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TOUCHY-FEELY TOUCHY

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BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, APRIL 9, 2019

TOUCHY-FEELY TOUCHY
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And here I thought that “tactile” was something you did while playing football. Silly me. In the contact sport known as politics, it suddenly means “trouble.” The online dictionary defines it as “of pertaining to, endowed with, or affecting the sense of touch.”
Here’s how to use it in a sentence: “Joe Biden is really tactile.” Or, if you believe his video: “Joe Biden WAS really tactile.” After a lifetime of grip-and-grin campaigning -- where the cuddle or nuzzle was the way you showed compassion, phony or not -- now he is learning the hard way that so much of his warm and fuzzy hair-sniffing and nose-rubbing was unwelcome, intimidating, an invasion of space and paternalistic, particularly when the recipient was female. In this day and age, even when everyone insists that they never suspected anything sexual, some have stepped forward to say that he was creepy or they were bugged when Biden hugged them or otherwise showed physical familiarity.
There are several perspectives to this. Among them is that it’s generational. Joe Biden is an old-school politician, the kind who always puts his hand on your back or around your shoulder. Just look at wide shots of the U.S. Senate floor on C-SPAN; you’ll still see the members doing it. It is often insincere, but let’s stipulate that it’s preferable to holding a knife and backstabbing their colleagues in public. They can do that when they’re off camera. That’s been Joe Biden’s world and the way that politics has been done for eons. Until now, that is.


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Pardon the play on words, but as we’re groping to define acceptable conduct between men and women, the conversation clearly extends beyond the sexual. There are various degrees. Assault in its various forms is obviously unacceptable, and assorted other sexual improprieties like unwanted advances are not that difficult to figure out and avoid. But what about nonsexual behavior? When does a show of affection become objectification?
There is, still, a different way to look at all this, that it is really ageism. Joe Biden is about to become the senior member of that huge group of Democrats clamoring to take on Donald Trump. Biden is 76 and clearly struggling to understand. Frankly, he looks befuddled. The question inevitably raised is whether he’s too old to lead the nation onward and upward.
However, doesn’t experience matter anymore? Is all this really a subterfuge? This whole preoccupation with his tactile style suggests an inherent prejudice, a belief that it really is tough teaching an old dog new tricks. Is that fair? I’ll admit a bias here. I, too, am not young, although I am definitely immature.
We have some practical matters to consider, too: What do we do about the air kiss? That’s where men and women, and women and women, greet one another by a peck on the cheek, or near it. The Europeans do it with both cheeks. So is that a French air kiss? Will we have to do away with that form of pretentiousness? What about the intra-mural handshake? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested to Biden that he “join the straight-arm club,” implying that only the handshake is acceptable. At least, that was until she went on to say he should “just pretend you have a cold and I have a cold.” Oh really? Should we want to shake the cootie-infested hand of someone who has a cold? Are we really talking about quarantine here?
Is the current vice president, Mike Pence, on to something with his policy to never dine alone with a woman not his wife? It’s relatively safe, but it might deny females professional opportunities.
This is not just generational, not just new ways of approaching male-female relationships. The real problem for all generations is figuring out what those new ways should be.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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