Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Lousy Leadership

Susan Rice, Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Advisor under President Clinton, has tweeted "I was with Joe Biden when no one was looking, and he was always a champion for women. She links to an article by Elizabeth Alexander, press secretary to Senator and Vice-President Biden, who contends

Joe Biden took the rare step of paying staffers through their entire maternity leaves, an uncommon benefit even now in the Senate (or elsewhere). What you won’t read about is how he recruited women who had worked for him in the Senate, and had “gaps” in their paid work history because of family demands, to be (very) senior staff in the White House. Those years in between compensated work were just as valuable to him as any traditional work experience.

What you won’t read about it is how he supported staff (like me) when they wanted to go to law school at night or needed to take time off to study for the bar exam, or when they asked to work one day a week from home, or work a reduced schedule so they could reliably pick up kids from school or be present each night at the dinner table. You won’t read about the way he’d debate and differ with staffers with the same intensity, regardless of gender.

You won’t read about how he’d tell male staffers and senators who were repeatedly interrupting a woman to pipe down, so he could hear what she was trying to say. You won’t read about the time another senator asked one of his female staffers to make coffee. Biden's response, that female staffer later told me, was that he’d make the coffee instead.

Assuming all of this is accurate and none is spin- a huge, probably foolish, assumption given that it came from a press secretary- Joe Biden is probably kind to his staff. It does, however, read like the stories one hears about the private acts of kindness among professional athletes, who are then celebrated for doing good deeds in private- which conveniently become public. Anecdotal evidence typically sounds more impressive than it turns out to be when closely examined.

Joe Biden had a big opportunity to give women a break- when, in the early '90s, they especially needed one- and he failed miserably.  Jill Abramson, who wrote "Strange Justice" with investigative reporter Jane Mayer, notes there were many stories corroborating Anita Hill's testimony about the  practice of sexual harassment of women by one Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the US Supreme Court. She explains

.... five members of Biden’s Judiciary Committee at the time of the hearings told me they were certain that if Biden had called the other witnesses to testify, Thomas would never have been confirmed.

The most devastating witness would have been (Equal Employment Opportunity Office employee Angela) Wright. In addition to what she told the committee about Thomas’s comments on her breasts, she — upset by the experience — had also told her colleague Jourdain that Thomas had commented that he found the hair on her legs sexy. (EEOC employee Rose) Jourdain, who came out of the hospital after a procedure just in time to corroborate Wright’s testimony and was cutting her pain medication in quarters so that she would be lucid, was never called to testify. Their accounts were buried and released to reporters late at night.

Wright would have killed the nomination. But Republicans, with faulty information spread by one of Thomas’s defenders, Phyllis Berry, claimed Wright had been fired by Thomas for calling someone else in the office a “faggot.” The man Wright supposedly labeled thus later said she never used the word, but Biden was too cowed to take the risk of calling her. Wright has since said repeatedly that she would have gladly faced Republican questioning. But in a pre-social-media age, that was that; the would-be witnesses weren’t heard from. Less than a week after the confirmation vote, Thomas was hastily sworn in for his lifetime appointment on the bench.

And there Clarence Thomas has remained for 28 years and counting, a lifetime tenure he probably would not have been granted were it not for the effort (or lack thereof) of Delaware Senator Joseph Biden.

It's there on the Supreme Court that Clarence Thomas has voted against reproductive rights and equal pay protection, and in favor of permitting employers on the basis of alleged religious belief to deny employees health coverage of contraception, and loosening the federal prohibition of workplace harassment. But rumor has it that he makes one heck of a cup of coffee.

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