If Jill Biden had her way, the only woman named Anita that would be allowed to remain part of our national discourse is the one who sings about being caught up in the rapture of love (nothing else can compare).
In an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin to promote her new book, Where The Light Enters, Mrs. Biden was asked about her husband’s role in the Clarence Thomas hearings and recent comments made in response to criticism about his handling of Anita Hill during that period. As reported by the New York Times, Joe Biden called Hill even though she has made it clear, she wouldn’t consider that call an “apology.” Because Joe Biden isn’t sorry and said as much during a subsequent appearance on The View.
“I don’t think I treated her badly,” Biden said before ultimately declaring on Good Morning America, “I take responsibility that she did not get treated well. I take responsibility for that.”
What’s most interesting about Biden being haunted by the ghost of his mishandling of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings is that if he simply acknowledged wrongdoing sooner and issued a real apology to Hill, this would not be an issue. After all, Biden has a laundry list of past grievances to soon answer for. One would think he’d try to knock as many off his list as much as possible before the launch of his campaign. However, when you’re used to succeeding without humility, and at present moment, dually coasting off the legacy of the first Black president and benefitting from the fears of an electorate who just wants his draining racist bigot to get the hell out of the White House already, I suppose you don’t bother doing things right because you’re white.
Although the former Second Lady, who could become the next First Lady, didn’t explicitly speak with such entitlement, her dismissal of lingering criticism against her husband on the issue of Hill conveys along the same.
“I watched the hearings like most other Americans, and so I mean Joe said, as I did, we believed Anita Hill,” Jill Biden explained. “He voted against Clarence Thomas. And as he has said, I mean he’s called Anita Hill, they’ve talked, they’ve spoken, and he said, you know, he feels badly. He apologized for the way the hearings were run. And so now it’s kind of — it’s time to move on.”
Hypotheticals aren’t always helpful when trying to assess a given issue, but just for a second, imagine a world without Thomas.
A despicable choice to succeed Thurgood Marshall, Thomas has, as the longest-serving justice on the current court, helped George W. Bush force his way into the presidency; assisted in the dismantling of voting rights; pushed several anti-labor initiatives through the court; has routinely voted against the interests of women, non-whites, and LGBTQ people. And albeit achieved by the hook or by crook approach, the Republican Party’s control of the Senate and the White House has now given way to a Supreme Court that will very plausibly overturn abortion rights, rid the country of affirmative action for good, make it perfectly legal to treat queer and trans people like less thans with full protection of the law, among other actions that will grossly expand societal ills. He will do all of this while giving even more protections to corporations, who have successfully co-opted personhood for profit.
And as if Clarence Thomas is not a uniquely bad character and damaging enough to the country, there is his wife and public nuisance Ginny Thomas, who has circumvented norms for spouses of Supreme Court justices to further her own ultra-right wing agenda.
Biden bears the responsibility for this because he had the power to keep Clarence Thomas off the court, or if nothing else, put up the strongest fight imaginable to keep him from confirmation. And he failed to reach his full potential. While it’s fair to argue that no one should be maligned for their mistakes for all eternity, Joe Biden took nearly three decades just to give Anita Hill a call. This is a woman who bravely stepped forward and saw her life and career permanently reshaped by the hearings he failed to make fairer and more accommodating.
As for why it took so long for Biden to casually call Hill around the curious time he was planning a presidential bid? “Well, I guess it was just not the right time maybe,” Jill Biden answered. She believes the two “came to an agreement,” but it doesn’t sound like Anita Hill agrees with such an assessment. Jill went on to say that she did not encourage her husband to make the call.
“No, that was his decision,” she said.
Jill Biden seems nice enough. She reminds me of Crystal from the original Dallas, which I only discovered thanks to Amazon Prime. Fret not, Team Biden. It’s a compliment.
Even so, Jill Biden doesn’t get to decide how people should feel about Joe Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill — especially if she never played an active role in helping him do damage control on a lingering controversy of his own creation.
What if Joe Biden had treated Anita Hill with more respect? What if he had allowed the three other women who were willing to back up her claims to speak? What if the former vice president hadn’t let Hill’s testimony and reputation be soiled as members of the committee he chaired went of their way to debase her?
What happened to Anita Hill might have spurred more women to seek higher office or to simply speak out against the men who harassed them at work, but Joe Biden doesn’t deserve any credit for that. If anything, he deserves even greater scrutiny for showing powerful men they can continue getting away with bad behavior even in the midst of purported progress. In the case of Biden, the past is indeed prologued.
When Dr. Christine Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Brett Kavanaugh once attempted to rape her, the right tried to smear her as just another woman with a fantasy designed to end a man’s career and legacy. There remain 83 complaints against Kavanaugh, but how likely is it that a lifetime judge faces any repercussions for any actions done before his confirmation? The defiance Kavanaugh displayed during his confirmation hearing was tonally different from those of Thomas — a testament to the additional privilege Kavanaugh yielded as a white man. Even so, both of them benefited from the reality that the patriarchy allows men of all genres to escape consequence for their mistreatment of women.
Each of them benefitted from a playbook drafted under Biden’s time in the Senate. Yet, Jill Biden would simply like us to all “move on.” Her old, stubborn husband wants to be the person that steers us into the future. I’m sure the topic of Anita Hill is not the best way for Team Biden to attain such a goal. Oh well.
This again, is all Biden’s fault. We can’t simply just move on from it. Not if the person responsible for it continues to fail to offer penance. What they don’t seem to grasp is that a failure to do so ultimately suggests that he is incapable of doing what’s necessary to make sure it never happens again. It’s just another reason to not trust him.