Joe Biden looked on in alarm. After his wife emerged from the scrum (“We’re okay!” she said, patting him on the arm), he went back to addressing his adoring crowd.
In a way, the moment was a microcosm of the entire Democratic primary season: energetic younger women protecting fragile older men as the latter stand around in an egocentric daze.
Jill, 68 to Joe’s 77, was only the most physical manifestation of this phenomenon. In the past few debates, a sharp and sprightly Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) bodied (there’s no other word for it) Mike Bloomberg to let Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shine, sacrificing some of her own likability in the process. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) weaponized her “Midwestern nice” to keep Pete Buttigieg at an arm’s length from the adults’ table — out of some level of personal spite, one sensed, but it also made sure that his practiced charms didn’t take too much of the spotlight from the former VP. Once the field seemed clear enough for Biden to advance, she dropped out of the race to hand him Minnesota and help the party coalesce.
And non-candidates did their part, too. It was Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) who endorsed Sanders in October after a heart attack (and ensuing loss of confidence) threatened to take the septuagenarian senator out of the presidential race. AOC helped to turn out a crowd of 25,000 to a rally in Queens less than a week later, breathing new life into Sanders’s faltering campaign.
Throughout the primary season, male candidates have made macho statements about how they’ll tackle, take down and otherwise beat President Trump in November — “like a drum,” as Biden famously said — even as their egos seem to obscure any personal awareness of their obvious weaknesses, physical and otherwise. (Biden is frankly too old to be running, and his long record exposes him to a wide variety of attacks. Sanders’s health is similarly questionable, and his proposals may be too radical to gain national support.) Despite the men’s delusions, women continue to do the actual work of propping these men up.
As any woman who has spent time around men will tell you, this is a common state of affairs.
For all our advances in gender equality, women are still expected to be the supporters, the team players, the ones who fade without complaint into the background in order for a man to seek the light. Women are rarely thanked for their behind-the-scenes contributions, but they are often punished for stepping out of the role. Part of what doomed Hillary Clinton was that she refused to stand back; part of what may have sunk Warren was that she became the “unity” candidate a bit too late.
But back to Super Tuesday.
Jill Biden’s bodyguard transformation embodied the doggedness and devotion that women are expected to show. The twist was that the physicality of her assistance made the strength and competence underlying it — and often female help in general — too obvious to ignore. Once the initial shock of the moment was over, the cheering began. This time it was for Jill, too.
Like many others, I loved seeing female fortitude tumble into the spotlight, if only for a moment. What I’d love even more is to see a female candidate finally get to stay there.