Tom Slater

The absurd outrage over Dr Jill Biden

The absurd outrage over Dr Jill Biden
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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The Electoral College has confirmed Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Now America puts weeks of mad discussions about stolen elections and Venezuelan voting machines behind it, and conversation turns to what kind of president Biden will be. Will he make good on his pledge to bring America together? Will he heal the wounds of the Trump era? Well, if the past few days are anything to go by, his administration will certainly stand up for the rights, for the dignity, for the humanity, of people with advanced academic degrees.

I’m referring to the Dr Jill furore, which just may be the most phoney bit of elite outrage from 2020 (in a very crowded field). It centres on Jill Biden, the soon-to-be first lady. She has a doctorate in education, and a cheeky article in the Wall Street Journal by writer and academic Joseph Epstein dared to suggest that her going by Dr Jill Biden (she even has it in her Twitter handle) is a bit pretentious. ‘A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child’, he wrote, before all hell broke loose.

Epstein was swiftly denounced as a misogynist by the Democratic establishment. Jill Biden’s spokesman slammed the WSJ for publishing a ‘disgusting and sexist attack’. In the absence of any other evidence that Epstein was motivated by hatred of women, ire focused solely on the fact he referred to her as ‘kiddo’ in the first sentence. That Joe Biden famously often calls people kiddo, and has himself used it to refer to his wife, didn’t figure in the analysis. Nor did the fact that, at 83, Epstein is arguably within his rights to call most people kiddo.

Things got even more loopy when Northwestern University, where Epstein was an emeritus lecturer of English, scrubbed his name from its website. Sensing that wasn’t enough, and desperate to distance itself from the troublemaker in its midst, it also issued a statement condemning Epstein and making clear it completely supported Dr Biden in using her well-earned honorific. ‘Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr Epstein’s misogynistic views’, it read.

This strange little episode reminds us that the true base of Democrats these days is the well-off and well-educated. According to a Bloomberg analysis of election donations, the ‘vast majority of donors who work as college professors, deans or who were otherwise employed by colleges or universities gave to Biden’. That in the end he took almost 60 per cent of the postgraduate vote is mirrored in the bitchiness on display on the WSJ letters page this week, where one PhD-holder accuses Epstein (who, for shame, only has an honorary doctorate) of having a ‘chip on his shoulder’.

What’s more, it reminds us that identity politics, and the reflexive use of allegations of one ‘-ism’ or another to deflect criticism, is rampant among this section of society — and the Democratic establishment in particular. Hillary Clinton naturally thinks ‘misogyny played a role’ in her 2016 loss, rather than her being a terrible, loathed candidate. Similarly, when Biden VP Kamala Harris was struggling in the Democratic primaries, she wondered out loud whether race was part of the reason, even though she particularly struggled among black voters.

While identity politics is often presented as a pink-haired, far-left concern, some of its keenest practitioners are among the Democratic establishment. You can see why it appeals to them. It provides a handy excuse for many of their failures. It provides a faux-radical gloss for otherwise thoroughly elite candidates like Harris — who can pose as ‘breaking boundaries’ simply by being there. And, with the Dr Jill scandal, it allows them to fire up their base by posing against a sexist monster of their own imagination.

But while they all work themselves into a froth, this schtick does nothing for women and minorities, who actually moved towards Trump at the election — a fact underlined by this hilarious confected row about the alleged oppression suffered by female PhD-holders.