Joe Biden: A Man of His Era

[Content Note: Racism; misogyny.]

One of the common defenses I've seen about Joe Biden's political record and history of "gaffes" (a word that is used to encompass all manner of inappropriate behavior, from bigoted humor to unwanted touching) is that he's "of a different era."

See, for example, this piece by TPM's Josh Marshall, in which he goes through Biden's history — from his coziness with the credit card industry, to his vote for and advocacy of the 1994 crime bill, to the Clarence Thomas hearings, to his grabby handsiness, to his anti-busing stance — finding in each case that Biden is a product of his generation and the politics of each respective era. Marshall ultimately concludes:
As you can see in each of these cases I find it a bit nettlesome and grating re-litigating these various episodes from years or even decades in the past. I'm not here to defend Biden. It's not my job and I don't think he needs defending. These are things that happened and all need to be seen as part of the eras in question. They are what you make of them. Context and completeness are important. But this is all really the point. Who wants to relitigate the last 50 years of the history of the Democratic party while you're trying to run a campaign to oust the worst President in American history?
Not me! On the ultimate takeaway, Marshall and I are in full agreement: Biden's history is far too messy for this moment.

The thing is, Biden's problems aren't all ancient history. And that's another reason why he's not the right candidate — and hasn't been the two other times he's tried, and failed, to get the Democratic nomination. The fact is that Biden is kind of an asshole.

I'm happy to set aside past eras in which Biden's behavior is arguably more understandable, and just look at the current era, which I'll define from the second George W. Bush administration, beginning in 2005, right as Biden was contemplating his second presidential run for the 2008 campaign.

In March 2005, Biden was one of 18 Democratic senators who voted for the bankruptcy bill. Defenders of Biden talk about that like it's ancient history, but it was only 14 years ago.

In November 2005, Biden "joked" about figuring out, as a 29-year-old first-time Senate candidate, how to generate good turnout for a fundraiser: "Find enough beautiful women and enough guys will show up." And in case you're wondering if he didn't realize what misogynist shit that is, he added: "The Hill newspaper is here, and they'll think that's a sexist remark." Possibly because it is one. And, obviously, he knew that, too — but said it anyway.

In July 2006, Biden said: "I've had a great relationship [with Indian-Americans]. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."

In December 2006, Biden told this hilarious "joke" to an all-Republican crowd: Delaware was a "slave state that fought beside the North. That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way."

In October 2007, Biden explained why rural Iowa public schools, for instance, perform better than public schools in Washington, D.C.: "There's less than 1 percent of the population of Iowa that is African American. There is probably less than 4 or 5 percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with." His campaign later claimed he was engaging in "a discussion of the problems kids face who don't have the same socio-economic support system (and all that implies — nutrition, pre K, etc.) entering grade school and the impact of those disadvantages on outcomes."

In August 2008, Biden made a "joke" about the problem of educated women, at his own wife's expense: "Ladies and Gentleman, my wife Jill, who you will meet soon and who is drop dead gorgeous. My wife Jill, who you will meet soon. She also has her doctorate degree which is a problem. But all kidding aside, my Jill, my Jill, my wife Jill and I are honored to join Barack and Michelle on this journey."

In January 2011, during the Congressional swearing-in ceremony, Biden, now Vice President, was on hand to greet new members and pose for pictures, and every time a daughter, niece, grand-daughter, or whatever young female relation was introduced to him, he made the same joke: "No dates/no men until you're 30."

In September 2015, Biden said flatly that he believes "there is room in the Democratic Party for people who believe abortion should be illegal."

In November 2017, it was reported that Biden was not only giving advice to Mike Pence, but was consulting "with Pence before his own overseas trips to inquire if the White House has any messages it would like him to deliver, or if there were any sensitivities around the administration's policy efforts."

And since the 2016 election, Biden has trashed Hillary Clinton in deeply dishonest ways over and over and over and over, and had some shit to say about her supporters, too. Last October, I noted: "You know what I really dislike about Biden? As far as I can tell, Hillary Clinton has never been anything but nice to that old shitbird. And he is repeatedly mean to her in public, except when she's standing beside him. That not only makes him a real fucking jerk; it also makes him untrustworthy as hell."

That is, of course, just a slice of Biden's political record and personal history since 2005 — which of course also includes good stuff, too. But the question isn't whether Biden has done good stuff; it's whether and how much the bad stuff matters. The question is: Is it disqualifying?

And the answer to that question is subjective. Individual people will draw their own conclusions based on where they draw their lines that define unacceptable behavior.

My point is this: Joe Biden is indeed a man of his era, because this era — whether you define it starting in 2000, or 2005, or 2010, or last week — is still rife with bigotries against marginalized people, and privileged people who express them, and defenders of those people.

Biden was a man of his era in the 1970s, and the 1980s, and the 1990s, and the 2000s, and the 2010s. There were white men in each of those eras who engaged in bigoted "humor" and touched people without their consent and supported policies that harmed marginalized people, and there were white men in each of those eras who didn't.

The issue isn't really whether Joe Biden is a man of his era. He is. The issue is, and has always been, what kind of man he is.

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