They’re the three most 2020 words there are: “Read the room.”
In case you’ve never heard the phrase, here’s a primer. Say you’re a motivational speaker who delivers stories from your long career of business glory to corporate groups across the country. You get confused every now and then about who you’re speaking to and when. So, one fine morning, you ascend to the stage at a Ramada outside Pittsburgh and are confronted with a sea of Hobby Lobby corporate polos. You realize perhaps now isn’t the moment for that anecdote about that time you closed a deal in Hamburg by drinking the executive board under the table at a biergarten, all the while telling bawdy jokes.
Congratulations: You’ve read the room.
The room can be expressed in more metaphorical ways, as well.
If a plane has just crashed, for instance, that probably isn’t the time to tweet a Pan Am 103 joke. (In fact, never would probably be the time, but let’s start with right after the plane crash.)
If your friends are losing their jobs left and right, it isn’t the moment to shoot a TikTok video in which you roll around in $100 bills on your bed.
And if you’re Joe Biden and you realize mores around creepy-sounding stories involving men are changing — particularly on the left, where people have long been able to slip the word “patriarchy” into a sentence three times without even cracking a smile — you don’t regale people with a story about how you almost got arrested after following girls into a women’s campus dorm back in 1963.
Now, granted, Biden’s read-the-room moments come from eight and 12 years ago, a veritable lifetime before the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was accused of sexual assault.
However, it’s a story almost everyone would have admitted should have remained untold. It’s also not quite as grotesquely bad as it could have been, given the kind of scrapes that Barack Obama’s former veep was known to tumble into.
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That’s not a high bar, though.
So, for starters: A recently unearthed clip shows Biden giving a speech in the college town of Athens, Ohio, in 2008 during his time as Obama’s running mate.
Biden talked about how he was visiting the school as a student when the University of Delaware, his alma mater, was playing Ohio in football back in 1963. His school won and, as he described it, Athens “was such a beautiful town and we all hung around out afterwards.”
“Now I made a little mistake here that day, I made a little mistake,” Biden told the audience, according to CBS News.
“I wandered in, I met this lovely group of Ohio University … students,” he said with a wink.
“And uh, without knowing it, I shouldn’t admit this on national television because it’ll reveal that I’m over 60, but I thought that we were gonna go get something to eat. What’s that street you have down there, all you guys?” he said.
In a typically Bidenesque fashion, he continued rambling about how he “just said to young, two young women I had met, said, ‘Well why don’t you’ … ‘We’ll be right back.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll come with you,’ and they said, ‘OK,’ and I walked into their dormitory and was immediately accosted by a cop who arrested me because back in those days men were not allowed in women’s dormitories.
“But I promise you I never breached the first floor and it was only a temporary detention. But that’s what I most remember about Athens. So, folks, look, it’s good to be back here.”
I’m guessing he got laughs, or enough of them that he decided to tell the story again in 2012.
“The last time I was here, I want to make clear to the press, I didn’t get arrested, but I almost did, because back in those days, you students won’t appreciate this, men weren’t allowed anywhere near a woman’s dorm,” Biden said in September 2012.
“And I got invited into a dorm. I thought I was walking into the waiting room; I got brought into the hallway.”
Laughing, Biden got to the punchline: “I got escorted out very quickly by an Athens policeman.”
Mores change quickly, especially given the sensitivities that have developed around the Democratic Party and the left since 2008-ish. (Granted, they selectively went away for a little while when Bill “Bimbo Eruption” Clinton’s wife was running for the presidency, but they re-emerged with a vengeance once Donald Trump — for whom the rules were never suspended — won.)
This story was probably never politically correct at any point where Biden told it. And then there is his history of strange behavior around women and girls — inappropriate closeness, sniffing their hair, those sorts of unpleasant things that weren’t unknown when he told these stories.
Now, not only are times different, but the accusations Biden is facing are. Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation is a lot different from sniffing hair, although it’s certainly in the same genus — if not species — from which Biden’s previous problems sprang.
No, Biden couldn’t have read the room in 2020 all the way back in 2008. However, a man with more discretion probably would have grokked that this wasn’t the kind of unguarded anecdote that ends up being a thornless rose.
Breitbart only managed to dig this one out of cold storage earlier this week. It’s appeared a few other places since then. My guess is that it doesn’t stop there.
This was always the known downside to Joe Biden. You think Donald Trump is unguarded? There’s at least a method behind his madness. What’s the method to talking about how you ended up getting arrested in an all-girls dormitory at a time when that wasn’t necessarily legal? That’s method-free madness.
Men may force a laugh, convinced it’s a harmless yarn. I’d like to have seen the faces on the women in the audience. Random guess: Those with a Y chromosome were likely a lot more amused, and not because liberal women are censorious killjoys.
Biden supporters, look forward to an entire summer of this sort of thing. Rest assured, if I know Joe Biden, this is hardly the only clip like this. If not, well, he’ll probably take that as an invitation to make a few once he emerges from that basement of his.
Your presumptive Democratic nominee, ladies and gentlemen. He’s never bothered reading the room and he’s sure not going to start now.
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