Sunday, March 31, 2019

What Joe Biden Still Doesn't Understand

I've never met Joe Biden, but he seems like a good guy.  I know some folks who have worked with him over the years, and they tell me he's very generous.  He has been a good senator, who tried to serve the people of his state; and he was a loyal vice president during the Obama years, the same way that Mike Pence is loyal to President Trump.  (Vice presidents are supposed to be loyal. They're supposed to defend their boss.  Joe Biden understood that role, as Mike Pence understands it now.)  It's also well-known that Joe Biden is a family man, and he's very down-to-earth.  And whether you agree with his politics or not, most of his congressional colleagues (on both sides of the aisle) will say he genuinely wants to do the right thing for the country.

But that doesn't mean he should run for president. Agreed, he probably will.  Any day now, I fully expect him to enter what is already a very crowded presidential race.  He's tried before, and there's no reason to think he won't try again.  But as much as he seems to be a basically decent guy, I sincerely wish he wouldn't run, because in my view, he's not the right person for the job.

There are a number of reasons why I say that.  But one of them is personal:  I don't think his attitudes about women have modernized.  I remember watching with horror during the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings at how the all-white, all-male judiciary committee badgered and insulted Anita Hill. They treated her like she was on trial, like they thought her claims of sexual harassment were utterly outrageous.  As someone who has endured sexual harassment (bordering on sexual assault), I strongly identified with Ms. Hill, and I was appalled by how the men on the committee, led by Mr. Biden, showed her such disrespect. I too was disrespected and disbelieved when I reported what happened to me. I too was subjected to a committee with men who blamed me, or implied I must have done something to "lead him on" (I assure you I did not).  Whether you believed her or whether you believed Mr. Thomas, the way the men on that committee patronized her brought back a lot of memories.

I could let it go and forgive Mr. Biden, since it happened years ago.  People change.  Times change. And yet, when asked about it recently, his response was puzzling.  He said that he wished he could have "come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved, given the courage she showed by reaching out to us."  He agreed that the tone of the questioning of Ms. Hill was angry and hostile, and he said he regretted it. He also repeated that he wished he could have done something.  Umm, he was the Chairman of the Committee. He was in charge of the hearing.  He wasn't some bystander. But even now, he talks about it as if there was absolutely nothing he could have done. 

There are many people in their mid-70s who understand that we are currently in the midst of some generational shifts.  There are things you could say back in the 1950s and 1960s that are probably not appropriate today.  I'm not referring to so-called "political correctness"; I'm referring to actual changes in attitudes.  For example, back when I was growing up, many people thought it was okay to make gay jokes or black jokes or Jewish jokes openly, or even to use slurs about those and other groups.  I don't know a lot of folks today who think it's okay to do that.  Or, I've written about the fact that guys used to think it was funny to grope a woman at work-- if she complained, she was told she wasn't a "good sport."  I doubt that kind of behavior would be okay in most workplaces today.

But I'm not sure Joe Biden understands that times, and attitudes, have changed.  He seems like someone stuck back in the 1960s or 1970s.  (I often feel that way about a number of older politicians, including President Trump. The expressions they use, the way they speak, reminds me of stuff I used to hear when I was in college.  Maybe people over 65 can relate to it, but I'm not sure young adults still do.)  And no, I'm not trying to be ageist; after all, I'm 72 and periodically I admit I too express myself in ways that reflect the times in which I grew up, rather than the current cultural environment.

I'm not saying Joe Biden is too old to run. I'm simply saying I haven't seen any evidence that he could inspire younger voters, or make them feel he understands the issues that matter to them.  There are some candidates who seem totally able to reach out to audiences of any age. And there are some who just seem like they're out of touch.  Mr. Biden seems like the latter to me, and that's why I'm hoping he won't run. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Big Money Got a Mean Streak, Big Money Got No Soul"

If you've ever read my blog (and I hope you have), you know that ethics are a big concern of mine. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe honesty is still an important value. I respect anyone who tries to do the right thing, not because they're afraid they'll get caught if they do something wrong, but because they genuinely prefer living an honorable life.  Sad to say, these past few days were a reminder that we're living in a time when some people don't seem to feel that way.

Consider the scandal about those super-wealthy parents who made sure their kids got into college by deception:  handing out bribes to coaches to give their kids athletic scholarships for sports their kids didn't even play; hiring professionals to take their kids' entrance exams; or paying people to change their kids' wrong answers...and making massive donations to the schools their kids were applying to. As these parents saw it, their kids were entitled to get into the elite colleges of their choice (although whether the kids actually chose these schools is unclear-- one kid, who has a career as a "social media influencer," promoting her own line of cosmetics, told her followers she had no interest in studying and mainly wanted to go there to party). The parents who paid millions to make sure their kids got accepted evidently gave little thought to making their kids earn their way. The goal was to get them admitted, by any means necessary, even if it meant a more deserving (and less affluent) student lost out.

Or consider Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump.  For many years, Manafort was a well-known lobbyist, whose clients tended to be brutal dictators and authoritarian regimes.  He was well-paid for his efforts, and lived an extravagant lifestyle.  He also did what he could to avoid paying taxes and to hide his assets.  He was ultimately arrested by the FBI, tried and convicted-- in one trial, for tax fraud, lying about having foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud; and in a second trial, for conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering.  Both judges noted that he showed little remorse.  And although he apologized for his actions, he mainly seemed sorry he had been caught (and that now he would have to spend some time in prison).

What irritated me about the first story was I recall my own experience as a working-class kid trying to get accepted to college. My parents weren't wealthy, and they didn't know any influential people who might get me into an elite university. But then, I didn't expect that.  My parents told me to study hard & get good grades; I then took my own SATs (I did okay, but not well enough to get a scholarship).  Fortunately, I got accepted to the one school my parents could afford; and during the years I attended, I also worked several part-time jobs to help with tuition.  I knew many other kids just like me who did the same thing. What I learned from that experience was if you want to get something, you need to do your part. It won't just be handed to you. Frankly, I think that's a valuable lesson, no matter what social class you come from.

Several things irritated me about the second story, and none of them are political. They have to do with ethics. For one thing, Manafort was willing to lobby on behalf of some of the world's worst dictators; he took money from governments that did horrendous things to their citizens, yet he seemed fine about it as long as he could buy more mansions or cars or expensive clothes. I like to make money as much as anyone does, but I'm not sure I'd work for an autocratic regime or a brutal dictator.  Similarly, I hate paying taxes, but it frustrates me whenever I read about some super-wealthy person or corporation that doesn't pay anything. It doesn't prove they're clever-- it proves they don't want to pay their fair share, which hurts the rest of us.

Those of you who are Rush fans know I quoted some of their lyrics in the title of this post. Of course, money itself is neither good nor bad. It can help people, or hurt people. But I've also quoted St. Paul before, and it's time to do it again-- he was right when he said the love of money is the root of all evil. For too many people, they seem to love money (and power) more than they love ethics. Unfortunately, the love of money can bring out the worst in people. And in a media culture that glorifies the lifestyles of the rich and famous, it's easy for some folks to get the impression that money is all that matters... even when the love of it can have disastrous results.