I'm watching what's transpired in the world of Joe Biden over the past 72 hours — ever since a former Democratic candidate in Nevada publicly asked: "why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?" — and two thoughts come to mind.
One is: different campaign, different set of standards.
The other: welcome, Mr. Vice President, to your party's Unwelcome Wagon.
Let's start with the concept of changing standards.
Ordinarily, presidential candidates benefit from the previous round of transgression-vetting and a re-defining of boundaries. Bill Clinton's a good example. The allegations that he successfully weathered during the 1992 election likely would have done him in had he run four years earlier (or so Gary Hart proved with his self-destructive choices).
But Clinton survived not just Gennifer Flowers' allegations but also Paula Jones' lawsuit and an ill-advised tryst in the Oval Office with a White House intern. By doing so, he helped to pave the wave for Donald Trump. Good luck claiming the moral high ground against a billionaire who talked of grabbing women by their private parts if you defended a former president who took advantage of an impressionable young woman.
By this logic, the controversy surrounding Biden — allegations of touches and caresses that made women feel uncomfortable — would seem laughable given the tawdriness that voters overlooked in 2016.
However, it may be just the opposite.
In the Age of Trump, Democratic tempers are shorter, emotions rawer, and tolerance of untoward male behavior at a minimum. Just ask Al Franken. Thus sex — or the pursuit of gratification — isn't the criminal standard. It's creepiness (you'll notice this as a constant in all Biden-related encounters with the opposite sex: what he did wasn't sexual in nature, but instead creepy and unsettling).
What Biden offers, should he enter the race, isn't four decades of public service to his nation. Or the narrative of a family man who's endured personal tragedy (a wife and child killed in a car crash; an eldest son and namesake lost to brain cancer).
Rather, it's the spectacle of Biden's opponents trying to turn a respected statesman into the "Aunt Millie" of the Democratic field.
Who's Aunt Millie? She's a character who appears in just one episode of the sitcom Friends, at a family wedding — a relative Ross Gellar does his best to avoid because she always wants to lip-kiss her nephew ("Every time on the lips! Why?! Why on lips?!").
The #neverBiden wing of Democratic progressives would sorely love to turn Biden into sitcom fodder. And that takes us to notion of the hostile reception that awaits the former vice president should he enter the presidential field this month.
Yes, Lucy Flores (she's the former Nevada candidate who accused Biden of making her feel "uneasy, gross and confused" when Biden came up from behind her at a 2014 campaign event and kissed the back of her head) supported Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Flores also maintains that she's not aligned with any of the 2020 candidates (Biden knows what it's like to be a hardball victim — in 1988, his presidential run collapsed thanks in part to a video peddled by Michael Dukakis' team).
Still, the timing couldn't be worse for Biden. He has no formal campaign structure in place — i.e., no rapid-response team. As such, the "hands-on Joe" story's been in play for three days now as the would-be candidate struggles to keep pace with the narrative.
Let's assume Biden understands the left's distaste for a moderate candidate — especially one with a long record. That's likely why he already went out of his way to apologize for the Senate Judiciary Committee's treatment of Anita Hill during 1991's confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas.
Talk about a terrible move. Not only did Biden's mea culpa lack sincerity (if it bothered him this much, why did he remain mum for over 27 years — and until the eve of a presidential run — before publicly uttering his regrets?). And it failed to suitably impress some progressives (the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, for example, thinks Biden is better off apologizing to Hill in person).
But should Biden formally join the race, his "hands on" style might be the tip of an iceberg of grievances real, imagined and consistently manufactured.
Candidate Biden will have to explain to the left why he was so tough on crime (at the expense of minorities) back in the 1990's, whereas today's party wants to go easy on sentencing and jail-time. He'll also have to selectively defend the Obama Administration's eight years of overseas military deployments and drone strikes (throwing a popular ex-president under the bus is never a good look for an ex-vice president).
And maybe the heaviest lift of all: a 76-year-old white male who's been in Washington since before the advent of air bags, jet skis and Bic lighters must somehow appease and appeal to a restless base of Democratic primary voters that's preternaturally drawn to youth, diversity and originality.
You can say this about Joe Biden's bad weekend: all the hubbub over where he's placed his hands may turn out to be providential if it helps the former vice president come to grips with the harsh reality of running — with his past and his profile.