TPM Cafe: Opinion

Why Does Creepy Uncle Joe Biden Get A Pass From Liberals?

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I was a 20-year-old-liberal during the 2008 election—you know, the one about Hope and Change. Once Obama picked his running mate, I remember not knowing too much about Joe Biden, but being most excited by the concept of him: the middle-class straight-shooter from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Despite being unwieldy and faux pas-prone, I felt he was more authentic than the politicians I grew up with (The Clinton and Bush families).

Sometimes this “authenticity” led to mishaps. It was clear from the beginning that Biden’s personality would be a gift to American pop culture. And the gift would just keep on giving: He would go on to call health care reform a “big fucking deal” on mic. He wears aviators and leather jackets and took this picture while buying ice cream:

There is now even a Joe Biden compliment generator. Basically, he was man-made in a lab by the editors of The Onion.

In 2013, supercuts of his best moments from that year’s swearing-in spread across the Internet, and I remember loving it. He told a senator's mom she was beautiful; he jokingly instructed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s family to "spread your legs, you're gonna be frisked!” It was awe-inspiring to see a politician so seemingly unaware of cultural norms.

At this year’s swearing-in, of course Biden was out in all his glory. On Tuesday, I wrote about Maggie, the young daughter of Sen. Chris Coons who rejected Biden’s whispers and kiss, complete with an affectionate headline. That wasn’t the only cringeworthy moment of the night. When introduced to Sen. Orrin Hatch's granddaughter, Biden joked: “I hope you have a big fence around the house!” Also, this:

I’m not in the habit of agreeing with conservatives, though feel like a "bad feminist" for my gleeful joy at his blatantly sexist and inappropriate behavior. Sure, he has never been accused of harassment or assault, like, say, Bill Clinton, but was it really great TV, filled with charming moments? The best of Biden? Joyful, must-see TV? What would I say if a Republican did the same thing? I’m pretty sure that the kind of “uncle” he is would change from endearing to lecherous.

Now I'm wondering whether I'm a "bad liberal" to call him out. That means aligning myself with conservatives who love crying “double standard” on issues like this, not because they actually care about feminism, but to push their liberal media bias agenda.

But not wanting to cede a point to the right doesn’t justify ignoring questionable behavior, which we have done since Biden came on the national scene. As early as 2007, when he called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," or said "you cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” we have forgiven him. We offer arguments like: That’s just good ol’ Joe. He doesn’t get it. He’s of a different generation.

Liberals do this because we like his politics. In terms of women’s issues, he’s got the gold stars. From Mary Katharine Ham on HotAir:

[Biden] has a voting record and a party identification that make this kind of behavior suddenly charming and eccentric instead of creepy.

He’s pro-choice and as a senator in 1990, he introduced the Violence Against Women Act, a piece of legislation that changed the way we respond to domestic violence. Since its passage in 1994, rates of domestic violence have decreased by more than 50 percent. Currently, he co-chairs the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault the Council on Women and Girls.

Being an ally to women is about more than just positions or legislation. The kind of sexism that Biden exhibits is perhaps the most pernicious kind, because it’s so easily waved away. It’s the classic definition of sexual harassment, the kind that most women tolerate on a daily basis from coworkers or friends. The kind they have hard time fighting against because of arguments like this one from Matt Lewis, who wrote a defense of Biden today in The Week, and pulled the political-correctness, old-man-shtick card:

Look, sexual harassment is a horrible and serious problem. But that's not what Biden was doing here. This was innocent — and sure, mildly flirtatious — teasing from an old man. We are wrong to suggest that is something truly inappropriate.

Firstly, it’s wrong for a man to decide what makes women uncomfortable. But besides that, being a public figure who supports women means more than just supporting political causes. It also means treating them with respect, especially in public. If progressives are really committed to combating sexism, they have to be indiscriminate about calling it out—even if it means indicting one of their own.