When will Joe Biden be sorry?

Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally Special counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report MORE is wound up in a storm of controversy because he touched a number of women in ways that made them feel uncomfortable and several of them courageously came forward to say so. But he remains caught in that storm because of his surprising lack of empathy, contrition, and responsibility. Biden told a group of reporters after a union address last week that he felt badly if he had made anyone feel uncomfortable in the past but also that he is “not sorry” for anything that he had ever done.

That position is morally and logically untenable. It makes no sense to say you are sorry you have made someone feel uncomfortable but that you are not sorry for the actions that made them feel that way. That makes no more sense than saying you feel badly someone had a head injury when they got hit by a brick but that you are not sorry for throwing it at them.


Worse, Biden said he felt badly “if” he had ever made any person feel uncomfortable when it is very clear that he has done so on multiple occasions. Lucy Flores, for example, wrote a recent column that during a campaign rally back in 2014, Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” by placing his hands on her shoulders, leaning in to inhale her hair, and then placing a “big slow kiss” right on the back of her head.

Biden clearly continues to believe that all should be forgiven because he did not have bad intentions. He said he had “never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman” as if that should make everything alright. But Flores felt “uneasy, gross, and confused” because of what Biden did independently of why he did it. He needs to consider that.

Biden should be sorry for his pattern of unwanted touching and also for the egregious lack of empathy he displayed when he wrongly joked after hugging a male union official and putting his arm around the shoulders of a young boy that he had permission to do so. Flores wrote that while she does not think Biden broke any laws with his actions, the “transgressions that society deems minor” or not even seen as transgressions at all “often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end” of such conduct.

Based on his tone deaf attempt at humor, most women who have been on the receiving end of unwanted touching surely believe he still does not get it. Flores tweeted out that Biden has not at all reflected on “how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching made women feel uncomfortable,” and that he has degraded the courageous conversation women all over are trying to have by making light of something as serious as consent.

Biden should be sorry for both moral and tactical reasons. Strategically, he has weakened himself as an all but certain Democratic presidential candidate when the country needs desperately to be saved from the second term of a commander in chief who is clearly no more fit to lead the most powerful nation on earth than he is to ever run a marathon.

The gaffes from Biden have only emboldened President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE and his supporters. Trump demonstrated that he is as lacking in self awareness as he is in humility by declaring himself a very “good messenger” to criticize Biden over his physical contact with women, even though more than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years.

Sean Hannity questioned whether Democrats would hold Biden to the same “believe all women zero tolerance” standard they have used against Republicans like Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Fox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' MORE. A majority of Democrats hold Biden to that standard, but Trump and Kavanaugh were credibly accused of sexual assault, while no one has accused Biden of crossing that line. To equate accusations against Trump and Kavanaugh with those levied against Biden is to equate criminality with creepiness.

Still, that does not make what Biden did okay. Trump famously boasted he could shoot somebody in on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters. The moral tolerance of his core supporters is such that he could likewise grab a woman by the crotch on Fifth Avenue and not lose them. As political commentator Cokie Roberts pointed out last weekend, the Republican caucus simply has more men named Greg and Mike than it has women.

That is one reason why Trump can get away without apologizing for his sexual misconduct. However, Democratic voters hold their candidates to a higher moral standard as seen in the fact that accusations of “handsiness” are more a problem for Biden than accusations of sexual assault ever were for Trump or Kavanaugh. Unlike them, Biden needs to apologize like he truly means it, and then err on the side of keeping his hands to himself.

Joseph Holt is an associate professor who teaches leadership and ethics with the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.