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Jamie Stiehm: ​It’s Time for Uncle Joe Biden to Let It Go

Everybody loves Joe.

In certain circles in Washington and Hollywood, you hear a lot about the virtues of Joe Biden running for president in 2020. Chris Matthews, the MSNBC pundit, and Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, as well as actor George Clooney, have been counted as supporters of Biden.

In addition, Newsweek made Biden a media darling, with a big fat kiss piece on how he can beat President Donald Trump — if only his party will let him. And the former vice president himself will soon join the chorus with an upcoming book tour to promote a new memoir, Promise Me, Dad, the heartbreaking story of his son, Beau Biden, who died in 2015, at 46, from brain cancer. The tour cuts through several political battleground states.

The younger Biden was Delaware’s state attorney general who served in Iraq. He had a bright future, but fate had other plans.

The elder Biden had devastating personal loss serve as bookends to his political career: Back in 1972, his first wife and baby daughter died in a car crash. His tragedy invited sympathy when he entered the Senate shortly afterward. Indeed, he is one of Washington’s best-loved characters. That luck-of-the-Irish grin has lit up many stuffy gatherings.

But Washington doesn’t always know best. Biden’s perch is so high in D.C. that it’s hard to speak hard home truths about him. First, he’s 75. Imagine the hubris to think he could become president at 78. Trump is the oldest American president so far, sworn in at 70. If Biden pursues this vain dream, he’s shamelessly stealing from the future.

Second, though he was accused of serious sexual harassment, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas got handed his passport to the high court by none other than Sen. Joe Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

With the current climate charged by powerful men being felled in their workplaces by sexual harassment accusations, it’s a powerful thing to recall how poorly accuser Anita Hill was treated at the proceeding. Biden presided over the tragic circus, allowing colleagues to ask offensive and vicious questions, especially Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. They acted like Hill was on trial.

These “honorables” were anything but that day.

A rising star, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is an expert on sexual harassment in the military. She was the first to call for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. Touted as a presidential prospect, she’d have a field day ripping Biden’s sloppy handling of the Hill-Thomas confirmation hearing.

Believe me, Biden does not want to cross a younger generation on this riptide issue. None of his supporters have a good answer to that; they prefer to forget.

The phrase that’s haunted me over years: “You get the benefit of the doubt, Judge. You get the benefit of the doubt.” As chairman, Biden stated Thomas would be subject to common criminal standards — for the highest court in the land. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., responded that the American people deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Biden did not even call witnesses to support Hill’s story. Thomas narrowly won confirmation, 52-48.

Biden said recently he owed Hill an apology for the grave injustice. Well, she’s listed in the Brandeis University telephone book. Is Hill still waiting on that call?

Third, in the Senate, the genial Biden made a lot of friends, but he didn’t get a lot of work done. Consider a man who was a senator for 36 years, who chaired two major committees, but only had a slender record of major legislation: the Violence Against Women Act was his most impressive achievement. Another thing he did was hire and nurture outstanding young men — Antony Blinken and Ronald Klain, who both went on to the White House.

Biden was a regular Joe, or even Uncle Joe. He was not a giant of the Senate.

But here’s what he did for President Barack Obama, a service that the cool, cerebral president needed to warm up the White House. For eight years, Biden made a cold, glittering presidency seem more human and down-to-earth.

The man from the small state of Delaware should call it a good day.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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