The Baffler

Choosing Battles

Joe Biden and the limits of #MeToo in campaign politics

The Baffler
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“If the focus on [the professional managerial class] seems unnecessarily narrow, I would point out that most books, and especially those which make large claims about the American character and culture, are in fact about this class and about it alone. We are told, periodically, that “Americans” are becoming more self-involved, materialistic, spineless, or whatever, when actually only a subgroup of Americans is meant: people who are more likely to be white-collar professionals—lawyers, middle managers, or social workers, for example—than machinists or sales clerks. Usually, this limitation goes without mention; for, in our culture, the professional, and largely white, middle-class is taken as a social norm—a bland and neutral mainstream—from which every other group or class is ultimately a kind of deviation.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class

In a March 29 article in The Cut, politician and former Our Revolution board member Lucy Flores alleges that during her Nevada Lieutenant Governor campaign, Joe Biden put his hands on the back of her shoulders, smelled her hair, and kissed the top of her head. Former Connecticut Congressional Aide Amy Lappos said that he once put his hand around her neck and rubbed noses with her. These accusations have been litigated ad nauseam in the pages of major news outlets, and the political and media classes are still scrambling to predict their implications for Biden’s presidential run.

Nonetheless, Biden lost only one point in a subsequent poll of approval ratings, and while polls are never even slightly predictive of a presidential winner, his current thirty-two-point lead proves at the very least that the accusations aren’t putting a sizeable dent in support from the Democratic Party, public enthusiasm behind his campaign kick-off, or his short-term fundraising ability.

This wasn’t a surprise to me. Recently, a friend of mine who works at a large, very political, and female-led union observed two black women in the break room shrugging off the accusations made against Biden, with one woman saying “I don’t get it, it seems like he just grabbed her shoulders.” A white male coworker stormed in to denounce Biden as “disgusting” and the scene devolved into an argument, with the man speculating that “he’s done worse” and the women saying they don’t believe any of it anyway. These women aren’t self-loathing or anti-feminist, it’s just that most people aren’t scandalized by nose-rubs or a kiss on the top of the head. Believe it or not, some find these gestures reassuring, or even charming.

Biden’s current lead proves at the very least that the accusations aren’t putting a sizable dent in support from the Democratic Party, public enthusiasm behind his campaign kick-off, or his short-term fundraising ability.

If you are among those Democrat voters who find Biden’s actions damning, you are likely a part of a progressive feminist-minded cultural minority—one that is overrepresented in entertainment and media, but whose cultural values don’t resonate with the vast majority of Americans—men or women. The elusive subjectivity of the professional managerial class is a recurring theme of their political failures. Just look at all the high profile women who found Hillary Clinton “inspiring” and assumed every other woman would do so as well. Liberals often have little to no understanding of the political landscape. They emphasize categories like “women” when what they really mean is “a few specific women.”

Legal scholar Heidi Matthews correctly observes that the #MeToo case against Biden is far weaker than the one against Kavanaugh. Unlike Kavanaugh, Biden is not being accused of anything approaching assault. And unlike Kavanaugh’s accusers, Biden’s are professional representatives of competing political interests. Flores, for example, worked for Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders-founded PAC, an organization invested in attacking Biden’s platform from the left. As a result, the accusers are even more likely to have their motives scrutinized. Furthermore, Biden’s political base includes a large swath of committed civilian and high-profile supporters, as well as respected #MeToo activists.

Matthews argues that “the allegations against Biden are far from game-changers; at best, they fall into the can’t-hurt tactical category.” I would actually go a step further, and say the strategy is worse than weak—it’s politically dangerous.

#MeToo-ing your opponents is now the ultimate form of ersatz politics, and not only will it fail to dissuade the accused’s supporters, it may cause them to double down. I for one gave a big “who fucking cares?” to the faux-scandal of Bernie Sanders’s analysis of female sexuality. It’s also important to remember that a lot of people don’t believe the lying liberal media—and in the post-Russiagate world, why should they? Much like Russiagate, deploying #MeToo in the midst of a political campaign reeks of evasive measures—anything to keep from talking about the politics at hand. And the fact of the matter is, to a large segment of the Democratic primary voters, the gropey Biden narrative is nothing more than a (distinctly millennial-led) culture war they didn’t sign up for.

And the figureheads of that culture war—that progressive, feminist-minded cultural minority that is overrepresented in entertainment and media—have failed to realize that their culture isn’t actually all that popular, even among left-leaning people. If the criticism of Biden continues to rest on long hugs and hair-sniffing, potential supporters will find his critics prudish, frigid, and intolerant—if they don’t just suspect them of cynically participating in a smear campaign. Either way, they will resent the line of attack, and they will only feel more sympathy for what they might perceive as an affectionate old man who made what appears to them to be a contrite apology.

If leftists want someone to the left of Biden in the White House, they have to stop relying on dead-end culture war tactics that only appeal to a small minority of middle-class liberal voters. Joe Biden could win, and we have to be honest about the fact that he has a lot going for him. The nostalgic halo of the Obama years appeals to the people who just want things to go back to “normal,” which maybe wasn’t great, but didn’t appear to be mired in instability and weekly crises. For the vast majority of women, his 1994 Violence Against Women Act wasn’t a short-sighted and overly punitive contribution to the prison industrial complex, but a defense of women against domestic abuse. It enjoyed massive bipartisan support, particularly from women and feminist groups, who often see prison and policing as the only solutions to male-on-female violence. More importantly though, people like Joe Biden—women like Joe Biden—and that is because he is very likeable.

People like Joe Biden—women like Joe Biden—and that is because he is very likeable.

This isn’t even entirely a generational gap. A lot of younger liberals like him as well. To this day, progressive comedy stalwarts The Onion appear to find him adorable, despite his “kids these days” attitude towards the financial struggles of young people. But here’s what voters likely won’t find adorable:

  1. His attempts to cut social security and Medicare in order to work with Republicans
  2. His support for free trade deals like NAFTA, which savage the American working class, undercut the unions, and exploit labor abroad (read up on NAFTA if you have to, and don’t assume everyone knows the implications of trade deals)
  3. His big-money, union-busting corporate donors like executives from Comcast and health insurance companies
  4. His woefully right-wing history on health care, and latest attempts to weasel his way out of committing to Medicare for All
  5. His vote on the Iraq War
  6. His support for a bankruptcy bill that absolutely crushed working families
  7. He spent a significant part of his early career fighting school desegregation and busing
  8. His role in mass incarceration

These are the talking points that working-class voters will respond to. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. is just another blue-blooded, dynastic elite with a career full of cruel and idiotic politics and a record of favoring the ultra-wealthy and punishing the poor. Rather than emphasizing the fact that a seventy-six-year-old man from Scranton, Pennsylvania doesn’t have the same physical boundaries as professional managerial-class millennials in New York and D.C., leftists should take a break from the feminist culture wars and go after his voting record. Biden is the biggest threat to a progressive presidential nominee and #MeToo-ing him won’t keep him out of the White House. If you don’t believe me, just look who’s in it now.

Amber A'Lee Frost is a writer and musician in Brooklyn. She is a contributor to Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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