- - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Joe Biden has led the polls of Democratic primary voters for a while now. But like all leaders in these early polls, he’s a bit of a paper tiger, benefiting from name recognition, and even the fact that he is not running for anything. At least not yet; there are, or were, rumors of a late April announcement.

Twice the American people have been offered a Biden presidency, and twice declined. In 1988, the young senator from Delaware withdrew after he had to concede that he had used as his own much of a speech by a British politician. It was eloquent stuff, recalling that his father had been a Welsh coal miner. Joe had apparently not read the rewritten speech close enough before he gave it. Twenty years on, he received less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses, and dropped out.

Joe Biden is charming and folksy, and by all accounts a model father. He has suffered personal tragedy; shortly after his election to the United States Senate in 1972 his wife and year-old daughter died in an automobile accident. He made the 200-mile daily commute from Delaware, usually by train, to stay close to his surviving children. One of them, his son Beau, was taken by brain cancer in 2015 at 46 years old.

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But he has problems as a modern Democrat. In a Democratic Party marching resolutely toward a cliff, he will be penalized for his sometime moderate views. He once supported legislation that lowered the crime rate by putting more of the guilty behind bars.

A Roman Catholic, he once supported restrictions on abortion. He remains a bad person on the left for his role in the Clarence Thomas hearings, where he was regarded as too harsh in his treatment of Anita Hill, a onetime friend of Justice Thomas who turned against him for reasons known to her. Liberals thought he was too deferential to the Republican senators who confirmed Justice Thomas.

Mr. Biden is regarded by millennials as an “old white man” (although he’s 76, a year younger than Bernie Sanders) who should just shut up and go off to die. He is descended from English, French and Irish ancestors. That puts him beyond the pale in a party that can’t even condemn anti-Semitism without including everyone this side of Attila the Hun in the denunciation. Being white and/or Jewish (or both) is the unforgivable sin.

Mr. Biden is aware of his predicament. The other day he told an audience in New York that, “To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give [Anita Hill] the kind of hearing she deserved.” Later he said America’s legal culture must change. “It’s an English jurisprudential culture, a white man’s culture. It’s got to change.” We hope he doesn’t really want to discard “the jurisprudential culture” that gave us such hitherto unknown principles as innocent until proved guilty and trial by jury.

But now the former vice president has #Metoo problems. In an essay in New York magazine, one Lucy Flores, a former Democratic candidate and an “activist,” describes an inappropriate kiss he planted on the back of her head five years ago. “I felt him get closer to me from behind,” she wrote breathlessly, as if remembering an encounter with Jack the Ripper. “He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it,’” she wrote. “Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening.” (Let the record show that the gallant Joe did not complain about the smell of her unwashed hair.)

There was more from Miss Flores. “Time passed and [photographs] started to surface of Vice-President Biden getting uncomfortably close with women and young girls.” Another woman from the mists of the past came forward to testify that Joe once leaned forward in an embrace to rub noses. Only Monday there was testimony that Jill Biden, his wife, is not above bestowing a kiss on a friend at a campaign event.

Clearly the Bidens man and wife are a friendly pair of a sort once familiar in America before Grandma Grundy, obviously a modern Democrat, went to work on reforming it. Sexual harassment is ugly and must be rebuked, and more, but Republicans understandably tempted to pile on Joe Biden should keep their heads in this moment of high holy hysteria. We need all the grown-ups we can find.

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