Joe Biden is now living in the world of accusation he helped to create. It is one of peril for the accused, in which they are subjected to expansive definitions of sexual misconduct and little benefit of the doubt. Biden helped to bring it about as the leader of the Obama administration’s cornerstone effort to end sexual assault at colleges and universities, a worthy undertaking that quickly spiraled into overreach. The goal, as Biden often says, was to remake sexual culture on campuses and in society at large—a goal that’s reached remarkable fruition in the #MeToo era. Now, as he mulls whether to enter the presidential race, Biden is finding himself ensnared by some of the doctrines he has advocated over the past several years.
In the past few days, Biden’s not-yet candidacy has been rocked by accusations of unwanted touching. Last week, Lucy Flores, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada, said that at a campaign rally in 2014, the then-vice president, standing behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, sniffed her hair and gave the back of her head a “big slow kiss.” A few days later, Democratic former congressional aide Amy Lappos said that at a 2009 event, Biden put his hands on her face, pulled her to him and rubbed his nose with hers. This week, two more women have come forward—a student who said he touched her thigh and hugged her “just a little bit too long,” and a writer who said his hand strayed from her shoulder and moved down her back before her husband intervened.