Anita Hill and others Should Abide(n) by their Sentiments on Average Joe

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden poses for photos with audience members during a rally, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

On April 25, former Vice President Joe Biden – to the surprise of virtually nobody who tracks American politics in the slightest - formally announced his 2020 presidential bid, becoming the frontrunner in an already – crowded Democratic field. Of course, one of the rites of passage for any political candidate involves facing nonstop public scrutiny. No matter how appealing or respectable a given candidate may seem to the average person, there’s always a skeptic or two who will find a reason to vote against someone. Thus, it was only natural that Biden would have to address the demons of his past, with his gross mishandling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas looming largest. This incident, alongside his striking resemblance to a fully melted vanilla ice cream cone, has made Biden a somewhat polarizing candidate. But provided that we look at the complete picture and don’t overreact to cherry-picked aspects of his history and temperament, we all should abide by our sentiments, whether positive or negative, on Average Joe.

In 1991, Biden acted as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Carl Hulse of The New York Times recount, “Ms. Hill was the reluctant witness, a young African-American law professor who had worked with Justice Thomas and was grilled in excruciatingly graphic detail by an all-white, all-male Judiciary Committee.” On top of this uncomfortable dynamic, Biden withheld other female witnesses who were willing to testify against Thomas. A few weeks before he kickstarted his presidential campaign officially, Biden reached out to Hill, expressing regret for exacerbating her unfortunate situation. However, Hill didn’t take his words as an apology, citing his role in enabling sexual harassment and some women’s claims that Biden had touched them inappropriately. We shouldn’t view this as a deliberate attempt to sabotage Biden’s 2020 prospects; rather, we should value Hill’s stance that Biden can do more to correct his mistakes and protect vulnerable women, especially within the context of the #MeToo movement.

Anti-Biden constituents have other vindication for their stance. My claim that Biden is analogous to a fully melted vanilla ice cream cone transcends physical appearance, for many argue that he’s a bland, past-his-prime candidate (in fact, if President Trump had a shred of wit concerning his degradation of prime foes, then surely he’d have coined the nickname ‘Below-Average Joe’). Certainly, Biden distinguishes himself from the rest of the Democratic field, but likely not in the way that he intended. As an old, white, heterosexual man with institutionalist tendencies, Biden doesn’t inspire much passion from younger voters, especially in juxtaposition to the new wave of diverse candidates with innovative proposals. While such criticism is perfectly fair to levy against Biden – and he’s not necessarily my first choice to become our next president – I don’t believe that it justifies the vitriol that some spew toward him. If you find fault with him, then I’d advise that you express your disapproval in a more dignified manner.

Of course, there’s no shame in being a Biden proponent, either. His close association with former President Obama (i.e. the complete antithesis of current President Trump) certainly helps. Yet beyond his vice presidency, Biden has an impressive resume in his own right. After all, his distinguished career as a U.S. Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman – during which he led the charge for the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and other progressive legislation – shouldn’t be taken lightly. Thus I’m not diametrically opposed to Biden, especially in the likely event that he becomes the next Democratic presidential nominee. I consider him a safe, relatively inoffensive choice that’ll gain popularity particularly among middle-aged people, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Biden may feel like an underwhelming option, but ultimately we can trust him to at least avert disaster and hold things steady for the time being. We can support Biden as we wish, but we must overcome our confirmation biases and heighten our awareness of the less-appealing aspects of his character and record.

Whether we love him or hate him – or lie somewhere in between these extremes – Hill and the rest of us are entitled to our opinions on Biden. Moving forward, let’s just be careful not to oversell Average Joe’s positive or negative attributes.


Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email michael.katz@uconn.edu.