Come on, Joe Bi­den, apol­o­gize to Anita Hill

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - Mary Sch­mich mschmich@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @MarySch­mich

Just say you’re sorry, Joe.

Take a deep breath, stand up tall and say it:

I’m sorry, Anita Hill, for how I treated you.

Sim­ple. See?

Apolo­gies, of course, are never sim­ple, even when the words are. They re­quire the re­lin­quish­ing of pride, the ac­knowl­edg­ment of harm in­flicted, a hu­mil­ity that can feel hu­mil­i­at­ing. So far the courage of such hu­mil­ity has eluded Joe Bi­den.

On Thurs­day, the former vice pres­i­dent an­nounced that he’s run­ning for pres­i­dent, news that once again in­flamed the pub­lic de­bate over his be­hav­ior to­ward Anita Hill.

Re­mem­ber that? I do. If you were an adult in 1991, you re­mem­ber too. The whole na­tion sat riv­eted to the TV as Hill, a young lawyer, tes­ti­fied be­fore a com­mit­tee of U.S. se­na­tors that Clarence Thomas, the new nom­i­nee for the U.S. Supreme Court, had sex­u­ally ha­rassed her while he was her su­per­vi­sor.

In a vast, wood-pan­eled hear­ing room, a pha­lanx of men sat on a high plat­form look­ing down at a lone young woman. They were all white. She was black. Their ques­tions and re­marks were fre­quently curt, mock­ing, den­i­grat­ing. I re­mem­ber feel­ing I was wit­ness­ing an as­sault.

The com­mit­tee was led by Sen. Joe Bi­den.

In the 28 years since, the world has “evolved,” as we like to say, and so, it seems, has Bi­den. As a so­ci­ety, we take sex­ual ha­rass­ment far more se­ri­ously, and Bi­den has ac­knowl­edged the wrong done to Hill.

“What hap­pened,” he has pub­licly stated, “was she got vic­tim­ized again dur­ing the process.”

What he hasn’t clearly rec­og­nized is that he was a big part of that process.

Bi­den is some­times de­scribed as an Every­man, a politi­cian who can hob­nob with the pow­er­ful but who also un­der­stands the reg­u­lar peo­ple. He dis­plays a gen­uine, if cagey, folksi­ness and, at the age of 76, wears a patina of ex­pe­ri­ence that can pass for wis­dom. He has en­dured great per­sonal loss, most re­cently of his son, with dig­nity. He seems like a de­cent man.

And if to some de­trac­tors, he’s “just an­other old white guy,” he’s also seen by his sup­port­ers as the can­di­date best for­ti­fied to beat the 72-year-old white guy cur­rently in the job.

In pur­suit of that job, Bi­den has made feints at apol­o­giz­ing to Hill.

In a re­cent pub­lic ap­pear­ance, he called her brave and said she “paid a ter­ri­ble price” for her courage.

“She was abused in the hear­ing,” he said. “She was taken ad­van­tage of. Her rep­u­ta­tion was at­tacked. I wish I could have done some­thing.”

On Fri­day, in an ap­pear­ance on ABC’s “The View,” he said, “I’m sorry for the way she got treated.”

But?

“I don’t think I treated her badly.” A few days ago, The New York Times re­ported that Bi­den re­cently called Hill to ex­press re­gret over what hap­pened. His words fell on her ears as less than an apol­ogy.

She says she doesn’t think Bi­den’s be­hav­ior dur­ing the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings dis­qual­i­fies him. “I’m re­ally open to peo­ple chang­ing,” she told The New York Times.

But, the Times noted, she said she can’t sup­port him for pres­i­dent un­less he takes full re­spon­si­bil­ity for his con­duct.

Any­one who has been in pol­i­tics

“She was abused in the hear­ing. She was taken ad­van­tage of. Her rep­u­ta­tion was at­tacked. I wish I could have done some­thing.” — Joe Bi­den

for a long time is apt to have things to apol­o­gize for. Mak­ing mis­takes comes with the job. So does chang­ing with the times, or it should.

Joe Bi­den of today seems more en­light­ened than the Bi­den of 1991. He cham­pi­oned the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act. He has worked with a so­cial move­ment called “It’s On Us,” which en­cour­ages men to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for stop­ping sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment. In those ways, he has stepped up to meet the times.

But Bi­den’s re­luc­tance to fully ac­knowl­edge his role in what hap­pened to Anita Hill sug­gests a trou­bling blind spot.

Is it one that will be a make-or­break is­sue for vot­ers? I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s even a the­ory that he’s sidestep­ping a full apol­ogy be­cause there’s a group of vot­ers — those drawn to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — who wouldn’t want him to seem to cater to such lib­eral sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

But there are a lot of other vot­ers wait­ing for Bi­den to prove that he’s in touch with the new age, that he re­ally has changed.

Come on, Joe. Ex­er­cise the strength of hu­mil­ity.

Keep evolv­ing. Apol­o­gize. It’s a form of lead­er­ship.

BILL SNEAD/WASH­ING­TON POST

Anita Hill tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in 1991.

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