I've cautioned that we need to be more careful about how we discuss the various accusations of inappropriate touching against former Vice President Joe Biden—some of which have been mischaracterized in the media. (The viral photo of Biden touching the shoulders of Stephanie Carter actually depicts a comforting moment that Carter considered fully consensual.)
But this involves cutting Biden a level of slack that the former vice president was himself unwilling to grant to men accused of impropriety—particularly on college campuses.
As the journalist Emily Yoffe notes in a terrific piece for POLITICO, Biden was at the forefront of the Obama administration's efforts to compel colleges to adjudicate sexual misconduct under new standards that were horridly unfriendly to the accused. He was a leading spokesperson for the White House mission of changing the culture around consent norms. Yoffe highlights a now quite hypocritical interview he gave to Teen Vogue:
Biden continues to insist that male college students are crude brutes, ever ready to attack their female classmates. In an April 2017 interview in Teen Vogue, he said that when he explains consent to male students, they are astounded: "I've had young men on campuses say to me, 'I've never thought of it that way. … As long as she wasn't screaming and kicking me and yelling help, then it was probably OK.' It's not OK. It's not OK unless she can affirmatively consent." In that same interview, he explained what he believes consent entails. "We're trying to let young men understand that without consent, meaning saying, 'Yes, it is OK to touch me' … then it is not consent," he said. Biden also seems to have no recognition that campus encounters can be filled with ambiguity and mixed signals. In an April 2016 speech at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, he mocked the idea that sexual assault allegations might be "complicated," and told the assembled students that they should "ostracize the abusers" and "make them the pariah on campus."
This is a standard of consent that Biden himself has arguably failed to live up to, given that several women now claim he touched them without their permission.
Some of the bad guidance issued under the Obama administrastion has been reined in by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made it a priority to ensure that students accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX receive fair hearings and a presumption of innocence. Biden has argued vehemently against these changes, and even referred to supporters of DeVos as "culturally Neanderthals," during a conference call, according to the historian KC Johnson.
If Biden does decide to enter the 2020 presidential race, perhaps this experience will make him a little more sympathetic to accused men. I worry, though, that it will only push him further in the opposite direction: Biden might "get tough" on affirmative consent as a means of deflecting criticism from #MeToo advocates.