Stum­bling blocks for Bi­den

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY MARC A. THIESSEN

Joe Bi­den’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is in trou­ble. That may sound crazy. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent just opened up (ac­cord­ing to one poll) a 32-point lead over the rest of the Demo­cratic field. But be­neath the sur­face, trou­ble is brew­ing.

Bi­den will be 78 on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day 2021. That would make him older, if elected, on the day he takes of­fice than Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan was on the day he of­fice.

With old age comes old bag­gage – in Bi­den’s case, his han­dling of Anita Hill’s tes­ti­mony dur­ing Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Polls show that 30% of Democrats don’t ap­prove of Bi­den’s han­dling of Hill’s tes­ti­mony; 44% said they didn’t know or had no opin­ion. That’s not sur­pris­ing. The Thomas hear­ings took place in 1991, when the Soviet Union still ex­isted, the last apartheid pres­i­dent of South Africa was still in of­fice and some­thing called the World Wide Web was made avail­able to the pub­lic.

But Bi­den’s Demo­cratic ri­vals are go­ing to make sure they do know about Anita Hill. The more Bi­den’s pri­mary lead ex­pands, the more des­per­ate his Demo­cratic op­po­nents will be to bring him down. And Hill is their most pow­er­ful weapon.

Bi­den knows this, which is why he re­cently tried to reach out to Hill and smooth things over. It didn’t work. Hill told the New York Times that “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.” And she said that Bi­den’s han­dling of her tes­ti­mony “set the stage” for the con­fir­ma­tion of Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Those words could prove dev­as­tat­ing with Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers. The Thomas hear­ings may be an­cient his­tory, but Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion is an open wound for Democrats.

Bi­den said in a speech in March that “to this day, I re­gret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hear­ing she de­served.” Democrats won’t buy that. He was chair­man of the com­mit­tee be­fore which she tes­ti­fied. Per­haps he didn’t do more to sup­port Hill be­cause most Amer­i­cans did not be­lieve her. Af­ter three days of hear­ings, a New York Times poll showed that 58% be­lieved Thomas, while just 24% be­lieved Hill. Even 46% of Democrats be­lieved Thomas over Hill.

Bi­den bowed to the pub­lic mood of the times. But in 2019, the mood of the Demo­cratic elec­torate has changed. He is run­ning for pres­i­dent in the #MeToo era, against fe­male ri­vals such as Sens. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, Amy Klobuchar, Ka­mala Harris and El­iz­a­beth War­ren. Think they are go­ing to give Bi­den a pass on his han­dling of Hill’s tes­ti­mony? Bi­den is the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of the era they are run­ning against – a guy who is all too “handsy” with women in pro­fes­sional sit­u­a­tions and who did not stand up for a woman when she came for­ward.

The mantra on the left to­day is that even un­cor­rob­o­rated al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct must be be­lieved and should be enough to de­stroy a man’s ca­reer. Democrats tried to use such un­cor­rob­o­rated ac­cu­sa­tions to stop Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion, and failed. That fail­ure is a source of con­tin­u­ing frus­tra­tion for the Demo­cratic base. Bi­den’s ri­vals are go­ing to har­ness those frus­tra­tions by pin­ning their party’s fail­ure to de­feat Ka­vanaugh on Bi­den through the prism of the Thomas hear­ings.

Bi­den may be the Demo­cratic front-run­ner. But that does not mean he will be the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.

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