TeenVogue elicited an epic apology from former Vice President Joe Biden, a beloved figure who nevertheless has a couple of controversies in his past.
His apology comes as a welcome, if overdue, acknowledgment of the guilt of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, as well as the Senate committee’s all-white, all-male victim shaming of young black lawyer, Anita Hill, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment:
I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas. And I insisted the next election — I campaigned for two women Senators on the condition that if they won they would come on the Judiciary Committee, so there would never be again all men making a judgement on this . . . And my one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends. I mean, they really went after her. As much as I tried to intervene, I did not have the power to gavel them out of order. I tried to be like a judge and only allow a question that would be relevant to ask . . . I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill. I owe her an apology.
Joe Biden: "I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill. I owe her an apology." https://t.co/NKi2RBHm7F
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 14, 2017
Twenty-six years ago, Ms. Hill accused George H.W. Bush’s pick for Justice of workplace sexual harassment, leading to historic Washington hearings, pitting an all-white, all-male Senate committee, including then-Senator Biden of Delaware, against a lone Hill.
Thomas, the alleged perpetrator, was confirmed to the bench and has acted as a rubber stamp for most conservative rulings ever since. Despite her loss, the movement Ms. Hill’s courage ignited, defining the very term “sexual harassment” for the larger public, served as a precursor for the #MeToo movement causing swift and dramatic change today.
In the HBO movie Confirmation, Kerry Washington portrayed Ms. Hill and Greg Kinnear played Joe Biden. Although today “Uncle Joe” is a hallowed figure on the liberal left, he did not come across in the most sympathetic light in the reenactment of those hearings. Rather, his dismissive attitude Ms. Hill, complicity in not calling other accusers as witnesses, and enabling of the worst male behavior made him look like a “good old boy.” Old footage of those hearings confirms the account.
Biden parses the nuance of his role in the hearings:
I wasn’t able to convince three women we’d subpoenaed to cooperate with testimony. At the last minute they changed their mind and said they wouldn’t do it. I had them sign an affidavit saying, ‘I want you to come, and you’re saying, No, I will not come.’ In retrospect, some, including Anita, think I should have subpoenaed them no matter what . . . The reason I didn’t, I was worried they would come and not corroborate what she said and make — I mean, Clarence Thomas only won by two votes. And we still thought we had a chance at beating him.
His apology comes on the heels of recent remarks from Hill in The Washington Post:
I still don’t think it takes ownership of his role in what happened . . . And he also doesn’t understand that it wasn’t just that I felt it was not fair. It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite . . . You cannot just bring people forward into a process where you know they’re not going to be treated fairly . . . That’s not being heard.
Since his unsatisfactory handling of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, Biden has appeared to work consistently to make amends, leading the charge against sexual violence, making the fight a pivotal part of his tenure as Vice President and now of his foundation.
Today’s congressional Democrats have taken a zero-tolerance stance on allegations of sexual harassment, forcing Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to resign, even when many of their constituents wish they had afforded the lawmakers due process.
Either way, our government, and we as a society, have much to learn from the false starts that first forced sexual harassment into the public consciousness.