Joe Biden's Non-Apology Apology Tour

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
April 4, 2019

You've heard of the apology tour, and you've heard of the non-apology apology, but I have to give Joe Biden credit for what must go down as the first ever non-apology apology tour.

Philip Klein over the Washington Examiner wrote about "Joe Biden's apology tour" last week, doing a good job of detailing all the flip-flops and groveling the likely 2020 presidential candidate has gone through to appeal to the new, woke Democratic Party. But with all due respect to Klein, I can't help but notice that all of Biden's listed "apologies"... aren't. He'll admit vague errors, he'll express sympathy. But apologize? Not on your life.

First there's Biden's mea culpa for his handling of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings when he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, long criticized by progressives. "She was abused through the hearing, she was taken advantage of, her reputation was attacked," he said last Tuesday. "I wish I could have done something, and I opposed Clarence Thomas’ nomination—I voted against him."

An expression of sorrow, yes. An admission he could have done more, certainly. But an apology to Hill, or her supporters? No. Any moral blame falls on unnamed persecutors, and Biden's only blemish was not caring more than he already did.

Glamour previously reported that Biden "voiced his unwavering support for Hill and issued an apology to her" at a November event. He said that he was "so sorry." Ah, there, we go! That's an apology!

Wait no, it was, "I’m so sorry that she had to go through what she went through." ("That’s sort of an 'I’m sorry if you were offended,'" Hill scoffed to the Washington Post in response.)

Then there's the 1994 crime bill, authored by Biden and a huge sticking point with minority Democratic voters. "You know I've been in this fight for a long time. It goes not just to voting rights. It goes to the criminal justice system," Biden said at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried." Certainly not an apology, and Biden didn't even mention the bill explicitly.

Lastly Klein cites Biden taking back an off-hand comment calling his vice presidential successor Mike Pence "decent." (Yes, really. Welcome to the hell that is politics in 2018.) Biden walked back his remark, but I don't spy an actual apology or even an admission he was wrong.

But the most blatant non-apology came today when Biden released a two-minute video addressing his long habit of being overly familiar and physical with women, sometimes to their discomfort and disgust. Biden promised to do better in the future and chalked up his past behavior to changing social norms. "Not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately," he said. "If it is suggested that I did so I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention."

It did not escape the notice of observers that the video lacked an apology to any of the women he had subjected to unwanted touching. There was also no acknowledgement that the video was prompted by personal, on-the-record statements from women speaking out about Biden conduct, nor that Biden's initial response was to deny it ever happened.

The non-apology is a classic Biden move, by the way. His first presidential run in 1988 was famously stymied by revelations that he had plagiarized several speeches and law school papers. Biden was defiant, admitting "a mistake," but insisting he had done nothing "malevolent" and calling the controversy ''ludicrous'' and "much ado about nothing."

What was perhaps a survivable scandal grew to define his campaign. A Time retrospective noted that "it didn’t help that once the issue made the news Biden failed to respond with an apology that voters found heartfelt enough." Alas for Biden, 76-year-old men tend to be set in their ways. The same instincts that sunk his campaign 30 years ago might do the same before the next one even begins.

Published under: 2020 Election , Joe Biden