Old-School Joe

Joe Biden is an “old school” politician.  First elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware in 1972 — that’s almost 50 years ago, folks — he traces his roots to a different political era.  Joe Biden has been involved in politics at the national level for longer than just about anyone you can think of, and certainly longer than anyone else who might be a serious candidate for President in 2020.

screen_shot_2019-04-02_at_10.23.19_pm_0It’s pretty clear that Joe Biden is what you might call a “hands-on” politician, the kind who likes the handshakes and arm around the shoulder photos and ropeline grappling with admirers.  That’s why you can find countless photos of Joe Biden in physical contact with somebody — some of whom look happy about it, and some of whom look very uncomfortable — and why some of the people who are attempting to explain his current predicament say things like “he hugs everybody.”  It’s a political style that was commonplace in decades past, when some politicians believed that the personal touch and laying of hands was a way to establish a memorable connection with voters and establish power relationships with other politicians.  The backslaps and shoulder grabs were also a way to allow the politician to remain the center of attention, even when someone else was getting an award or making a speech.  Such politicians embodied the old comment about the politician who so craved attention that he wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

When you’ve been playing the political games for as long as Joe Biden has, perhaps you lose touch with prevailing views, and perhaps you lose a good sense of the line between an appropriate contact and creepy, personal-space-invading behavior.  No one, male or female, is going to object to handshakes, or a backslap or tap on the shoulder.  But grabbing the upper arms or shoulders of a woman to pull her close, smelling and kissing the hair of a woman, and leaning in so that your face is inches away clearly cross the line into more intimate contact and should be reserved for close friends and colleagues.  The fact that Joe Biden was routinely engaging in such conduct with complete strangers, from biker women in diners to political candidates at rallies to the wives of people appointed to federal jobs, shows that he simply didn’t — and perhaps still doesn’t — understand what are long-standing, and commonly accepted, social boundaries.

Joe Biden’s old-school roots may help to explain his behavior toward women, but they don’t excuse them.  Part of being an effective politician is having sensitivity to what is going on, and how society — and standards and boundaries — are changing.  Joe Biden apparently lacks that quality.  His clutching and space-invading behavior with women is creepy and a real problem, but in my view the fact that he apparently didn’t understand that until now raises deeper concerns about him.

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Old School

Over the weekend I was out for a walk in my casual garb.  As I was stopped on a corner, waiting to cross the street at a light, a young, highly barbered guy next to me gave me the once-over and said, with a nod of apparent approval, that my shoes were “old school.”

Is “old school” in fact a compliment, or is it just a polite way of saying that something is old-fashioned, which is never a good thing in always moving, always changing, always in the “now” America?  I took it as a positive comment, however it might have been intended, and as the light changed I strode forward with a warm surge of pleasure that someone in the 25-and-under generation had voluntarily acknowledged my existence and made an arguably favorable comment about my appearance.  Normally, I’m one of those guys that the young bucks pass without so much as a glance — just as I undoubtedly walked past guys in their 50s, without really paying any attention to them, when I was a college student.

So my sneakers are “old school,” and I guess I am, too.  So “old school,” incidentally, that I call them “sneakers” or “tennis shoes,” both terms that seem to have gone the way of “23 skidoo.”  (Nowadays, I think you are supposed to refer to your “athletic footwear” by its brand, as in “I got a new pair of Nikes yesterday.”)  I’ll continue to use outdated terminology like “once-over,” make mystifying references to characters on popular TV shows of the ’60s and ’70s, and try to wear that “old school” badge with pride.