In this nation – and I suppose others as well – we have a constant national problem. Well, we have lots of national problems. But, this one you find in our news media, entertainment, religion, societal issues and a lot of other institutions. Including politics.
It usually becomes a major part of our national dialogue when some issue – or someone – becomes the major topic of the day capturing people’s attention. For good or ill. When it happens, the pendulum – discussion – swings from one side to the other at such a fast pace that reason and logic are often forgotten.
At the moment, Joe Biden is being victimized by that kind of national momentum that’s mostly undeserved. I say that as a man a decade older than Joe but as someone who was also raised in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s in a middle class working home. A home with two loving parents, public schooling, religious training and proud of it all.
We learned the social expectations of the time, learned to live by the right values of that era and, in most ways, evolved as the decades rolled by. We both are creatures of that background and, like Joe, I still live and most often practice those ways in daily life. It’s who we are.
Now, Biden’s being pilloried for some of the behavior which is part of his being. Just like mine. Not sexual actions or threatening, violent behavior or socially unacceptable language. But, he’s being subjected to daily public criticism as if all that were true of him. They’re not.
To those saying “Times have changed and we must change with ‘em,” I say, “I understand.” God knows, I understand. Even as our culture has grown grosser, our language in public more highly offensive and our acceptance of what was once unacceptable in entertainment, media, sports and other public activities continue unabated. But, I understand.
Joe is being accused of “touching” women or making them “uncomfortable.” Not by women he may have “touched” today or even this week. But, by women who said they felt “uncomfortable” several years ago. My question: “Where the hell have they been, why didn’t they speak up before a presidential campaign and, most important, when the behavior made them “uncomfortable,” did they say so to Biden?
As for the woman from Nevada, she and Biden were making a public appearance that day. She was about to speak. He leaned forward and touched her hair and shoulder as if to say, “You got this. You’ll do fine.” Encouragement is what I get from the details. Did she tell Joe afterwards he was wrong – that his actions upset her or made her more nervous? Did she?
Let’s talk about “behavior” for a moment.
When it comes to public “touching” or “caressing” or any other social act of greeting, I remember the late Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus and Senator Frank Church as they “worked” a room or campaign appearance. Both approached you with an extended right hand – palm up – followed many times by a left hand on someone’s body. Male or female. And, the gestures were nearly always returned.
Politicians of every stripe do the same. Always have. Many hug – or are hugged by – the other person. Sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. In a basic sense, it’s part of the “job description.” You may not like it or get upset. But, that’s a most common political social environment.
I understand some people – female and male – not liking physical closeness. I get it. Joe gets it, I’m sure. It’s always been that way. Many folks like their “space.” These people – female and male – aren’t new. Their feelings aren’t new. But, the current uproar by some voices is. The pendulum has swung quickly.
That pendulum swing of currently “acceptable” social behavior has gone far from center. Joe’s been around for 70+ years. Me for more than 80. This sudden “foot-on-the-brake” of what’s now “expected” is new to people – men and women – with all our previous years of experience. Of 70-80 years of what was acceptable conditioning.
Education is a two-step process for most of us. Especially seniors with years of history. Step one: forget – unlearn – what you know and have done in the past. Step two: learn the new, even if it’s radically different. Forget and re-learn. Forget and re-learn.
When you ask people who know Biden the best, what you hear most about are his many little – and mostly very private – acts of kindness toward both friends and strangers. How he often goes out of his way to do or say something to support individuals he doesn’t even know. How personable and, yes, even loving he is with just – people. Not the kinds of things you hear about other vice presidents or senators.
What angers me most, at the moment, is the sudden outbreak of female criticism of Biden. Aside from being probably the most experienced of all candidates in both parties, he’s an old “war horse.” But, some of the very experiences that make him so highly qualified are now being seen as inappropriate. In many ways, the older you get, the more history you have to overcome.
And, let’s not forget. Among Democrat contenders to take on Trump next year, Biden is the leading candidate. Hmm.
Finally, for Joe and me – and the millions of other men out there who are long-lived – give us some time. We’ve made careers – fathered families – lived long lives of achievement – been accepted for who and what we are. We’re paying attention. We’ll make the adjustments necessary for what’s expected today.
And, we’ll still be here when that pendulum swings back to its proper place.