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Truth to Power: Notes on Lucy Flores, Joe Biden, and the Latest #MeToo Scandal to Rock the 2020 Election

Remember Lucy Flores? The once Democratic “rising star” ran for Lieutenant Governor, only to suffer a rough defeat alongside other Democrats who were wiped out during “The Great Red Tide of 2014”. But in the final days before the final ballots were cast, Nevada Democrats pulled out all the stops in a last-ditch attempt to fend off that “Red Tide”.

Over the weekend Flores wrote for New York Magazine about one of the final moments from her 2014 campaign, one that involved then Vice President Joe Biden. Once more, we’re left to ask when actions have consequences… And whether we’re paying enough attention to the actions at the heart of this controversy.

Why is Lucy Flores talking about Joe Biden now, and what did he do to her in 2014?
Photo by Bret Simmons, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by the University of Nevada, Reno

Lucy Flores is no stranger to tough fights. When she was in the Legislature, she faced down death threats, slut shaming, and other personal insults for sharing her story of seeking an abortion when she was a teenager while speaking in support of a comprehensive sex education bill. Her courage under fire may have caused immense personal hardship, but it also initially launched her in political superstardom, all the way to the point of then U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D) encouraging her to run for Lt. Governor in 2014.

Fast forward to November 1, 2014: As part of Nevada Democrats’ last-ditch effort to stop the impending election wipeout, they flew in Joe Biden to rally Democratic faithful amidst anemic early voting turnout. As Lucy Flores now reveals in her op-ed for The Cut (a New York Magazine website), Biden came from behind, touched her shoulders, smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head while they were waiting to be called to the stage.

Regardless of how Biden perceived his actions, Flores did not appreciate his unwanted advance. As Flores wrote in The Cut, “[Biden] was there to promote me as the right person for the lieutenant governor job. Instead, he made me feel uneasy, gross, and confused. The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.”

Let’s put this into proper perspective
Photo by Andrew Davey

In a curious synergistic display, The Cut published Rebecca Traister’s thoroughly detailed history of Joe Biden’s ascent to the highest reaches of political power just minutes after Flores’ op-ed went live. There’s so much worth reading, but I’ll just leave this here for us to discuss:

“Much of what Democrats blame Republicans for was enabled, quite literally, by Biden: Justices whose confirmation to the Supreme Court he rubber-stamped worked to disembowel affirmative action, collective bargaining rights, reproductive rights, voting rights. […] In his years in power, Biden and his party (elected thanks to a non-white base enfranchised in the 1960s) built the carceral state that disproportionately imprisons and disenfranchises people of color, as part of what Michelle Alexander has described as the New Jim Crow. With his failure to treat seriously claims of sexual harassment made against powerful men on their way to accruing more power (claims rooted in prohibitions that emerged from the feminist and civil-rights movements of the 1970s), Biden created a precedent that surely made it easier for accused harassers, including Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, to nonetheless ascend. Economic chasms and racial wealth gaps have yawned open, in part thanks to Joe Biden’s defenses of credit card companies, his support of that odious welfare-reform bill, his eagerness to support the repeal of Glass-Steagall.”

Meanwhile, the D.C. pundit circuit has generally been obsessed over Biden’s camp floating the rumor of Stacey Abrams becoming his running mate, Biden’s age (and all the Democratic insider hand-wringing over his age), and (of course!) Biden’s “are they strong or aren’t they?” poll numbers. What we haven’t heard enough of up until these last 72 hours is real analysis on why Biden sought to hide behind Abrams, what’s actually in Biden’s long legislative record, and why Biden’s long track record of inappropriate conduct seemed to be completely ignored by political and media leaders up until now.

Yes, misogyny matters. And no, it’s neither acceptable nor permissible.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last Wednesday, I tried to be more polite about it. Today, however, I’m in no mood to hold back.

To this day, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) continues to experience blowback over refusal to overlook or ignore multiple allegations of sexual harassment facing then Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota). Meanwhile in the other House of Congress, Republicans and some Democrats make Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) out to be some hideous bogeywoman for daring to speak out and legislate. Back on the campaign trail, I’ve lost count of the plentiful “hot takes” on Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and her “likeability problem”.

Whether it’s the curious case of people calling out the abuse of power being judged more harshly than people who are called out for abusing their power, or it’s the general sense of men posting Insta-stories “feeling more newsworthy” than women talking policy, we must remember the root of this problem: Who do we empower, what is considered just use of power, how do we handle abuses of power, and why do we empower some over others?

Here we go again: Will these actions have consequences?

In the nearly 72 hours since Lucy Flores’ op-ed hit the internet, nearly the entire Democratic Party has been set ablaze. Already Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) have voiced support for Flores. And while Biden’s team eventually released a statement acknowledging Flores’ uncomfortable experience, Biden himself still insists he “believes he never acted inappropriately” as some of Biden’s allies sow doubt over the veracity of Flores’ story.

Last September, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward to share her story of her experience with soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. After receiving a brief round of fairly widespread sympathy, Republicans quickly turned against her and proceeded to attack her to save Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And from there on, the pundits and the party insiders debated over how the confirmation process would “affect Justice Kavanaugh’s legacy” and whether “the partisan showdown cost Democrats Senate seats”. Often lost in the assessments of the aftermath are Dr. Blasey herself and whether she and the other women who accused Kavanaugh of abusing his power on them ever had a chance of getting anything resembling justice.

Is that happening all over again, just with a Supreme Court seat swapped out for a potential presidential campaign? Already we’re seeing an avalanche of “hot takes” on how Flores’ story affects Biden’s decision to run (or maybe not), how Biden’s lack of a formal campaign affects his ability to fight back, and how “unfair” it may be to judge a politician who got his start in 1972 by 2020 standards.

But wait, what about Lucy Flores? What about Anita Hill? What about the other women who’ve been disrespected by Biden’s “touches”, words, and/or other actions? As we make sense of this latest #MeToo scandal, let’s keep in mind the true meaning of the #MeToo movement… As in, let’s stop mansplaining abuses of power and start treating each other with proper respect.

Cover photo by Bret Simmons, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Flickr and the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Comments (1)

  1. Thanks Andrew! I wish people would stop minimizing inappropriate behavior. Biden is not the best candidate, and it was brave of Lucy Flores to come forward.

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