Biden Semi-Apologizes for Invading Women’s Personal Space

This past Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted out a video. It’s in response to, by now, four women expressing various degrees of discomfort regarding his proclivity for touching, nuzzling and otherwise invading women’s personal space—typically, at or near the podium during public events. It’s a brief, 2-and-a-half-minute video in which Biden tries to informally lay to rest concerns that in the era of the #MeToo movement he’s a dinosaur, out-of-touch about his being inappropriately too much in touch with various female members of the Democratic party in particular.

How well did Biden do non-verbally in delivering his message?

First, there’s no doubt he’s uneasy and no longer trying to glide by the matter as he essentially did in suggesting the handling of Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 was somehow a matter beyond his control as chair of the U.S. Senate’s judiciary committee. On camera, Bid’s eyebrows rise and the eyebrows knit together: all reliable signs of fear. This look ironically occurs as he admits to having made these four women (and probably others) “uncomfortable.” Now, he’s the one who’s uncomfortable.

040519-05 Joe Biden sadness

That brings us to point #2. What exactly is Biden most uncomfortable about? Is it for what he’s done in the past? Or is it about his political future instead? The video leaves little doubt that Biden plans to run for the presidency. “I will be more mindful” going forward, he says, adding a smile to what was previously pretty much pure fear.

040519-04 Joe Biden multi-emo smirk

In this video, Biden lives up to his reputation for being a retail politician who truly believes that “life is about connecting.” That’s point #3. There are two primary approach emotions: happiness (to hug) and anger (to hit). In delivering his semi-apology, Biden exhibits both frequently. This trait also goes beyond his facial expressions to body language in general. He incongruously says “I hug people” while showing a fist. Later, his hands are outstretched in a more kindly manner.

          040519-03 Joe Biden body language

Any rival of Biden’s for the Democratic party nomination in 2020 will want to take special note of one moment especially. When Biden says “the idea that I can’t adjust” is “unthinkable,” I think he’s signaling first and foremost to the party faithful that he won’t be elbowed aside over this matter. Knitted eyebrows (fear), tightened lips (anger), and a smile (happiness) are all evident at that moment. But so is a smirk (contempt): Biden is signaling—point #4—that he disrespects anybody disrespecting him after all his years of public service.

040519-02 Joe Biden social smile

Point #5 must be, of course, the question of whether Biden comes across as credible in this video. If the video is successful (and it has already received over 160,000 likes online), then it will be for adding in the third approach emotion: sadness (a longing to hug or be hugged). That emotion is about feeling forlorn, disappointed, abandoned, unsure of yourself. Biden claims that’s why he’s invaded these women’s personal space: on behalf of delivering the message that “you can do this,” run for office, be empowered.

In simplest terms in regards to others, sadness expressed denotes often a capacity for empathy for others. From the death of his first wife and a daughter in a traffic accident to the death from brain cancer of his son Beau, Biden has had his share of tragedy. So when he says “knowing what I’ve been through” in this video, that his eyes momentarily shut conveys a sadness that’s been earned the hard way.

040519-01 Joe Biden fear

The interesting part for Biden now is that for him the prospect of running and perhaps losing, for a third time, the Democratic party nomination becomes one more possible brush with disaster. He’s way beyond being old enough to retire. He doesn’t have to throw his hat into the ring. Donald Trump shows sadness, too, but it’s mostly related to wanting more acclaim and rarely about America or others in his life. Some candidates smile. Lots of candidates do anger. If Biden is going to prevail, it’s because he might be unique in public life right now for his ability to incorporate both happiness and sadness, without making it seem like he’s merely vacillating, pointlessly, between those two emotions.

Mr. Sunshine, Julian Castro, Declares Presidential Bid

Memo to Joe Biden, should you decide to enter the race. When it comes to big, flashing, electric smiles, you’ve now got some competition. Meet Julian Castro: formerly the mayor of San Antonio as well as a Housing and Urban Development secretary in Barack Obama’s administration. Is Castro really the second coming of Biden, however? I don’t think so. Easy laughter isn’t part of the package. And many of Castro’s smiles—no matter how joyous—contain a whiff of some additional emotion, too.

For starters, there are only two emotions where Castro stands out. He shows above average amounts of happiness (especially the strongest two flavors of it—sparkling-eyed joy, and minus that look the pleasure signaled by large grins). And the same is true of contempt. What does that combination of happiness and contempt suggest? In a word, it would be confidence. As for where the smirks emerge, look for the tension that appears along the left corner of Castro’s mouth in the photo on the left here, and next at how his upper lip raises and curls a bit in the photo to its right.

011519-01 Julian Castro Double 01

Now, joyful smirking is already a little odd.  Tom Brady and Vladimir Putin both smirk when they smile, but rarely while offering a big, glowing smile. Happiness is about, in effect, hugging others and embracing opportunity. Contempt is laced with scorn and dismissal.  Contempt could be thought of as the equivalent of strong-arming somebody trying to tackle you in a football game.

That fairly uneasy, even unnatural combination plays out in this next smile of Castro’s. The happiness is more subdued here, but again the upper lip flares with contempt (and disgust). Is there some chance that another side of Castro exists beyond being Mr. Sunshine? Could he be vaguely imperial, a little aloof, with some modicum of darkness creeping in after all?

011519-02 Julian Castro 03

I think that could be true, but we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out on the campaign trail. For now, Castro is presenting himself as the Hispanic Obama, a quick learner who represents the next generation in an ever more multicultural society. Education is his big issue, something that helped propel him to Stanford and Harvard. And as for rising fast, well, his mother ran (unsuccessfully) for a seat on San Antonio’s City Council when she was 23, and he got there by the age of 26. If elected to the White House, Castro would become our country’s third youngest president ever.

Youth is at the heart of Castro’s sunshine appeal. His grandmother, orphaned by the Mexican Revolution, crossed the border at a young age. Relatives in San Antonio took in her and a sister. Castro has called his recently released autobiography An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream.  Noting how details like his grandmother’s diabetes, depression and even a suicide attempt get passed over as quickly as his mother’s alcoholism and his parents’ separation, a reviewer in The New York Times characterized An Unlikely Journey as offering “little in the way of introspection.”

What exactly is Castro waking up from? Can he beat Donald Trump, as promised, by not making the error of trying to “out-gutter” him? Who knows for sure.

Castro’s expansive, frequent smijuliale limits evidence of sadness, anger and fear to levels well below what’s customary in the famous people I’ve analyzed over the years. So time will have to tell which version voters perceive. Might whatever is in the shadows of Castro’s personality fortify him, helping him demonstrate empathy and emotional depth? Or might everything except “sunshine” (happiness) get treated instead as merely a nuisance to be kept out of view (even from himself) as much as humanly possible?