Most People Prefer to Believe Their Side Doesn’t Mistreat Women

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Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The San Luis Obisbo Tribune:

A court document from 1996 shows former Senate staffer Tara Reade told her ex-husband she was sexually harassed while working for Joe Biden in 1993.

The declaration — exclusively obtained by The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, California — does not say Biden committed the harassment nor does it mention Reade’s more recent allegations of sexual assault.

It seems extremely likely, arguably indisputable, that something happened between Joe Biden and Tara Reade in 1993 that left her shaken and deeply disturbed. Maybe it occurred precisely the way Reade describes. Perhaps, with the passage of time, her memory is imperfect and her description has become less accurate over time. Or perhaps she had a harassment experience that was not quite a sexual assault, and has chosen to portray the encounter as even worse than it was.

It is worth noting that Biden’s blanket denials — “I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened”; “I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago. They aren’t true. This never happened” — also deny that anything less severe or remotely consensual occurred between the two. In the Biden version of events, Reade is making this up out of whole cloth.

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In the Biden version of events, he did absolutely nothing wrong or even anything that could be misconstrued. Then, starting in the early 1990s, his former employee Tara Reade decided to falsely claim this out of some undetermined malevolent intent. She told several people close to her that he did this but did not go to the press. She stayed out of the public spotlight for several decades, and then decided to bring attention to her account in earnest in April 2019. That would be a really odd sequence of events.

The strongest argument of the Biden defenders is that Biden was senator for all of those years, and became vice president starting in January 2009, was a heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years, and Reade did not find it as urgent to notify the American people about her experience with Biden during that time. Reade clearly believes that her experience with Biden should disqualify him from the nation’s highest office, but she did not feel this way for the entirety of the Obama presidency.

The strongest argument of the Reade defenders is that under the principles advocated by the “Me Too” movement, none of that is supposed to matter. Sexual predators and bosses who harass or assault their employees are to be held accountable, and a delay in a victim’s coming forward is not supposed to be interpreted as exculpatory. Victims hesitate to confront their attackers, to make public accusations, and to press charges because they fear no one will believe them. There may be a legal statute of limitations, but morally, a terrible action taken almost three decades ago is still a terrible action.

This is why it is spectacularly tone-deaf for senator Dianne Feinstein to say of Reade, “She came out of nowhere.” Where did Christine Blasey Ford come from? Where did Anita Hill come from? Where did the accusers of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein come from? Accusers are almost always little-known friends, acquaintances, or colleagues from the distant past.

There are some people who have been very honest about their perspectives about this. Linda Hirshman wrote in the New York Times this week,

I believe Ms. Reade, and I’ll vote for Mr. Biden this fall…

Suck it up and make the utilitarian bargain…

Mr. Biden, and the Democrats he may carry with him into government, are likely to do more good for women and the nation than his competition, the worst president in the history of the Republic. Compared with the good Mr. Biden can do, the cost of dismissing Tara Reade — and, worse, weakening the voices of future survivors — is worth it.

Criticize Hirshman all you want — no, really, she’s got it coming — but at least she spares us the notion that she believes Reade is making this all up and that Biden’s vague blanket denial is persuasive.

We should have a better standard than “the accused figures I like or who are in the political party I prefer are always innocent, the accused figures I don’t like or who are in the political party I oppose are always guilty.” But a significant chunk of people in American politics are incapable of evaluating claims in any other manner. And another significant chunk of people in American politics don’t want to evaluate claims in any other manner.



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