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To all those cheering for the downfall of Joe Biden or who’ve already predicted the end of his political career, take a deep breath, step back and consider objectively whether the former vice president is the best hope for defeating President Trump next year.
Presumably the desired goal of the anti-Biden crowd is turning Trump out of the White House, -installing a Democratic chief executive, retaining a majority in the House and winning a majority in the Senate.
Like Biden or not, he embodies — at least for the moment — the best chance of pulling it off.
The half dozen women who’ve stepped forward to accuse Biden of behaving inappropriately toward them — unwanted touching, rubbing of arms or shoulders, touching foreheads — caught Biden off guard and sent him into damage control and explanatory mode, portraying himself as an affectionate, sympathetic and caring individual whose hugs are personal expressions of those traits and nothing more.
If his actions were misunderstood or if the women involved felt uncomfortable or threatened, he said, he realized in hindsight that his behavior could be construed in that way and that he would be more considerate and understanding in the future.
Several women who either worked with him in one capacity or another or who were family friends rose to his defense, some relating personal stories of gracious, courteous and respectful treatment by a man unafraid and unembarrassed to display his emotions in public.
Biden’s history is well-documented, captured in thousands of photographs and videos, openly and in full view of often very large audiences. A Harvey Weinstein type secret predator, prowling political gatherings in search of unsuspecting and vulnerable women? Hardly. Witnesses abounded, including millions watching television or reading newspapers.
Not surprisingly, the uproar that ensued following the first revelation of an unwelcome advance produced speculation over whether — in the highly charged atmosphere of presidential politics — campaign operatives involved in the candidacies of Biden’s competition were behind the concerted effort to rough him up with sexual misbehavior allegations, sit back and rely on the ensuing media attention to drive him out of the race.
On cue, the same media that for years depicted Biden as warm, caring and compassionate quickly talked about “creepy Joe,” or “touchy feely Joe,” or “dirty Uncle Joe,” while the usual cast of cable television characters speculated whether he’d seek the nomination in light of the accusations and, if he did run, whether he’d survive the first round of primaries and party caucuses.
Interest focused on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — Biden’s closest competitor and the one with the most to gain should Biden self-destruct — as a possible source for the stories of his interactions with women.
The Sanders-is-behind-it theory was given added weight with the revelation that the first to raise Biden’s behavior was Lucy Flores, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014 who told of Biden placing his hands on her shoulders and kissing the back of her head. She joined the Sanders campaign in 2016 and served on the board of an advocacy group supporting him, suggesting her motives for coming forward were designed to benefit Sanders.
If Biden was dusted for prints, Bernie Sanders’ fingers would be a ten-point match, at least according to some observers.
Polling has consistently shown the former vice president leading Sanders generally in single digits, with others like California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke well behind. The remainder of the field is struggling to stay in the conversation.
Biden has remained resolute in his position that it is in his nature and personality to express himself in terms more intimate than a handshake, but that he never intended to offend anyone or to behave in a sexually subtle or aggressive fashion.
At the same time, he acknowledged that he should have been more aware that not everyone shares his propensity for personal contact and that he will be more deeply sensitive going forward.
It is fair to point out that Biden came to political maturity during a time in history when actions such as his were the norm, but he has failed badly to recognize and fully grasp the sea change by which behavior such as his is viewed in this era of heightened sensitivity. Being oblivious to making others feel uncomfortable is no excuse, however.
He is in some ways a throwback, a symbol of a time when hugs, kisses, affectionate hand pats and the like were commonplace and, for the most part, shrugged off as an accepted part of the political environment.
No more. He and those in whom he placed confidence to advise and counsel him should have been much quicker to recognize it and point out the need to adapt to the new reality.
It is, though, undeniable at this early stage that he enjoys considerable support in the party and that writing him off would be a mistake.
He would be a formidable candidate, a serious challenger to Trump — perhaps even a victorious one — and writing him off at this stage would be a grievous error.
If the belief is that he’s been mortally wounded, let the primary voters and caucus goers make that decision, rather than commentators, consultants and academics.
If Biden is to pay a price for his conduct, so be it.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.