If you didn’t know Joe Biden was of Irish descent, you might think he was French, or Italian. The man exudes personal warmth. He touches people, leans in close, pats their shoulders, whispers in their ears and plants unsolicited kisses. Upon women, that is.
To my knowledge, he doesn’t kiss men. That, he leaves to our Mediterranean brethren. But he hugs everybody.
I have a young dog rather like Biden. Aspen loves everybody and expects everybody to love him back. At the dog park, he races joyously up to total strangers, puts his paws on their shoulders – he’s a big boy, Aspen – and gives them sloppy kisses. Not everybody’s crazy about it, but unsolicited dog kisses come with the territory. Aspen is 18 months old, still in the baseball glove-eating stage of life.
Joe Biden is 76, no longer a puppy. Indeed, I’m on record as saying he and Bernie Sanders are both too damned old to be president. Like Aspen, Biden too wants everybody to like him, and most do. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in urging him to join “the straight-arm club,” of which she’s a member – “I just pretend you have a cold, and I have a cold” – adds that her grandchildren love him.
“He’s a very affectionate person,” Pelosi said.
Not to Lucy Flores, however. Flores is the former Nevada state legislator and Bernie Sanders activist who wrote in The Cut accusing Biden of violating her by putting his hands on her shoulders and kissing the back of her head before she took the podium at a 2014 political rally. Flores was a candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada, a race she lost badly.
“My brain couldn’t process what was happening,” she wrote. “I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, ‘tragame tierra,’ it means, ‘earth, swallow me whole.’”
So had the vice president touched her impurely, as they used to ask in the confessional? No, he had not, Flores wrote. Then why are we talking about it at all? Because she felt diminished. “(H)e stopped treating me like a peer the moment he touched me. Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.”
Flores later told Politico that she’d seen photos and videos of Biden behaving improperly. “When I started to see pictures of him behaving in the same way he did with me and with other women, it was very triggering,” she said. “I felt so much empathy for them ... I had been in their shoes.”
We’ll come back to the cant term “triggering.”
Biden emitted his sincerest non-apology apology. He confessed to being a very tactile politician, but added that “not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
What else could the man say?
Indeed, it appeared that Flores may have indulged in creative mind-reading. There’s a lot of that going around. After Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, kept seeing photos and videos of herself being hugged by Biden, she wrote that contrary to speculation, “the Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.”
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said that another photo of Biden smooching Coons’ 13-year-old daughter was entirely appropriate. “All three of my kids have known Joe their whole lives.”
A 20-something Washington Post columnist opined that Coons was raising his children wrong.
Every Democratic woman I’ve spoken with agreed with Pelosi: Hands off. But also with a Facebook friend who called Biden “an anachronism in this new age of paranoia. You can kiss the back of my head when I’m nervously taking deep breaths waiting to go on stage, Joe, and I’ll be nothing but grateful for the paternal vote of confidence. My father used to do the same thing when I was scared to dive off the high board.”
Which brings us back to “triggering,” and the Democrats’ growing image as the persnickety party: the party of busybodies, prigs and lifestyle commissars. The party that can’t keep its eye on the ball.
For that, I turn to Republican commentator, Ana Navarro-Cardenas. Biden should keep his hands to himself, she wrote. “But,” she tweeted, “pls get back to me when +15 women say he sexually harassed them, or he boasts of grabbing a woman’s kitty-cat, or he pays hush-money to a stripper who reminds him of his daughter. I’ll wait.”
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]