Joe Biden still hasn’t apologized to Anita Hill for the way he handled her sexual-harassment hearing against Clarence Thomas. He has said that he “owes her an apology,” and he’s proclaimed he regrets that he “couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved.” But he’s never actually told her he’s sorry. “It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company,” Hill told Elle in an interview last year. “‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?’”
He still hasn’t. And now, as more women come forward with claims that Biden touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable, he’s being presented with more opportunities to apologize, but refuses. Last week, in an essay published on the Cut, former Nevada lieutenant-governor nominee Lucy Flores recalled an event for her 2014 campaign, where she says Biden smelled her hair and gave her “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head, a violation of her personal space that left her “shocked” and “embarrassed.” In response to the essay, Biden issued a lukewarm denial that he had ever “acted inappropriately,” but added that if his memory was failing him, he would “listen respectfully.”
On Monday, a former congressional aide told the Hartford Courant that Biden inappropriately touched and rubbed noses with her during a 2009 political fundraiser — and that when he pulled her head toward him, she “thought he was going to kiss [her] on the mouth.” And then, two more women came forward, saying that Biden’s behavior had left them feeling uneasy and disrespected.
On Wednesday, Biden issued a personal, more considered response: a two-minute-long contemplative video, posted to Twitter, about how “the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset.” What the video is lacking, though, is the only phrase it needed: I’m sorry. Instead, Biden asserts that he has “never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic,” as a sort of excuse for the unwanted touching. He goes on to acknowledge that “social norms are changing” — a series of statements that indicate that he doesn’t fully understand, or care to understand, why Flores or the two other women felt disrespected by his behavior. “I’ve always thought [politics to be] about connecting with people,” he says, before listing the various ways one might do that: “shaking hands, hands on the shoulder, a hug, encouragement.”
But, of course, “connecting with people” in this way is only warm or encouraging if it’s wanted. In Flores’s case, she found his touch embarrassing and off-putting, especially given the immense power disparity between herself and Biden, who was vice-president at the time. “Imagine you’re at work and a male colleague who you have no personal relationship with approaches you from behind, smells your hair, and kisses you on the head,” she wrote. “Now imagine it’s the CEO of the company.”
In the Twitter video, Biden promised to “hear what [women] are saying, [and] understand it.” What they’re saying is clear: that Biden violated their boundaries and made them uncomfortable. But to truly understand this, as he has promised to do, would require him to admit he was at fault. And judging from the way he’s handled his role in the Hill hearings, we shouldn’t hold our breath.