On Friday, Joe Biden addressed an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference in Washington, D.C., and took the opportunity to crack wise about the allegations of inappropriate touching that have surfaced against him. Biden’s physical overfamiliarity with various women and girls, which has long been treated as a harmless running joke, has become a central topic of discussion in the lead-up to his potential 2020 campaign ever since Nevada politician Lucy Flores’ essay in The Cut on her own uncomfortable interaction with the former vice president.
The Scranton-born politician initially responded with a non-apology (you will not find the word “sorry” in there) and a short video defending his intentions and promising to be more “mindful” about personal space.
And then … he went and joked about his inappropriate touching onstage, to a chorus of laughter from the audience.
After hugging IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson, Biden quipped, “I just want you to know. I had permission to hug Lonnie.”
Later on, the former VP put his arm around a boy’s shoulder when he was joined by a group of children.
“By the way, he gave me permission to touch him,” Biden said. Again, the laughs. You can watch it all below, courtesy of Vox’s Aaron Rupar.
We’ve all had those moments in our lives when we’ve been tempted to crack a joke to ease the tension. It’s a natural desire. We’d all rather laugh than grimace, right? However, in this instance, Biden’s jokes and the audience’s chortles fly in the face of every woman or girl who has dared to say, “This is my body, these are my boundaries and you cannot touch me without my permission.” His jokes imply that his accusers are “too sensitive,” belittling their desire to have their personal space respected. It’s an old tactic trotted out by many other men who aren’t willing to be put in the uncomfortable position of owning up to how they’ve upset others. Better to make a joke at the expense of those you’ve hurt.
After his speech, Biden was asked by a reporter if he planned to apologize directly to the women who have come forward and described discomfiting experiences with the possible 2020 candidate.
“The fact of the matter is I made it clear that if I made anyone feel uncomfortable, I feel badly about that. That was never my intention. I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything I’ve ever done,” he stated.
That last line speaks volumes.