Why is it so hard to say “sorry?”
In the latest update to the saga of Joe Biden’s decades-long habit of getting in people’s (usually women’s) personal space, the former Veep yesterday released a short Twitter video with the following message:
“Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.”
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You’ll notice one word that is conspicuously missing from both the tweet and the video itself. (A lot of people on Twitter sure did!) “I get it, I get it,” Biden says, even as his statement demonstrates that he does not. The idea that social norms are “changing” misses a vital fact: space-invading behavior has always made some women uncomfortable, but until recently few have felt able to say so—particularly to someone as powerful as a senator or the vice president of the U.S.
Biden, as he reminds us in the video, has done a lot of important work to support women over the course of his career. But that does not relieve him of the responsibility to actually hear the women who said his actions unnerved them and provide them with a simple but powerful offering: an apology.
His failure to do so reminded a few observers of his history with Anita Hill. While the former vice president has repeatedly said he regrets his role in the Clarence Thomas hearings (though some have taken issue with his wording), Hill says he has yet to apologize to her personally. In 2018, she told Elle: “It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company. ‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?’”