SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE: Santa Barbara’s Air Pollution Control District is still reckoning just how many families of polar bears yet unborn were laid to waste by Vice Presidential Hugger-in-Chief Joe Biden’s paramilitary fundraising occupation of Santa Barbara last weekend. Biden’s entourage — one Air Force Two baby-blue jet, two fire trucks, 10 CHP motorcycles, a trio of snipers on a not-so-grassy knoll, one ambulance, who-knows-how-many patrol cars, and enough black SUVs with tinted windows to start a new dealership — probably generated more carbon dioxide than Santa Maria Energy would like to get away with. While Biden is all too easy to tease, I’ve always been a sucker for the guy. Hey, he loves his mom. And he talks about it constantly. But since Biden’s biological mother died a few years ago, Biden’s mom-schtick has gotten a little weird. After leaving Santa Barbara, the Veep met a 101-year-old woman while pressing the flesh in New Hampshire. After greeting her with his customary salutation, “I need a hug,” Biden took it up a notch, declaring, “God, I love you, Mom.” Kind of weird.
While in Santa Barbara, Biden and his wife, Jill, met long enough with eight high school teachers to justify the trip as public-policy research rather than the tax-payer-subsidized campaign junket it was. While in town, the Bidens attended a $5,000-a-plate fundraising dinner at the house of area resident Doug H. Phelps. Phelps may not be a household name, but on a scale of 1-10, he’s easily an 11. Today, he’s chief of Grassroots Campaigns Inc. and Telefund Inc. Before that, he commanded the national federation of Public Interest Research Groups launched by Ralph Nader in the 1970s. These are the eager-beaver idealists who interrupt your dinner to guilt-trip you into giving money to worthy-sounding causes that take place somewhere else. In town, they hold an annual press conference exhorting Big Corporations not to manufacture toys with parts babies and toddlers can choke on. When not sounding silly, this army of highly motivated, poorly paid community activists and organizers manages to knock on a lot of doors, make a ton of phone calls, and raise a significant amount of money in very small denominations. Whether Biden is thinking about a possible run in 2016 or fretting over the impending loss of the Democrats’ slim Senate majority in 2014, Phelps is exactly the sort of guy Biden should want as his new best friend.
Biden’s visit awkwardly coincided with the recent release of a new documentary film about Anita Hill and how she was viciously manhandled by the Judiciary Committee, then chaired by Biden back in 1991, during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. Hill — now a Brandeis law professor — worked for Thomas from 1981-1983, first with the Department of Education and then with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She testified he peppered her with repeated advances. She turned him down. She testified he regaled her with the graphic details of porn films he’d watched, referred frequently to his own penis size and sexual prowess, made reference to fictional porn character Long Dong Silver, and famously asked her how a pubic hair happened to get on his can of Coke.
Thomas denied everything and seethed how he’d been the victim of a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Biden, as chair, wanted desperately to appear above the fray and not in it, where he needed to be. He did not protect Hill, whose testimony he only reluctantly sought. Nor did he call as witnesses any of the four women ready, willing, and able to back up Hill’s testimony under oath. The Republicans on the committee savaged Hill, suggesting she might suffer from “the woman-scorned syndrome” and wondered whether they would prosecute her for perjury. Shortly after, a right-wing journalist slammed Hill as “a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty.” He, for what it’s worth, has since recanted. What someone does in privacy is nobody’s business, but anyone behaving as a perv, a creep, and predator while in a position of federal authority does not deserve a seat on the highest court of the land. Whether the proceedings were more shameful or shameless is hard to parse. Clearly, they remain a disgrace.
Maybe we could chalk this up as ancient history, except that the astounding extent of sexual harassment, assault, and rape taking place within the military suggests it’s anything but. And look at all the 5-4 decisions made by the Supreme Court since Thomas was elevated to that exalted bench. He didn’t merely vote to gut a key provision in the Voting Rights Act; he wrote a minority opinion arguing that the spine should be extracted, as well. When the Supreme overturned the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law limiting donations by corporations and unions, Thomas didn’t merely go along with the corporations-are-people-too argument. He argued that campaign donations should be regarded as free speech, meaning corporations and unions should be allowed to give as much as they wanted to independent expenditure committees. But again, he went further still, writing a dissent that corporations and unions should not have to disclose who gave how much at all. In other words, zero disclosure. And when the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount of votes cast in the presidential election of 2000, Thomas was part of the 5-4 majority ordering the Florida Supremes to take a walk. Though we’ll never know for sure, it’s all but certain that decision gave the election to George W. Bush. Without Bush in the White House, do we have the War on Iraq? Are we still in Afghanistan? And does America condone torture? Thomas, in one of his earliest written opinions, clearly did, arguing a prisoner could be beaten in ways “criminal,” “immoral,” and “tortuous” without it constituting “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Maybe if Biden stopped Clarence Thomas when he had the chance, he wouldn’t need so many hugs now.