The way she got treated

Biden is just flummoxed that anybody gives a damn about the way he treated Anita Hill.

Biden appeared on ABC’s The View Friday morning and told the show’s five female co-hosts: “I’m sorry for the way she got treated.” But then he added that people should go back and look at what he said during those hearings, asserting, “I don’t think I treated her badly.”

And yet, Hill doesn’t agree with him. Imagine that.

Host Joy Behar said, “Here’s your opportunity right now to just say you apologize, you’re sorry. I think we can clean this up right now.”

Biden responded, “I said privately what I said publicly, I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated.”

In other words he continued to frame it in the passive voice so that no actual people can be said to have treated her the way she was treated, especially not Joe Biden. She was treated a way, a way that can’t be specified, a way that apparently had nothing to do with any human agents. Biden feels just rotten about that way. Bad bad way – let’s all get together and scold it.

Moira Donegan at the Guardian is not impressed.

In the past, Biden, under pressure from women’s rights activists and a Democratic base increasingly intolerant of sexual misconduct, has spoken of the Thomas hearings in passive terms, as something that happened rather than as something he did. At an event in New York in March, he said: “To this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved. I wish I could have done something.” Like his announcement, this statement partakes of a kind of rosy historical revisionism, one that conveniently absolved Biden of all responsibility. Because he absolutely could have, in his words, “done something”. He was the chairman of the committee overseeing the hearings. There was no one with more power to “do something” than him.

Biden’s non-apology to Hill, coming as it did 28 years after the disastrous hearings, six months after a similarly humiliating and futile ordeal was endured by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and mere days before Biden’s own presidential run, smacks of insincere opportunism. He seems to understand Hill as an annoying obstacle to his own rise, rather than as a full person with rights and dignity, whom he wronged and should make amends to.

His insistent use of the passive voice, meanwhile, makes him appear to lack an understanding of his own agency and power, like someone who will exaggerate his responsibilities for successes and disavow any role in missteps, wrongdoings and failures. As the journalist Bryce Covert put it: “There’s a huge difference between ‘I’m sorry for what I did’, and ‘I’m sorry that happened to you’.” In failing to grapple with his own blind spots, privileges, prejudices and personal failures, Biden has betrayed a lack of personal responsibility that in unacceptable in any adult, let alone in a national leader. The episode does not make Biden seem like a responsible, self-aware man who had learned from his mistakes and wants to make amends. It makes him seem like a man who wants to shut a woman up.

I wish someone could shut him up.

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