It took a few tries, but Joe Biden and his advisers figured out that rather than issue written statements trying to respond to women who had suddenly decided to report that his lifelong habit of hugging, patting and obliterating personal space really bothered them, the best way to put this behind the former vice president was to let him explain himself, and in doing so, remind voters why he has endeared himself to them.
“Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it,” Biden said on social media.
It’s not clear this was even necessary. Other than journalists, it was hard to find anyone who honestly thought “Biden is a hugger” was news; it surely wasn’t new.
Even Republicans came to his rescue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) remarked, “I just want to say Joe Biden is my friend, and I know him very well, and whatever he did it may have been inappropriate but it was not driven by malice or misconduct.”
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also vouched for him, as has Meghan McCain.
Biden conveyed in his message why he touches people — to soothe, empathize and encourage. In saying that he would resist the notion that politics has to be “antiseptic,” he showed that he’s in public service not for glory but to help others. In short, he helped voters remember the positive qualities he’s well known for, which even political opponents attest to.
Maybe the most compelling story came from Jean Carnahan, a former senator whose husband and son were killed while campaigning:
“I arrived in the U.S. Senate after losing my husband and son in a plane crash weeks earlier,” she said on social media. “As I stepped down from the platform, where I was sworn in by Vice President Gore, waiting at the landing was Joe Biden. . . . Joe took both of my hands in his and looked me in the eye for a long while before he spoke. He said simply, ‘I know, I know.’ For a brief moment we were two souls joined by a loss that changed our lives.”
The only thing missing was a flat-out apology. (“I’m sorry I made anyone feel uncomfortable.”) Nevertheless, it may well be that Biden comes out better liked and with more political support than ever.
If voters want the opposite of President Donald Trump, they might not do better than someone who consistently thinks of others, gives of himself and displays empathy and decency. Biden’s video might also remind voters that politicians aren’t always vicious and partisan.
If Biden commands the sort of affection we saw in responses to the well-timed complaints from women, perhaps he really can be the guy to bring the country together and get something done.
Jennifer Rubin is an opinion writer for The Washington Post.