Two true and heavy statements: First, there is no more important task for Americans who care about their country’s future than to defeat Donald Trump in November. Second, it’s time for Joe Biden supporters—from the enthusiastic Ridin’ with Biden bumper-sticker types to those who would sign their ballots cast for him “Reluctantly”— to take the sexual-misconduct allegations against him seriously.
I realize that the allegations Tara Reade has leveled against Biden are not a fun thing to think about right now. It all feels so precarious. Thanks to our drunken Rube Goldberg machine of a nominating process, Biden is the only man standing between us and four more years of Donald Trump, a dumpy, wet-mouthed crook who believes that scientists might be able to cure the deadly respiratory infection by injecting UV light into a living human’s lungs.
But the long-term consequences of Democrats refusing to acknowledge inconvenient truths around Their Guy, again, could and will alienate the women who make the backbone of the party’s present, and the progressives who represent the party’s future. I don’t have any insight on why women’s groups have been largely silent on the accusations, but if I had to guess, it’s because what Biden is alleged to have done pales in comparison with things Trump has been accused of, and that Reade is, at press time, the only person to make serious assault allegations against Biden.
But that’s no reason to ignore Tara Reade. It could be that Reade’s initial accusation wasn’t backed by much evidence beyond her word, but as more reporting on her story emerges, that defense doesn’t hold water anymore. Or it could be that partisans of all stripes have a difficult time applying the same moral standards to people on both sides of the aisle. Or some combination of the three.
A year ago, Reade alleged that her former boss subjected her to an atmosphere of harassment and unwanted touching that made her uncomfortable enough to file a complaint. More recently, Reade appeared on a podcast and said that Biden sexually assaulted her during that time, and that when she complained, she was fired. Although she said she told people about both allegations, corroboration of the second part of her story was pretty thin.
But this week, a former neighbor of Reade’s came forward to say that Reade had told her about the alleged sexual assault in the mid-1990s. And then there’s the old Larry King Live footage of a caller who sounds a lot like Tara Reade’s late mother discussing her daughter’s problems working for a senator, which apparently confirms Reade’s account that she told her mother about the harassment.
Allegations as serious as sexual assault should be taken seriously enough to be investigated, but not so credulously that the accusations themselves stand as proof enough that what the accuser says happened actually happened. False accusations can and have been weaponized (recall during Alabama’s 2017 Senate election, when an activist group tried and failed to plant a fake sexual-assault story in The Washington Post in order to discredit the paper). But Reade’s allegations against Biden are being vetted by journalists as we speak, and during the #MeToo era we have treated much thinner allegations against other men with much more seriousness. Biden should not get let off the hook.
There is enough information here for me to confidently conclude that Tara Reade believes—and believed 27 years ago—that Biden’s office was a hostile place for her to work. I cannot say confidently that I believe Joe Biden sexually assaulted Tara Reade. But I cannot say confidently that I believe he did not. The Biden camp’s talking points are that Reade is lying.
This whole situation is, to use a technical term, “a real shit sandwich.”
Even without Reade’s allegations, we knew Biden had some cleaning up to do when it comes to women. Biden’s still-unresolved treatment of Anita Hill still leaves a sour taste in some feminists’ mouths, and his waffling on the Hyde amendment is troublesome. And, Christ, the opportunity costs! Democrats had other candidates to pick from. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris—all of them had weaknesses, but none of their weaknesses were a reputation for being “weird with the ladies.” We could have picked one of them.
But we didn’t. And here we are: If you care about women, there is no choice but to treat Tara Reade’s allegations seriously. And if you care about women, there is no candidate to vote for in November but Joe Biden.
The situation we find ourselves in now is miles from ideal. But I’m certainly not going to vote for Donald Trump, a pussy-grabbing, teen beauty-pageant changing-room interloper who has been accused of sexual assault—up to and including rape—by 25 women and whose policies make life worse for pretty much everybody who isn’t a billionaire or in Trump’s immediate family. And I’m not going to cross my arms and stay home, like that’ll accomplish anything at all except giving myself something insufferable to brag about at parties as Trump spends another four years throwing babies in cages, publicly getting into spats with powerful black women as a way to score political points with his knuckle-dragging base, and drilling for oil in national parks.
I could vote for a third party, I suppose, or I could just go into my office and yell MEDICARE FOR ALL! into my designated screaming pillow; both moves will be equally effective in preventing Donald Trump from appointing the next four years’ worth of federal judges who will decide whether people have more of a right to their gun collection than women have a right to their own bodies.
Sexual-assault allegations should be disqualifying for a political candidate under normal circumstances. But nothing has been normal since Trump rode down that escalator and into the presidential race in 2015. And anybody who claims otherwise is, to paraphrase Tarana Burke, using sexual assault as “a political football.”
Which is to say: If you claim, with a straight face, that Reade’s accusations (if they are true) should disqualify Biden in a race against Trump, you don’t actually care about sexual assault at all. You care about Joe Biden losing.