The Backlash Against the Biden Backlash

After a flood of stories saying the former Vice President is unsuitable for the modern era, the inevitable pushback is happening.


The Hill (“Pelosi: Accusations against Biden don’t disqualify him“):

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that a pair of allegations of inappropriate kissing and touching against former Vice President Joe Biden should “not at all” disqualify him from the 2020 race.

“No. No, I do not,” Pelosi told reporters when asked if she thinks the allegations from two women are disqualifying.

“I don’t think that this disqualifies him from being president,” she said while walking to the House chamber. “Not at all.”

Pelosi declined to say whether this could damage Biden in a potential 2020 bid.

The comments came after a second woman, Amy Lappos, accused Biden of inappropriately rubbing noses with her at a 2009 fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn.

Her claim followed a complaint from former Nevada legislator Lucy Flores, who said Biden kissed the back of her head while holding her shoulders during a 2014 event in Nevada when she was running for lieutenant governor.

Biden on Sunday said he did not believe he had acted inappropriately while offering “countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort” on the campaign trail.

“If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention,” he said.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Biden also pushed back strongly at what he described as a “cottage industry of lies” against the former vice president that include photos that have been misconstrued or misinterpreted, according to Biden’s camp.

Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, highlighted one photo in a post on Sunday that shows Biden with his hands on her shoulders. She said the photo had been “misleadingly extracted” from a longer moment at her husband’s swearing-in ceremony and that the former vice president had been offering his support to her.

“I won’t pretend that this will be the last of that picture, but it will be the last of other people speaking for me,” Carter wrote in a post on Medium.

Axios’ Mike Allen (“2020 Democrats, establishment figures split over defense of Joe Biden“):

Following two accusations of inappropriate touching against Joe Biden, a number of Democrats — including those who worked with him in the Obama administration and before — are coming to the defense of the former vice president, describing him as a warm, grandfatherly figure who would never be intentionally malicious.

Why it matters: As Biden edges closer to announcing a 2020 presidential run, his alleged history of inappropriate behavior has come under scrutiny. Both of Biden’s accusers have said Democrats cannot condone his behavior while condemning President Trump’s treatment of women, and have urged the party to pick another candidate or risk losing to Trump in 2020.

What they’re saying:

  • Biden“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And 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.”
  • Former national security adviser Susan Rice“I have worked closely with Joe Biden for many years. In my experience, he is warm and affectionate with women (and men). But never have I found his actions inappropriate or uncomfortable. I have always appreciated his kindness and warmth. Most importantly, I know Joe Biden to be a dedicated ally, champion and defender of women and all of our rights. There is no one I would rather be with in a foxhole. He is one of the most decent, honorable men I have been privileged to work with.”
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)“He’s made it clear his intent was never to make people uncomfortable or any kind of harm. Delaware is a very friendly state. Delaware is a state where its leaders hug people, men, women young and old. We kiss babies. We do it in public. … It’s also important to always put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes and ask how I would want to be treated.”
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “Joe Biden is a friend and a seasoned veteran when it comes to political campaigns. I know nothing about the allegations that I also read this morning as well. I think all of us should take such allegations seriously and with respect. I took Joe Biden’s statement to say just that exactly. … Certainly one allegation is not disqualifying, but it should be taken seriously.”
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), on an infamous picture of Biden touching his daughter: “She did not think of it as anything. All three of my kids have known Joe their whole lives.”
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): “The Joe Biden that I have known for 25 years is a warm and friendly human being. He didn’t mean it as anything other than that. And I guess, there has never been a problem before. … He’s a tactile person, he grabs you, he holds your arm — that kind of thing. … I don’t think they’re disqualifying. I think obviously there are people that don’t like it, and I think that’s what’s changed and what that message is, is hands off.”

The other side: 2020 Democrats, who may face off against Biden in the primaries, have been seemingly less willing to give the former vice president the benefit of doubt.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)“I believe Lucy Flores. And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.”
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “I have no reason not to believe Lucy [Flores]. And I think what this speaks to is the need to fundamentally change the culture of this country and to create environments where women feel comfortable and feel safe. And that’s something we have got to do.” On whether Biden’s alleged behavior was disqualifying, Sanders said: “That’s a decision for the vice president to make. I’m not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody, but her point is absolutely right.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)“I have not read [Flores’] interview, but I know the vice president addressed it there in that statement and he will continue to address it if he decides to get into this race. … I have no reason not to believe her. I think we know from campaigns and from politics that people raise issues and they have to address them, and that’s what he will have to do with the voters if he gets into the race.”
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.)“I don’t know all the details, but I think that’s why we have an election. … But certainly it’s very disconcerting. Women have to be heard and we should start by believing them.”

Buzzfeed’s Katherine Miller makes an interesting argument (“Everyone Already Knows How They Feel About Joe Biden Touching Women“):

Biden supporters have been reviewing “photographic documentation” of a 2014 campaign event where Lucy Flores, a former candidate, said the former vice president kissed her, which made her uncomfortable. Presidential candidates have talked about whether they “believe” Flores. “Who Is Lucy Flores, the Woman Accusing Joe Biden of Kissing Her?” asked a New York Times headline over the weekend. Reporters write in the passive voice — “the appropriateness of Biden’s physical behavior toward women is now being questioned” — like scrutiny emerges from the ocean. In an email subject-lined “A Note on Recent Coverage,” Biden’s spokesperson described Stephanie Carter and Sen. Chris Coons as “reclaiming” her and his daughter’s stories, respectively, from false internet narratives about how they’d been made uncomfortable by Biden.

It’s like people are trapped in some AI simulation of how a #MeToo story works, and must play out the program. This orbits but never touches the core issue here:

Everybody already knows what they think about Joe Biden putting his hands on people, because we’ve all seen this happen in public. We’ve seen Biden kiss people at public events! We’ve all had years to think about it! Does anyone need a photograph of Lucy Flores and Joe Biden to know that, at some point, somewhere, over the last 40 years, someone might have been uncomfortable because the situation wasn’t quite right?

But the current system still isn’t ready to handle a well-known, gray-area subject like this. As she said on TV over the weekend, Flores didn’t consider it sexual harassment, she just was uncomfortable, and we all know what she means.

Because Biden’s behavior is so well known, and falls somewhere on a bell curve between “disqualifying” and “perfect,” this one actually comes back around to what you, the individual reader, think. Is the way Biden comports himself bad? Bad but minor? Overblown? A natural thing for an effusive politician? Depends on the situation? You already know your own heart on this subject, which makes any story written from a neutral perspective (“some Democrats are saying it’s a problem; others are not”) weirdly hollow at the core, and distant from the actual core issue of social mores (“is this a problem, and if so how much of one?”) that reported coverage can’t quite answer.

Presidential politics can flatten your personality and career into a singular theme, and it’s tough to know beforehand which it will be. People now talk about the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, not the Robert Bork ones. They talk again about Biden voting for the Iraq War, not becoming a dove after the vote, like they did when he might oppose hawkish Hillary Clinton in 2016. And now people are talking about Biden always grabbing people like he’s Richard Dawson hosting Family Feud in 1978, not being the guy behind the Violence Against Women Act, like they did when he was vice president. Times change! And as Biden waits and waits to decide whether he’s running for president, people fill that void with signs that he just doesn’t fit anymore.

So rather than unearthing a dark scandal of process questions, Flores basically kicked the door in on a deferred debate.

Miller is largely right about this and, indeed, the array of quotes Allen collected demonstrates this. People who aren’t running against Biden are likely going to judge this on how much they liked Biden before the latest allegations.

Still, times do indeed change. Behavior that was seen as perfectly normal in 1999 can be positively cringe-worthy from the perspective of 2019. I think that Biden, like Al Franken, genuinely champions women’s interests. Neither are misogynists. But both abused their power in ways that made women uncomfortable—by acting in ways they never would have considered appropriate with men in similar situations.

Biden’s statements on the matter thus far show that he doesn’t understand that. That he’s just a guy who likes to touch people and comes from a culture where people like to touch people is largely irrelevant. So is his lack of intent to make women he touched uncomfortable. He made them uncomfortable.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Gender Issues, Joe Biden
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rick Zhang says:

    This is an example where I think the metoo movement has gone too far. I think we as a society need to have clear delineations of what constitutes acceptable and what is clearly harassment, especially for edge cases like this. The lack of guidance has caused the whole process to be tainted by partisanship.

    I posit that sexual assault needs to be clearly defined, otherwise both sexes will continue to be confused by expected social norms (e.g. kissing on the cheek in France) vs something that is now off limits. Similarly, sexual harassment needs to have clear malicious intent and repeated offense despite the other party vocalizing that it was unwanted.

    Universities and tech companies struggling to grapple with sexual assault on campus and at work have sort of implemented a best practice compromise. You’re allowed one attempt at romantic overtures and if rebuffed, cannot try again (and you will be watched for good behavior).

    My own experience that is most relevant is a case of a female coworker flirting and making romantic overtures at work. She vented to me about her divorce, brought me flowers, asked me on a date, and lightly touched my arm on occasion during conversation to emphasize a point. At no point did I encourage this behavior and I was professional throughout. The nature of the interactions made me uncomfortable, yes. Probably on the same level as biden’s accusers. I’m sure I could have complained to HR about it but I recognized that we as a society need to separate benign from malicious intent, as opposed to solely relying on the “discomfort” of the accuser. We are not mind readers, and deteriorating to the point of needing a Pence-like chaperone during any male female interaction is absurd.

    And that’s not even delving into LGBT implications. What about repeated glances and gestures of affection from a man to another man? He could claim to be made uncomfortable by perceived homosexual overtures that were never there.

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  2. James Pearce says:

    The Joe Biden that I have known for 25 years is a warm and friendly human being.

    So..not creepy Uncle Joe then?

    Also:

    Because Biden’s behavior is so well known, and falls somewhere on a bell curve between “disqualifying” and “perfect,” this one actually comes back around to what you, the individual reader, think.

    If it were, in fact, left up to the individual reader, I feel like a whole bunch of individuals would shrug this stuff off. But #metoo is sitting on the individual reader’s shoulder, whispering in their ear.

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  3. CSK says:

    A comforting pat on the back to a friend or colleague in emotional distress is one thing. So is a clasp of the hand. Everyone who isn’t an advanced neurotic knows this.

    But nuzzling, massaging, nose-rubbing, and fondling complete or relative strangers? Sneaking up behind them and grabbing them? Sorry. That’s just creepy.

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  4. Kit says:

    That he’s just a guy who likes to touch people and comes from a culture where people like to touch people is largely irrelevant. So is his lack of intent to make women he touched uncomfortable. He made them uncomfortable.

    This isn’t #metoo, it’s #owngoal (a Democrat specialty).

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    James said “So is his lack of intent to make women he touched uncomfortable. He made them uncomfortable.”

    If you have a broad enough experience with different people, you are going to meet people who are more physically forward than you are comfortable with. More importantly, the reverse is also true. Every culture has a “correct” distance to stand and talk to someone. There are cultures where that distance is closer to or farther away than the American norm. Taken to extremes a Chinese colleague would report a typical American to HR for being creepy, and the American would report an Indian for the same infraction. I remember being somewhere (Fiji?) where if I sat down on a bus with a lot of empty seats, if a guy entered he was likely to sit next to me rather than take an empty row. In the US that would set off alarm bells. In the late 80’s in West Africa if a male acquaintance was walking with me somewhere, especially a place he knew and I didn’t, he would take my hand. In the US this would be a very public homosexual come on. And of course there is the country by country variation of what to do when you are moving to a middle seat in an already full theater row. Do you face the people you are passing? Or do you turn your back. Get it wrong and there will be someone offended that you either shoved your crotch or your ass in their face and you have no manners or perhaps are a creep.

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  6. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Part of the problem is that Biden is not a creepy old guy, but a guy that really cares about other people. There are lots of people saying that Biden helped them when they are facing personal problems(The way that he went for Meghan McCain when her dad was dying is just the most high-profile example).

    The idea that everything is harassment or similar to rape is also becoming tiresome.

    Besides that, only the MAGA crowd and Bernie Bros/Sis are really obsessed about Biden touching other people. That really does not bode well.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Biden on Sunday said he did not believe he had acted inappropriately while offering “countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort” on the campaign trail.

    So how many men have you given “support and comfort” by nuzzling them on the back of the head? None? Huh! So how come only women get this “support and comfort”?

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  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    There are lots of people saying that Biden helped them when they are facing personal problems

    The fact that person A has a good relationship with person B says nothing about whether they acted inappropriately to person C.

    The idea that everything is harassment or similar to rape is also becoming tiresome.

    Something doesn’t have to be harassment or rape to be inappropriate.

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  9. al Ameda says:

    I don’t mind it that Joe might be forced out – I’d love to see a younger person emerge at the top of the ticket.

    But really, where is the Democratic Party messaging on this? Why aren’t there people out there asking about Trump bragging that he sexually harassed many women because he could? Where are the ads that replay the audio of his bragging? Are they saving that for the campaign?

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  10. Blue Galangal says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Part of the problem is that Biden is not a creepy old guy, but a guy that really cares about other people. There are lots of people saying that Biden helped them when they are facing personal problems(The way that he went for Meghan McCain when her dad was dying is just the most high-profile example).

    The idea that everything is harassment or similar to rape is also becoming tiresome.

    Right. And in part I’m going to give Biden a pass on this because 1) the timing is very suspect / MAGAites & Bernie Brahs, and 2) Biden is one of the original WYSIWYG. Both my grandfathers would greet women (social acquaintances, in-laws, daughters, granddaughters) with the exact same clasp of the hand and kiss on the cheek/shoulder hug type deals. It’s his generation and he’s a caring guy on top of it. He genuinely doesn’t intend to be creepy, any more than my grandfathers did. What’s acceptable has shifted but I am pretty sure my grandfathers would have only been confused. They wouldn’t have wanted or intended to make anyone uncomfortable and if you told them you didn’t want to be kissed they would have stopped, but that was SOP for them in their generation.

    Plus Flores already said it wasn’t sexual harassment, it was “just” unwelcome. And ended with a “Bernie 2020!” From which I will draw my own conclusions.

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  11. Tyrell says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Rubbing noses”, a peck on the cheek, holding someone’s handshake too long, putting a hand on someone’s shoulder, patting someone on the back: inappropriate? That does not even cross over to “showing affection”. Some people are huggers and inclined toward that. Some time ago there were those who felt there was not enough of that in our society, that people had grown distant, cold, and machine like.
    The timing of all this is certainly telling.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Rick Zhang: @MarkedMan: I agree that there are different standards across different cultures and that cultures change over time. But, as @Stormy Dragon notes, Biden doesn’t do this with men.

    @al Ameda:

    Democratic Party messaging on this? Why aren’t there people out there asking about Trump bragging that he sexually harassed many women because he could? Where are the ads that replay the audio of his bragging? Are they saving that for the campaign?

    One presumes it’ll come up again once the primaries are over but 1) this was already litigated in 2016 and 2) the Democrats are in the process of trying to figure out who they’ll run against Trump. It would be bizarre to be running anti-Trump ads right now.

    @Blue Galangal: A couple of people have brought this up in the last couple of days, as though Flores was backing off her story. But she closed the original essay in which she made the charges public with this:

    I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem.

    That’s a perfectly reasonable position. Like Pelosi, I don’t think Biden is necessarily disqualified by these past actions. This isn’t Louis CK masturbating in front of aspiring female comics in a power play. But his reactions thus far marginalize the real reactions that Flores—and one guesses, many, many other women—have to his actions.

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  13. Kit says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Every culture has a “correct” distance to stand and talk to someone. There are cultures where that distance is closer to or farther away than the American norm.

    I remember a diplomat recounting how, during social gatherings, people from the south would, in slow motion, chase people from the north around the room without anyone realizing it. Basically, one person ever so slightly encroaches upon the space of another, which is met with an ever so slight retreat. I once experienced something similar myself, when, over an hour or so, I chased a friend down the length of a bar. It was only when we went to grab our bags that we even noticed that we had moved.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    So how many men have you given “support and comfort” by nuzzling them on the back of the head? None? Huh! So how come only women get this “support and comfort”?

    I’ve got a friend, a real “man’s man” in the old sense, who has a job where he is often preparing someone for an interview. He tries to relax them and he often stands behind them and gives them a shoulder rub. I don’t know if he does it with women but I know he does it with men.

    As I’ve said previously, I’m a midwestern boy raised by Irish born and raised parents. I’m instinctually uncomfortable with touching from anyone but my wife. And when I first met him and he did this to me, I didn’t like it and it didn’t relax me. I also am not a big fan of my European female friends and acquaintances kissing me on the cheek every time we meet (and I can never remember which countries are one, two or three kisses on alternating cheeks). But, that’s just life unless you live in a tiny bubble with everyone around you the same. I’m also not walking around looking for the next thing to be offended about, making everything that occurs into a drama about me. Someone harassing you is a serious, maybe even criminal offense. Someone having a different sense of appropriate contact than you but not intending any harm is a different social norm.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    To be clear: my problem with this isn’t that I think Biden is trying to get sexual with them. The problem is that it’s a form of condescension: Biden treats adult women like they’re still children instead of as other adults.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Kit: Heh. I first noticed this in college. I was at a party where drinks were flowing but people were also having real conversations. For whatever reason I plunked myself down in a chair and stayed there for the whole evening, watching the room. And after a while I noticed two guys in animated conversation, one an Indian and the other an American (I think). They were obviously very interested in the the subject and they went on happily for over an hour. During the course of the hour they did at least three laps around a coffee table. The Indian would put his right foot a quarter step forward. A few moments later the American would put his left foot a quarter step back. Gradually they would work their way around the table and I’m pretty sure neither of them ever realized what was happening.

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  17. Kit says:

    @James Joyner:

    I agree that there are different standards across different cultures and that cultures change over time. But, as @Stormy Dragon notes, Biden doesn’t do this with men.

    I think I follow the logic here: every culture treats men and women equally in social interactions; Joe doesn’t treat men and women equally; this Joe’s actions are not driven by culture. Interesting.

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  18. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The fact that person A has a good relationship with person B says nothing about whether they acted inappropriately to person C.

    That’s not the issue. The issue of Biden is that he is not the typical harasser, that’s threatening. He is basically a nice guy that’s a little handsy. You can debate about whether that’s appropriate, but comparing him to someone like Les Moonves or Harvey Weinstein is a little bit of exaggeration.

    That’s a problem for Democrats because even flirting begins to be seen as inappropriate behavior.

    Besides that, he is a useful surrogate. No wonder that so many people that are not Democrats and don’t vote for Democrats are so willing to destroy him.

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  19. Kit says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m a midwestern boy raised by Irish born and raised parents. I’m instinctually uncomfortable with touching from anyone but my wife.

    I come from a similar place, emotionally/culturally speaking. Still, after half a lifetime in Europe, I’ve loosened up somewhat. The sort of light touching that some (most?) cultures engage in just seems warmer and more natural. But even if I like it, my formative years mean it will never be natural for me. To exaggerate slightly, if I decide (and it’s never spontaneous) to tap someone, then it’s like George’s line in Seinfeld:

    For me to ask out a woman I’ve got to get into a mental state, like the karate guys before they break bricks.

    That said, to speak frankly, Flores’s attitude struck me as a pathology, and I can imagine a host of body issues flowing from such an outlook. While I’d certainly cut her a wide berth were she in my orbit, and would have no problem respecting her wishes, I do not want that type setting the national agenda.

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  20. Franklin says:

    Perhaps I was too hasty in the previous thread, having concluded that I hoped this news would jolt his numerous backers to re-think their position. While we could do worse than Biden, he doesn’t excite me. And I was under the impression that there was a long list of completely inappropriate touching, not realizing that many of the reports were about friendly contact with people he was quite familiar with.

    I’m still not sold on one person’s discomfort being the threshold for appropriate behavior. We’re a bunch of animals with evolving customs. Overly-perfumed old ladies planting kisses on my cheek is uncomfortable. That said, I understand that’s a different power structure than what Biden allegedly did with Flores.

    And there are an almost infinite number of one-to-one relationships. I can give and get quick shoulder rubs with two of my wife’s friends, but not others. We’re not grabbing crotches here, and yes this behavior has involved male friends as well. And if one person doesn’t like a friendly touch, they give hints or make it clear that something is unwanted. Problem solved. And if it isn’t than the issue should obviously be escalated.

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  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    The notion that a person’s career should be ended because he made other people feel uncomfortable is absurd and unsustainable. Why shouldn’t that same discomfort apply to things other than touching? We all of us make someone uncomfortable in this world.

    Setting the outrage bar this low devalues the importance of more serious offenses. I’ve been saying this for at least two years now – much to the irritation of people in my professional life – but extreme positions alienate unnecessarily and are by their nature impossible to sustain. The more extreme the stance, the faster the issue burns out, the less it is able to appeal to a broader constituency. Extremism eats itself.

    We need to decide on some rational standards. Franken meh, Louis C.K. ewww, Weinstein go to jail, and Cosby can fcking die there. This approach of attempting to punish today infractions that occurred decades ago under dramatically different circumstances is just stupid. It is particularly stupid when the opposition has no standards at all. Not every offense is a capital offense.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Very much the same. I am whatever the opposite of Biden is. I don’t actively dislike people, but I don’t do friends, I don’t ‘hang out’ more than once a year in any non-work social context, if that. I also do my best to avoid doing public events, parties, etc… I cannot recall the last non-work and non-offspring party I attended. *

    So because I’m a pathological loner, because I’m not ‘people who need people,’ I am safe from any suggestion of a #MeToo allegation. Swell. So, we want the entire world to be people like me? Because I think people like me are happy down at one extreme end of the friendliness bell curve, but I’m pretty sure we can’t actually have a civilization made up of people like me. Well, aside from Vulcan.

    *Me to publicist upon arriving at every work event: ‘Look, I’ve met most of these people, but I won’t remember any of them. Really. You need to prompt me.’ And they never do. They cannot get their heads around the fact that I could not remember someone I’d met literally three times before.

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  23. Kit says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Not every offense is a capital offense.

    And discomfort is no offense at all.

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  24. R. Dave says:

    @Stormy Dragon: So how many men have you given “support and comfort” by nuzzling them on the back of the head? None? Huh! So how come only women get this “support and comfort”?

    @Stormy Dragon: To be clear: my problem with this isn’t that I think Biden is trying to get sexual with them. The problem is that it’s a form of condescension: Biden treats adult women like they’re still children instead of as other adults.

    I was all set to argue with that first quote, but then I read the second one. I don’t agree with the implication that gendered norms of interaction are inherently problematic, which is what I took your first quote to be suggesting. It’s quite common in American culture for men and women (or women and women) who are friendly acquaintances to greet each other or take leave of one another with a hug, whereas between men and men, a handshake is the standard expectation. That difference in the level of physical familiarity is gendered, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily imply any hierarchy or power dynamic. However, I do agree with you that the particular behaviors Biden engaged in are condescending and infantilizing, and the fact that he only seems to engage in them with women indicates a sexist paternalism underlying them. On the other hand, though, it is at least possible that he feels a sense of paternalism toward most everyone and he just expresses it more overtly with women because of the cultural acceptance of higher levels of physical familiarity between men and women, not because he views women as “lesser”.

    All that said, I think Occam’s Razor applies – Creepy Joe is just creepy.

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  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    When Dennison pays any kind of price for his admitted and myriad transgressions…then we can start talking about other people.

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  26. R. Dave says:

    For me, this cringe-worthy West Wing scene comes pretty close to how I think Biden probably unconsciously views professional women:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTuXSdFjQSg

    It’s a paternalistic 90s liberal male “feminism”.

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  27. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I’m so sick of this horsesh*t. If Trump has done something wrong, then no one else’s wrongdoings count? Come on, man. It’s just another form of whataboutism. Does this just extend to sexual creepiness? Are we fine with a candidate who traffics in money laundering, because after all Trump hasn’t paid a price for his money laundering? Would you be fine with a Dem who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, because hey! We can’t talk about that if Trump hasn’t been punished. Nepotism? Foreign Influence Peddling? Where does the whataboutism stop?

    I, for one, am not going to lower my standards for who should hold the most powerful position in the world just because the opposing side has no standards.

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  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Well, his behavior has always seemed a little creepy to me, but I come from a family where I grew up never seeing people who weren’t related by marriage giving anyone anything more than a handshake. The society may be becoming more reserved again and people may have to get used to in.

    As I noted to a male middle school student who I saw slapping at a girl’s bottom after some kind of verbal exchange “I grew up in a society where what you did was called skeevy or rude or a little pervy or something else. You are growing up in a society where what you did is frequently being called sexual assault.”

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  29. Modulo Myself says:

    I don’t see many women running out to explain how normal and nice it is to have their hair sniffed. That Joe Biden is not a terrible person is a hard-ass indictment of men and their treatment of women. There was a long article in the Post over the weekend about an African-American man investigating a lynching. When he was a kid, he remembers walking down the street and white people rubbing his head. This wasn’t an awkward social encounter. It was power and putting a human being in their place. I don’t see much of a difference between that and going up to a woman and sniffing her hair.

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  30. Blue Galangal says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @James Joyner:

    @Rick Zhang: @MarkedMan: I agree that there are different standards across different cultures and that cultures change over time. But, as @Stormy Dragon notes, Biden doesn’t do this with men.

    Jonathan Capeheart, at the WaPo, just put up an editorial about a time Biden invaded his personal space. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/04/02/that-time-biden-came-close-put-his-forehead-mine/?utm_term=.0dfafd44a9f3

    I also saw photos on Twitter of Biden with his hand on other men’s knees, shoulders, and arms.

    None of this is to say that the interpretation of his behavior as being unnecessarily touchy and possibly condescending to women is wrong. But evidence exists that he touches everyone. (I remember more than one hug with Obama, but then I am also the proud owner of Hope Never Dies (signed by the author, even!).)

    His apology is about what I’d have expected, again, from one of my grandfathers. He didn’t know it was inappropriate / making her uncomfortable, he doesn’t want to make people uncomfortable, and he’s willing to learn. Nancy Pelosi’s response is about what I’d have expected one of my grandmothers to have said under similar circumstances, btw. I love her more than ever.

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  31. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We need to decide on some rational standards. Franken meh, Louis C.K. ewww, Weinstein go to jail, and Cosby can fcking die there.

    Al Franken was grabbing women’s butts at photo events as a Senator. That ranks as more than “meh”. Losing his Senate seat was appropriate, although if he would have been replaced by a Republican, I would take ass grabbing as the lesser of two evils (overturning the will of the people plus a Republican… eww).

    It’s less than Louis C.K., but more than “meh”, and more than Biden.

    Biden meh, Franken bad, Louis C.K. or a Republican Senator eww, …

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @R. Dave:

    It’s a paternalistic 90s liberal male “feminism”.

    I think Biden’s paternalism crosses gender boundaries, so it’s not really like that.

    But, what I really want to say is that this “paternalistic, 90s liberal male feminism” continues to this day, and that it’s part and parcel with mentorship. You help someone, you steer them towards opportunities, and you feel pride in their accomplishments.

    2019 feminists decry the lack of mentorship from senior leadership at their companies as being one of the reasons there are so few women in senior leadership.

    Mentorship is paternalism.

    But wait, there’s more!

    Men standing around, discussing women in roles of power, in positive terms… these are your allies. You may not agree with your allies 100%, but you should recognize them as your allies. A brief eye roll is appropriate, perhaps, but not holding them out as if they are part of the problem.

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  33. Gustopher says:

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): “I believe Lucy Flores. And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.”

    I’ve been skimming the news to see if this hamfisted statement was the sum total of Warren’s comments, and it kind of is. And that’s kind of disappointing.

    Politics doesn’t do nuance well, but this is clearly a spot where nuance is required. A lot of men are scared of #metoo because they think anything they do that’s friendly towards a woman can be turned around on them and be treated like attempted rape. It’s bullshit, but it’s bullshit that the far right has been selling pretty effectively.

    This blunt short statement could be given for anything up to and including accusations of rape. And that feeds into that fear.

    I don’t expect better from Bernie (I’ve decided that I will never vote for Bernie, even in the general election. I live in a safe state. If he can’t win Washington without my vote, he is losing everywhere. Why taint my purity for no reason?). And he has a lot to prove as he has an image as an out of touch old white guy.

    Hickenlooper needs to say something bold. Anything bold. Any issue. He runs the risk that people hear his name in a poll and think the pollster is making up a candidate to show that “so-and-so is less popular than a made up candidate”

    But Warren should be better. If not better on the spot, then release a press statement that is better. This is like a little tiny replay of the hamfisted DNA results reveal, but unlike that, it will go mostly unnoticed.

    (I’m also really annoyed that Al Franken is being treated like a victim of the #metoo movement, rather than the victim of his own tendency to grab women’s butts when he was a Senator. Ugh. He might have been punished too harshly (I don’t think he was*), but claiming he shouldn’t have been punished and thus that what he did was fine… ugh.)

    *: (I would also have been perfectly happy with the ethics committee voting the censure Franken, or a feel good resolution “Al Franken Should Stop Grabbing Women’s Butts”… an explicit acknowledgment that he did wrong)

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  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    Being punished too harshly is exactly what transforms a bad actor into a victim. No one believes in stealing cars, but if stealing cars got you dipped in acid we’d all be on the side of the car thief.

    This is exactly why I’ve harped on this issue. Without fairness and proportionality the whole thing collapses. A ‘system’ that treats misdemeanors and felonies the same, will not survive. (Had Weinstein been a bit luckier with statutes of limitations he’d have been punished to exactly the same degree as Franken). But people do love to get worked up and they strain to be holier than thou, and in the era of social media where only the most extreme stance is acceptable, those extremist voices drown out all the more rational approaches and define the movement to the detriment of that movement. See also: Republican Party.

    Meanwhile I suspect we’ll see the results you’d expect from widespread uncertainty and no rational standards: men will actively avoid hiring women, let alone mentoring them. In a world where we are told we must believe all self-identified victims there can be no stability. I am 100% with #MeToo – we dislike the same kinds of men. But without something like due process, some rationalizing of the unwritten laws, guys will take the path of least risk. Better to be hit for not hiring enough women than to me hit with a #MeToo accusation.

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  35. Mike says:

    The sad fact is I can’t have a female intern or extern bc I work with another male.

    After metoo I’m not going to be alone w a woman at work. I can’t accept the risk. Not bc of my behavior but bc good luck defending against a false allegation. I have children and live in smaller city. A baseless allegation would ruin anyone. It is sad that this is what this country has come to. Fake outrage society.

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  36. Ben Wolf says:

    Putin is obviously behind this slandering of Shmoe Flyden’s reputation.

    Rushing Russians in Russia. Probably aided by the NRA.

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  37. KM says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Thank you. There’s an awful lot of men on this thread who’ve all decided it’s no big deal that somebody leans in to sniff your hair simply because they’re *men* and that’s really $^#&# unlikely to happen to them personally. It’s really easy to minimize how uncomfortable something can make you, especially when it’s a powerful person doing something psychical to you and you can’t really object. Even if it’s not sexual, it’s going to put you in a position where you have to grin and bear it or confront the person over their actions, possibly to your detriment.

    As far as I can tell, Biden’s not a #MeToo offender. But please, please, PLEASE stop for a second and consider how you’d feel if Trump invaded your space and sniffed your hair. If it’s an a less then pleasant thought, then image how you’d feel if there was a possible sexual overtone and try to control your urge to vomit. On top of all that, when you say something you get a ton of people telling you it’s no big deal because that’s just “how he is”.

    Sniffing a woman’s hair is going to set off all our internal alarms. It’s not just a friendly gesture, it can have meaning we need to pay attention to or we might regret it. That’s the sort of thing that can lead to you ending up on the evening news if it goes wrong. Again, if you’re not OK with Trump doing it to you, think twice before dismissing it as a harmless cultural violation, alright?

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  38. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Being punished too harshly is exactly what transforms a bad actor into a victim. No one believes in stealing cars, but if stealing cars got you dipped in acid we’d all be on the side of the car thief.

    I don’t see losing a job where you were grabbing women’s butts to be too harsh a punishment.

    The Senate is a little different as no one can actually fire a Senator, and we don’t want to overturn the will of the people by having a Democrat resign and get replaced by a Republican (not an issue in this case, but I would have wanted him to stay if that was an issue).

    But, if you are grabbing butts on the job, uninvited by the owner of that butt, you should not be shocked if you lose that job.

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  39. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Meanwhile I suspect we’ll see the results you’d expect from widespread uncertainty and no rational standards: men will actively avoid hiring women, let alone mentoring them. In a world where we are told we must believe all self-identified victims there can be no stability. I am 100% with #MeToo – we dislike the same kinds of men. But without something like due process, some rationalizing of the unwritten laws, guys will take the path of least risk. Better to be hit for not hiring enough women than to me hit with a #MeToo accusation.

    I think you are entirely right about this though.

    I was at a sexual-harassment/hostile-workplace training thing a few years back for my job, and the company lawyer explained that the standard was “a pattern of behavior” — but that no one knew what a pattern consisted of just that it was more than one.

    So, before we send out the racist joke by email, or make that sexist statement, we should pause and decide whether we wanted to use our “one” on that, or save it for a better one.

    Sexual harassment, without a pattern, was handled by separating the individuals, at least to some degree. When one of the men in this training complained that this was punishing the guy for an unproven accusation, the lawyer smiled and said “do you really want to work with someone who is falsely accusing you of harassment? It’s probably some misunderstanding that will cause more misunderstandings. Or actual harassment. Either way.”

    Also, the buildings are filled with cameras, and if we slapped someone on the ass, and they complained, there would probably be evidence and we would be fired.

    Other than cameras everywhere, that seems like a fine standard.

    Believe the victim. Assume that something happened, but without clear evidence or a pattern, be wary of punishing anyone for what may be an awkward misunderstanding. Once a pattern emerges, get rid of them.

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  40. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    It’s really easy to minimize how uncomfortable something can make you,

    I assume you are putting me in this category since I’ve been arguing that personal space invasion is not the same as sexual harassment. If so, I ask that you go back and reread what I wrote.

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  41. the Q says:

    Its pretty obvious that some of these woman should wear burkas…if they don’t want male attention, dress like it…Nuns have done it in the Catholic Church for years. Covering up to discourage any sensual appeal.

    And what about ugly guys trying to get “dates”? Is this the next offense? “How dare that nerd ask me out for drinks!!! Does he actually think I would go out with an ugly person?” I think I will report him to the manners police.

    And what about a hand shake? Do I shake a woman’s hand the same firm way I would a male’s? And if I did that, would the woman be offended because I am trying to subconsciously show “superiority” by shaking hands in such a “manly” way?

    And let’s say, I shake a female’s hand they way I would do with most Asians…. a slightly less firm shake? Will the woman then accuse me of being condescending because I intentionally shook her hand less firmly, hence I am a chauvinist pig because I think woman can’t “handle” a masculine handshake?

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  42. Gustopher says:

    @the Q:

    Its pretty obvious that some of these woman should wear burkas…if they don’t want male attention, dress like it…Nuns have done it in the Catholic Church for years.

    I mean this is the best of all possible ways, but this is irredeemably stupid. This is Lois-Lane-can’t-tell-Clark-Kent-is-Superman-wearing-glasses stupid.

    Women should not have to around in bee keeper outfits or hamster balls or whatever to avoid men groping them.

    No one is saying you can’t ask someone out on a date, no matter how ugly you are. You can’t be their boss. You have to take no for an answer. And you don’t have a right to her time or attention.

    Shake hands like a normal person. Hesitate to feel their grip if you’re unsure. You know, like a person.

    Also, the woman across the street doesn’t need to know that she’s a hot or juicy piece of anything. She knows. You didn’t mention catcalling, but it seemed like the obvious follow up issue.

    Was this sarcasm that I failed to notice?

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  43. An Interested Party says:

    And let’s say, I shake a female’s hand they way I would do with most Asians…. a slightly less firm shake?

    Why give Asians a slightly less firm handshake?

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  44. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    It’s really easy to minimize how uncomfortable something can make you, especially when it’s a powerful person doing something psychical to you and you can’t really object. Even if it’s not sexual, it’s going to put you in a position where you have to grin and bear it or confront the person over their actions, possibly to your detriment.

    I’ve been uncomfortable with physical contact my entire life. One of my editors was doing the cheek kiss thing for a couple of years, I was not into it. So what? People hug me, it’s not my thing, but again, so what? My flesh crawls when people sing spontaneously. I get the creeps – literally have to look away – whenever there’s a syringe on TV. I could run this list out for another twenty rounds.
    So what? I’m frequently uncomfortable. Did I miss when we outlawed discomfort?

    This is exactly the problem. Person X feeling uncomfortable is not somehow on the spectrum with Person X being raped. Yes, sometimes it can be, but did any one of these people think Biden was going to rape them? No. There was zero fear of Biden. There was just discomfort, and discomfort is something you either speak up about, or let slide, but it isn’t something you use as a basis for political vendetta.

    Again, if discomfort is the where the bar is being set? It is unsustainable and the inevitable collapse will damage a good cause. Put it this way, if you asked voters about the ‘discomfort’ standard you’d get maybe 20% support. It’s not a standard that survives contact with reality.

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  45. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @KM:

    Thank you. There’s an awful lot of men on this thread who’ve all decided it’s no big deal that somebody leans in to sniff your hair simply because they’re *men* and that’s really $^#&# unlikely to happen to them personally.

    I have my quota of experience both with sexual harassment and with people that have a expansive corporal language. It’s pretty different from sexual harassment, that it’s far more frightening.

    You can debate whether Biden’s behavior is inappropriate, but he is no Harvey Weinstein.

    And it can be argued that circular firing squads are not a good idea in the “Age of Trump” or that truisms like “Believe the Victim” can be pretty dangerous, specially when used against more vulnerable men than Former Senators…

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  46. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This is exactly the problem. Person X feeling uncomfortable is not somehow on the spectrum with Person X being raped. Yes, sometimes it can be, but did any one of these people think Biden was going to rape them? No. There was zero fear of Biden. There was just discomfort, and discomfort is something you either speak up about, or let slide, but it isn’t something you use as a basis for political vendetta.

    Two points:

    First, given the number of people that Biden has met, at least one of them was bound to think that he was going to rape them. This is a crazy person, sure. But, any attempt to figure out what a standard should be has to be “would a reasonable person feel discomfort/threatened/dismembered.”

    Second, there’s a world of feelings between “discomfort” and “afraid of being raped.” If you met your Senator, got your picture taken, and he felt your ass, you would feel discomfort, but you wouldn’t likely think that he was going to rape you.

    You might think it was a joke gone awry, you might think he’s a bit of a perv, and you might think “well, with an ass like mine, who could blame him?”. But a reasonable person would likely feel violated.

    And that’s where I would set the line — would a reasonable person feel violated or threatened.

    And, to pin that down, as a rule of thumb I would say butt, crotch and breasts are off limits. Fondling is off limits (even fondling yourself). Feet off limits, mostly because people don’t interact with each other’s feet that much. Whispering obscenities in someone’s ear, off limits. Offering career advancement for sexual service, off limits. Basic obviously disgusting stuff, off limits.

    Below that, it’s a case by case basis with a general presumption of innocuous discomfort.

    Biden would make me feel uncomfortable, but not violated or threatened. But, I’m a man. I’m a little surprised we don’t have five hundred women lining up to say “violated”, but I also expect that if it was a common feeling, he would have gotten some inkling of that and stopped long ago.

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  47. Kit says:

    @Gustopher:

    And that’s where I would set the line — would a reasonable person feel violated or threatened.

    And, to pin that down, as a rule of thumb I would say…

    You’ve laid out a reasonable approach to a real problem. But two questions: 1) To what extent are Flores’s complaints justifiable given the sort of society that the majority wishes to live in? 2) To what extent is Flores acting in good faith and not simply advancing a separate political agenda?

    I’ll add that unreasonable standards and/or bad-faith actors are absolute poison to good causes.

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  48. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    Basic obviously disgusting stuff, off limits.

    At the risk of pounding this into the ground, “obviously disgusting” is harder than you think. In some cultures and societies a man looking directly into a woman’s eyes is considered to be on the spectrum to sexual assault and might very well get him beaten up. A woman raised in such a culture moving to the US is going to be made to feel painfully uncomfortable all day long. Another example: to this day I give the toll ticket to the attendant by reaching across my body with my right hand because I lived in a place where interacting with anyone with your left was considered insulting and boorish, or worse, a deliberate insult. Another: I spent an incredibly uncomfortable evening sitting on the floor of a Fijian Bure with 15 or 20 other people trying desperately to wrench my ludicrously inflexible body into a position where the soles of my feet weren’t visible to anyone in the room because, again, a gross and disgusting insult.

    You know, an incident involving that “not handing something with your left hand” thing is instructive. I was in a passenger lorry, sitting close enough to the front to hear the driver. He was working a cantankerous gear box with his right hand and handed his paperwork to an attendant at a booth with his left. I understood enough of the local language to get a good flavor of the verbal beating the attendant heaped on the driver, who had to take it. I came away with two thoughts: first, man oh man, never hand anyone anything with your left hand. Second, what a pathetic person that attendant was. He did this all day long, accepting papers thousands of times a day. If even 1% of the people took the easy way out he was probably laying into someone every hour at least. You could tell this was the highlight of his day, that he was just waiting to be offended. Sad.

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  49. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher: @MarkedMan:
    It reminds me a bit of stand-your-ground laws in which a jury has to judge whether the homeowner was genuinely in fear for his life. Different people will have different thresholds, complicated obviously by gender – women are not wrong to be leery of men. But what about when it’s about race? A paranoid white homeowner sees a black kid at his door, maybe just selling magazines or whatever, and shoots him.

    We need a ‘reasonable woman’ standard to join the old ‘reasonable man.’ Women legitimately have different/more concerns. But at the same time the standard cannot be accusation = guilt. Not all women are honest, not all women are rational, we need something like due process even when it isn’t a criminal matter. Clear standards, reasonable requirements for suspicion, sensible procedures. All that boring grown-up stuff.

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  50. Mister Bluster says:

    @Ben Wolf:..Rushing Russians in Russia.

    Was your father born in Germany too?

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  51. the Q says:

    Gustopher, you wrote, “Was this sarcasm that I failed to notice?”….yes, you and everyone else apparently!!!!

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  52. Mister Bluster says:
  53. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Kit: I am a woman and I think this is ridiculous. This is Biden we are talking about. And Flores works for Bernie…these are political people making these comments and they know how they will be taken.

    I worked with a man who stood too close. And he loved to hug people. I told him he was too close. He backed up. And that was that. You know what I did not do? I did not go whining to my boss that I felt violated by the hugger. I did not try to get him fired or treat him like a criminal. I just let him know he needed to cut it out. Flores apparently did not do that. She prefers publicly humiliating the man. It is almost as if she is trying to help another candidate.

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  54. Terrye Cravens says:

    @KM: I think a lot of people are over reacting. It makes women look whiny. If someone sniffed my hair and I was not okay with that, I would say so right then and there. I would not make it an issue during a campaign.

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