“He made me feel uncomfortable,” she said and, I, as a longtime feminist, should have understood better and supported her more. But I didn’t.
“She,” Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democrat nominee for Nevada’s lieutenant governor, was speaking on CNN in Spring 2019. “He” was Joe Biden, the former vice-president and then undeclared, but front-running, candidate for the Democrat nomination for president. Flores was discussing a recently-published article she wrote in which she recalled, while campaigning, Biden touching her, smelling her hair, and gently kissing the back of her head. “As I was preparing myself to make my case,” Flores penned, “I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. ‘Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?’”
I immediately became suspicious. The timing for telling this five-year-old tale seemed odd. Why now? We knew Biden was a touchy-feely guy; we had seen the film clips and photographs. We knew he hugged and patted people, often touching their faces. He also was known to make inappropriate comments. That was his style. That was why he became known as “America’s Favorite Uncle.” Flores should have known that. Or at least been warned by her staff.
But when I learned Flores supports and has contributed to the campaigns of several Democrats seeking the presidency, candidates more progressive, more left-leaning than Biden, her motives became clearer; she wanted to cast doubt on him and diminish his early lead.
OK, I thought, that’s politics. But when she said that while his actions were not threatening or sexually motivated, “He made me feel uncomfortable.” I became angry. No, Ms. Flores, his behavior did not make you feel uncomfortable; you chose to feel uncomfortable. You are responsible for your reaction.
We all are responsible for our actions and reactions. Flores was responsible for her feelings, not Biden. He is only responsible for his actions. Other people might have been flattered, comforted, or sexually aroused. Flores chose to feel uncomfortable.
Flores stated that she was “preparing herself” to make a speech. Biden was behind her on the dais. He, perhaps, observed nervousness or tension, and may have wanted to offer support and, with countless witnesses, placed his hands on her shoulders. Her reaction was to freeze, to react negatively to a kind gesture. “Why?” I ask. Do you, Ms. Flores, have experiences from the past that have conditioned you to respond as you did? That would be understandable. I don’t need to be a woman to understand that. But that is no reason to smear Biden. Unless you had ulterior motives.
I am certain we all have, at times, overstepped personal space or misinterpreted boundaries in relationships. Have you never been introduced to a Robert or Susan and called them Bobby or Suzie only to be sternly corrected? Have you never greeted someone at a social gathering, an individual you haven’t seen in a long time, and warmly hugged them only to realize they were resisting your embrace? Awkwardly, you retreat and wonder why that person doesn’t hold you in the same esteem you hold them. Have you never had someone you know so casually you are not certain of their name greet you with a kiss on the cheek and wonder why (s)he felt it appropriate? I know I have.
Therefore, I am Joe Biden. And you are, too.
I believe all Joe Biden meant to do when he touched Flores was to communicate care, support, camaraderie, and his desire to connect. Yes, his style may have been aggressive or insensitive but it was well-meaning. It also, to his detriment, contradicts the American cultural norm of over-emphasizing personal space, a norm I do not see here in Mexico.
While I may be defending Biden here, do not assume I am touting him for the presidency. I am not. He is not even in my Top 3 of the 3,467 declared and undeclared Democratic candidates being considered for the nomination. Chances are I am much more in line with Ms. Perez’s choices than I am with the ex-vice-president.
And do not assume I have abandoned my fight for women’s equality or my support for the Me Too Movement. I have not. Claims by women, or men, that they were sexually abused or assaulted should be listened to and believed. Claims that one’s personal space was violated or that they were made to feel uncomfortable, should not be taken as seriously.