BY SUSAN ESTRICH
I don’t know whether Joe Biden should run for president. I don’t know if he will be able to connect with the younger generation that has breathed new life into the Democratic Party. In short, I don’t know whether he can beat Donald Trump, which is the thing I care about most.
But this I know: Joe Biden is not a sexual predator. Too affectionate for the “Me Too” era? It seems so. But there is a difference between affection and harassment, and hopefully we can still be caring without being accused of harassment.
When I first met Biden, his was about the saddest story I’d ever heard. There he was, at the top of his game, headed for the U.S. Senate, and his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident that left his two sons in the hospital.
And there he was, years later, saying goodbye to one of his two boys, whom he used to commute to Delaware for every night to put to sleep.
To lose your wife, your daughter and your son is not an excuse for harassment, but it explains a lot.
In 1988, it was my colleagues who leaked the tape of Biden giving a speech that drew heavily from the same speech given by British Labor candidate Neil Kinnock. Which is how I went from being a full-time law professor and campaign volunteer to running the Dukakis campaign.
Biden had every reason to resent me. He didn’t know I wasn’t involved in any of the leaks. He had no reason to ever say hello to me again.
But he did. More than that, he hugged me. And it meant a lot – to me, anyway. It was an act of grace.
I don’t know too many perfect men. And I have no reason to doubt that the two women who have claimed that his affection made them uncomfortable did indeed feel uncomfortable. But that is not the end of the story.
Intent matters. Did Biden intend to make them uncomfortable? No. Did he treat them differently than he would treat me? No. And to be honest, I felt better for it, better because most politicians neither forgive nor forget; most politicians carry grudges against anyone even vaguely associated with their downfall.
Times have changed, and that is a good thing. My advice to my clients these days is simple: If it’s not about work, if it’s not related to work, the answer is no, it is not OK. Even if it’s OK by women my age, our daughters have every right to demand better than us. More power to them.
But Joe Biden?
I was a kid, barely 24, when I started working in the Senate. Eye-opening was an understatement. The stories I heard. The women I saw jumping off elevators when certain members got on. The unwelcome and unaffectionate touching, complete with sexual intent, which today would be considered sexual battery. Back then, it was just Tuesday.
In the feeding frenzy that now dominates every news cycle, an accusation is a conviction, regardless of intent. But that’s not the law, and it’s not fair to apply a standard that didn’t even exist retroactively.
At a time when most senators employed women for the sole purpose of typing, Sen. Biden never played those games. No sleeping with secretaries. No cavorting with interns. For goodness’ sake, he caught the first train to Delaware once the Senate adjourned.
To know hardship is, hopefully, to come to understand compassion. To know loss is to understand the value of a hug.
I’m not attacking the women who have complained. But make no mistake: Joe Biden is no Donald Trump. You won’t find quotes of him about grabbing women “by the p—-.” You won’t find porn stars trying to escape nondisclosure agreements. What you will find is a kind and decent man who is not perfect but would be a fine president.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer