A Time of Reckoning
In 1991, I was a naïve freshman in college trying to find my place in the world. I had a headful of dreams but wasn’t quite sure how everything would fall into place. Discovering myself was (and still is) an on-going process; fortunately, I was able to move freely without the world watching.
During that same year, Anita Hill was becoming a national figure as she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her supervisor at the time, of sexual harassment.
President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to succeed retiring Thurgood Marshall. The confirmation hearings were actually completed, until a private interview with Hill was leaked to the press. The hearings were reopened and Anita Hill was called to testify.
I remember watching her testify to an all-male, all white committee. She was calm and collected, as she explained in full detail her accusations of sexual harassment.
Senator Joe Biden, committee chairman, began questioning her on the specific locations of her harassment allegations. One of the accounts that stood out most was the “incident of the Coke can”, which - as she had described a half-hour earlier — involved Judge Thomas asking her who had put pubic hair on his Coke can.
Mr. Biden asked, “Can you describe it, once again, for me please?” After a sigh, Ms. Hill did.
Nearly 30 years later, the significance of that case ring louder than ever. Now that former Vice President Joe Biden has officially entered the 2020 presidential race, his first order of business is attempting to reckon with his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony.
So, what does he do? He calls Anita Hill and makes an attempt apology. Okay, but Anita was like…. Nah.
During the hearings, Biden could have called additional witnesses who could have supported Anita’s claims. He also could have stepped in when his Republican colleagues attacked her, as opposed to sitting back and doing absolutely nothing.
Joe Biden “regrets” the way he oversaw her testimony, but he’s stopped short of holding himself fully accountable. He states, “I wish I could have done something – I opposed Clarence Thomas’ nomination, and I voted against him.”
Well, Anita Hill sees things differently. She felt that Biden still hadn’t confronted his role in the Thomas hearings. Needless to say, she demands more from him and will not support his run for the presidency. You can't blame her one bit.
The hearings came alive again last year when the Senate held similar hearings to address Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, then a Supreme Court nominee. At this point, Biden had no choice but to address the Hill-Thomas hearings, saying he wishes he “could have done something to give Hill the hearing she deserved.”
Joe Biden has a history of not owning up to his faults. He hasn’t apologized to Anita Hill, nor the women that have recently accused him of inappropriate touching. Expressing regret is not the same as apologizing. He doesn’t seem to understand that concept.
Biden’s real focus has to be to the American public. There were so many people – not just women - disappointed by what they saw back in 1991. Men and women have lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.
Twenty-eight percent of Democratic women disapprove of how Biden handled the Hill testimony and 29 percent of African American voters feel the same. This can either be a time of opportunity or downfall for Biden. He can keep on with the empty regrets or start doing real work. Again, the world is watching.