If Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign ends up failing, it’ll most likely be a death of a thousand cuts inflicted by his past. And no ghost from his 47-year political career will likely end up inflicting a more prominent wound than Anita Hill.
Biden was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in which Hill, a law professor, accused then-President George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment during their time working together.
During the hearings, Biden refused to call corroborating witnesses and became the face of what The New York Times described as a grilling of Hill “in excruciatingly graphic detail by an all-white, all-male Judiciary Committee.”
That’s not a good look in the Democrat field of 2020, especially since Hill apparently isn’t willing to forgive or forget.
Before announcing his candidacy on Thursday, Biden had called Hill — currently a professor of law, social policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University — in order to express “his regret for what she endured” before the Senate Judiciary Committee, The Times reported.
“They had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country,” Biden’s campaign said in a statement.
The Times may have understated just how much of a dud this attempt at reconciliation was: “It did not go how he had hoped.”
“In a lengthy telephone interview on Wednesday, she declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s words to her as an apology and said she was not convinced that he has taken full responsibility for his conduct at the hearings — or for the harm he caused other victims of sexual harassment and gender violence,” The Times reported.
“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,’” Hill told the paper. “I will be satisfied when I know that there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”
Hill said that she was “really open to people changing,” but that Biden hadn’t gone far enough.
“The focus on an apology, to me, is one thing,” she said.
“But there needs to be an apology to the other witnesses and there needs to be an apology to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”
And that’s the invariable snag in the Biden equation. In a race where the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is surging in the polls despite having no concrete policy proposals, Biden’s more than three-and-a-half decades as a senator or his eight years as vice president are more of a liability than an asset.
Nobody cares about experience unless they’re attacking someone’s past through the lens of the present.
Anita Hill is hardly the only problem Biden is going to have. There’s also his remarks on school busing back in the 1970s, his work on criminal justice legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, his inappropriate touching of females or his tendency to utter off-the-cuff gaffes with racial undertones to them (“You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” “They’re going to put y’all back in chains,” etc.).
These are all trifles compared to Hill, however, particularly since she may well step out of the relative anonymity she enjoys for the purposes of acting as a sort of Biden anti-surrogate during the 2020 process. There’s also the fact that the Thomas hearings have renewed relevance for the left in light of the pitched battle over Brett Kavanaugh last autumn.
Is this fair to Biden? It’s difficult to have sympathy for him when he helped shepherd this incarnation of his own party, where identity is more important than policy and it’s held as a matter of faith that Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford were telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
After all, Biden himself said that Ford “should be given the benefit of the doubt and not be abused again by the system.” He added that she “should not have to go through what Anita Hill went through.”
At least by the standards of his party, one could assume he admits that he was one of the authors of Hill’s plight. In the 2020 nomination process, that admission could prove fatal.
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