 1993 are just the most serious and extreme of the many allegations of him behaving inappropriately with women.
And then there is his tone-deafness on race. The most recent example that has landed him in hot water is telling a black radio host that “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Critics charged that this is just another indication of how the Democratic party arrogantly takes the black vote for granted and does not feel it has to put in the kind of effort needed to earn their vote that they seem to put for the white working class vote that they are unlikely to make much inroads into anyway. Biden has apologized for the remark, saying that he was trying to be funny and that he should not have responded in such a flip manner to an important question.
While that is true, Biden’s statement and behavior revels an even more disturbing larger problem and that is how his early success in politics (he became a US senator in 1973 at the age of just 31, only leaving that office in 2009 to be vice-president until 2017) has likely insulated him from being taken to task for his problematic behavior towards women and people of color. He is a living, breathing example of the undeserved privileges that accrue simply from being a powerful white man in America that make you immune from the normal strictures that everyone else has to operate under.
Most of us tend to absorb the attitudes and prejudices that surrounded us as we were growing up, and for older people like Biden and me, these influences were generally not good. I for one now cringe at the kinds of things I thought and even said out loud when I was a young man, especially when it came to women. They were not abusive but just casually sexist and often said in jest, the way that Biden claims he says things. The difference is that I was not a powerful person and later in life had friends and other peers who were feminists and were in a position to correct me and who did not hesitate to let me know when what I was saying was wrong and why. After several such correctives, it dawned on me that I should become more self-aware of my prejudices and more circumspect in my attempts at ‘humor’. That led to a more general awareness of my ignorance about issues that lay outside my own experience, especially concerning gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class. I wish I could go back in time to apologize for the things I said back then to so many people and groups, because they still weigh heavily on me.
I suspect that because he became such an important and influential figure at such a young age, Biden has not received similar rebukes for his actions because people tend to avoid confronting powerful people. This is likely why even though he is now older and should know better, he still breezily seems to assume that he can joke about people of color and women and not realize that others may not find his statements and actions at all humorous and may actively resent them.
I doubt that Biden will learn these lessons at this late stage in his life. We should not be surprised to hear more of things like this.