Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden announced on April 25 that he will be running for president in 2020. Rumors of Biden’s candidacy have been circulating since the end of the Obama administration; once it was finally confirmed in his campaign video, Biden received an 11 point bump in the polls. Recently, Biden has become increasingly vocal about his poor handling of the Anita Hill testimony during the confirmation hearings of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. Notably, weeks before his announcement, Biden reached out to Hill in order to apologize, however, she publicly acknowledged her dissatisfaction with their conversation and has since shared she does not consider his words to be an apology. His timing for reaching out is at the very least suspect, and considering he remained virtually silent on the issue for 25 years, it is fair to assume Biden hopes to rid his closet of any and all skeletons that may cast a shadow on his campaign.
Why is this important?
As the 2020 presidential election creeps closer, American voters must hunker down and seriously decide who they would be willing to cast a vote for. I say “willing” because the United States has a much lower voter turnout than other established democracies. Low voter turnout is generally attributed to political disengagement and a belief that no matter which candidate takes office, little will be done to create change; according to FairVote, since 1916, no more than 63.8 percent of eligible voters have participated in a presidential election. This statistic could be partially explained by both historical and current systematic issues of illegal voter restriction (i.e. Jim Crow, felony disenfranchisement), however, when looking at the pool of Democratic candidates running alongside Biden, a good portion of voters can’t help but feel uninspired. As of May 6, 2019, the former vice president had a 32 point lead in the Democratic presidential race. The reality of Biden’s past and current political success reeks of injustice alongside his “apology” to Hill. Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, who will soon be the first black woman to lead Chicago, commented: “I don’t think Anita Hill needs his apology. But give an account of your behavior with a lot of hindsight.”
When pressed by co-host on The View Joy Behar to explicitly apologize so as to “clean this up,” Biden responded with: “I said privately what I said publicly, I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated.” His inability to plainly apologize for his role, and not simply for the way she was treated, is indicative that Biden is truly unaware of the damage he caused. Beyond publically vilifying a survivor of sexual harassment, he was active in Clarence Thomas’s ascension to the Supreme Court.
Biden’s behavior marks him as a questionable candidate, however, respected positions in the United States government have been held by equally if not more controversial figures. If we were to look at the last presidential election, the two frontrunners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were heavily criticized for their pasts and rightfully so. As Biden climbs the polls, however, it becomes evident why his track record with Hill is doing little to diminish his political currency.
If anything was learned from the Hill-Thomas debacle, it was that the United States government does not believe or care about black women. The dismissal of her claims and that of other women Thomas harassed, coupled with the racist- and sexist-motivated backlash endured by Hill, cannot be remedied with a half-hearted apology. Hill’s bravery was unprecedented and her actions can most recently be compared to that of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who similarly took to public testifying against her abuser –– current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh.
The country watched, as they did in 1991, as the United States Senate once again made clear they didn’t believe or care about not just black but white women. As white women are a group with clearly more privilege than their black counterparts, Kavanaugh’s confirmation catalyzed the popularization of the famed #MeToo movement. A much needed widespread conversation was finally started –– although only after the victim was white –– about whether or not the American public cared about survivors of sexual assault/harassment. In light of this history, it will be difficult for people who care about this issue to vote with a clear conscious for Biden, but the question is whether or not the people who care outweigh the people who don’t.