Krystal Hur: Hold Uncle Joe accountable

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 - 1:58pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden is without a doubt one of the most beloved political figures in the Democratic Party. He’s so likeable that even Republicans respect him — he was known to be good friends with former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., before his passing — and he has consistently stayed at the top of the Democratic presidential primary polls. People don’t just love Joe Biden. They idolize him as “Uncle Joe”: patron of ice cream, man of the people and forever partner-in-crime to President Barack Obama. Until recently, I was one of these people.

However, in the wake of the recent news surrounding his behavior towards former Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores — as well as his response to her article — I’m reminded of why idolizing public figures is incredibly dangerous.

On March 29, Flores published a piece in The Cut titled “An Awkward Kiss Changed How I Saw Joe Biden.” In it, she sets the scene in which the awkward kiss happened: it’s 2014, and Joe Biden is attending a political event in Nevada to help Democratic candidates like Flores in the gubernatorial election. She then details the moment Biden invaded her personal space, writing, “I felt him get closer to me from behind… He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head.” She then goes on to explain, “as a young Latina in politics, I had gotten used to feeling like an outsider in rooms dominated by white men…  he made me feel uneasy, gross and confused. The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

Flores’s incident is only one in a long list of moments when Biden has touched women inappropriately. The New York Post recently published a slideshow of other times he’s touched women and young girls. In one photo, he’s seen placing the same “big slow kiss” on the niece of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at a Capitol Hill event. In others, he’s captured kissing women on the lips, grabbing them around the waist, hugging them from behind and more.

A representative for Biden responded to Flores’s article, stating: “Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so. He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best.”

Biden then responded directly to Flores article a couple of days later, stating, "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… I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”

According to his statement, Biden didn’t mean to make Flores uncomfortable, and his actions were simply supposed to offer comfort and camaraderie. This is probably true, given that he always touched women in plain sight, and the media always made light of his actions in the past. Some of the other women whom he touched might have even welcomed his actions. Some were probably moved that the vice president of the United States showed his affection so openly and loved him even more for it.

None of that matters.

Bottom line, men, especially ones who hold as much power as Biden, should not touch women without consent. He may not be “grabbing them by the pussy” or condemning Flores’s account as part of the “#MeToo witch hunt,” but he still needs to be held accountable for his actions because he acted without the women’s consent and elicited the same feelings of helplessness and violation that come with being sexually assaulted. Flores is not arguing that his actions discount all of the great things he’s done for the United States.

Yet, many people are choosing to stand by Biden and believe he is simply a victim of a woman overreacting to some well-intentioned affection. Others are angry President Donald Trump’s assault survivors are receiving no coverage while Flores’s article continues to gain traction, and are urging Biden to run for president despite the allegations against him. Herein lies the crux of the problem. People idolize Biden not only for his personality, but because many believe he is the Democratic candidate with the greatest chance of beating Trump. Maybe Biden does have a creepy habit of touching women — but he’s still better than Trump. And isn’t it unfair that he’s getting steamrolled by the news for simply kissing a woman on the head while Trump gets to sit in the Oval Office after several women have accused him of sexually assaulting them, with the most recent allegation coming out in February?

However, discounting Flores’s account won’t give justice to other sexual assault survivors. In fact, if Democrats don’t hold Biden accountable for his actions in the fear it’ll hurt his chances at presidency, then they are part of the same problem they condemn Trump supporters of having.

I idolized Joe Biden. I believed with certainty that he could win the 2020 election and anticipated the moment he would announce his candidacy. However, given his responses to Flores’s account — both of which skirt around actually apologizing or admitting to wrongdoing —  as well as his ardent supporters, who seem largely incapable of holding him accountable for his actions — not unlike Trump’s supporters — I wonder if his supporters will continue to turn a blind eye to his mistakes should he become president.

It’s incredibly difficult to criticize someone who I grew up with as my vice president and respect so much for handling every situation with grace and kindness. But Biden has failed to handle this situation with either of those qualities, and while I am saddened by it, it is my duty as both his supporter and a decent human being to hold him accountable. I hope he personally apologizes to Flores and they’re both able to receive closure from this situation. I hope Biden uses this moment to prove he is the advocate for women he claims to be and is willing to own up to his faults, even if it may damage his image.

Idolization is dangerous, and we must not forget that even the most respectable public figures are not perfect. A crucial part of supporting someone is holding them responsible when they engage in problematic behavior, no matter how difficult that may be. Even if that person is your beloved Uncle Joe.

Krystal Hur can be reached at kryshur@umich.edu.