Former aide Tara Reade has accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, but the presumptive Democratic nominee’s allies have rushed to his defense. Liam Glen writes on how partisan interests have overshadowed the search for truth.
The Me Too movement has revolutionized how allegations of sexual harassment and assault are handled in all aspects of society, including politics. More than ever, we recognize the importance of taking accusations seriously.
The Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh set a new precedent. While the Republican-majority Senate ultimately approved Kavanaugh despite Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual assault, it hardened opinion within the Democratic Party in favor of believing survivors.
Some even began to regret their handling of past incidents – like the various allegations against former President Bill Clinton. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said that he should have resigned in 1998 after his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Considering Juanita Broaddrick’s accusations of rape against him, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg concluded that “Bill Clinton no longer has a place in decent society.”
Then history repeated itself when former staffer Tara Reade accused presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of sexual assault. But rather than treating these allegations with the seriousness they deserve, most Democratic officials have rushed to Biden’s defense.
At the moment, there is no overwhelming evidence for or against Reade’s claims, but this has not stopped partisans from jumping to their own politically-motivated conclusions. Their refusal to engage in an honest evaluation of the facts sets a horrible precedent that will surely haunt us for years to come.
What Does Reade Say Happened?
Reade worked for Biden’s office between 1992 and 1993. During this time, he was still a high-ranking Senator representing the state of Delaware.
She first spoke up in April 2019 to the Nevada-based newspaper The Union, as one of several women who brought up inappropriate behavior by Biden. Reade claimed that the Senator touched her shoulder and neck without her permission, then tried to make her serve drinks at an event because “he liked her legs.” She said that when she tried to complain, she was blacklisted and could not get another job in Congress.
Several months later, she claimed in a tweet that this was “Not even the whole story.” Then, in early 2020, she got into contact with the Time’s Up legal Defense Fund, but the organization declined to represent her as it feared taking on a presidential candidate would endanger its nonprofit status.
Finally, on March 25, Reade publicly came forward with details of an alleged sexual assault in an interview with left-wing journalist Katie Halper. She claimed that while she was working for Biden, he pinned her against a wall and “penetrated me with his fingers.”
According to Reade, she did not mention this during her earlier interview with The Union because she felt discouraged by the “way [the reporter] asked the questions.” The article led to heavy online harassment, and she says that this caused her not to tell her full story for another year.
A New York Times investigation concluded that there is “no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr Biden,” but also identified three people – Reade’s brother and two friends – who corroborated parts of her story.
And it did not end there. In an interview, Reade claimed that her mother, who has since died, had once called in on Larry King Live about the incident. It did not take long after that for internet sleuths to uncover a clip from 1993 where a woman from Luis Obispo, California (where Reade’s mother lived at the time) mentions that her daughter was having “problems” with “a prominent senator.”
Then, Business Insider spoke with two people who Reade had told about her experiences in the mid-1990s. One former coworker recalls Reade mentioning being harassed by her ex-boss in Washington D.C. But even more damningly, former neighbor Lynda LaCasse says that Reade had told her about “this person that she was working for… he kind of put her up against a wall. And he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her.” These details exactly match Reade’s current accusations against Biden.
The Tricky Criteria of Credibility
As with many cases of sexual assault, there is no physical evidence or witness testimony. If this was a court of law, Reade’s claims would surely be thrown out.
However, this is not a court of law, but of public opinion. If Biden is found guilty, the worst fate he can expect is political ostracization. This is very different from imprisonment. Reade’s accusations do not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is the philosophy that has defined the Me Too movement. False accusations of sexual misconduct are rare. If someone has the courage to make allegations against a public figure, if there are no glaring inconsistencies in their account, and especially if they have corroborating evidence or if there are others with similar stories, then they should be taken seriously.
Until recently, the main reason to be skeptical of Reade was that she changed her account between 2019 and 2020. But if LaCasse is to be believed, the story of her assault has in fact been consistent for over two decades.
Of course, there are a plethora of small details that might lead one to doubt Reade. Some are more legitimate than others. The one that nearly any skeptic will bring up – incredibly, columnist Joan Walsh spent a plus-sized paragraph dwelling on it before nonchalantly admitting that it does not matter – is Reade’s past writings in support of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. But the accuser’s political views have nothing to do with the veracity of allegations.
If Reade was a nominee for Secretary of State, her past admiration for Putin would be concerning. When determining whether she was sexually assaulted by Biden, it is superfluous. It serves only to poison the well, attempting to sully the reader’s opinion of Reade with irrelevant facts while ignoring the matter at hand.
Of course, just as some have been overly quick to dismiss Reade, others have been unreasonably fast in assuming that she is correct.
Left-wing commentator Nathan Robinson has been vocal in labelling Biden a rapist, despite the lack of conclusive evidence.
Meanwhile, Republicans like Donald Trump Jr. have heavily promoted Reade’s cause even though they refuse to acknowledge the women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct and continue to fiercely defend Justice Kavanaugh.
Indeed, while it would be wrong to say that Reade’s case against Biden and Ford’s against Kavanaugh are completely equivalent, they are at least comparable. Like Reade, Ford’s account was primarily backed up by a handful of people who she had previously told of the incident. At the time, some commentators even went as far as writing that her testimony alone was enough to disqualify Kavanaugh.
Thus, anyone who stood by Ford should be disturbed by what Reade has to say. They should, at the very least, demand a closer look. But that has not necessarily been the case.
The Shameful Democratic Response
The Biden campaign has circulated talking points for surrogates to try to dismiss Reade’s claims. They include the assertion “a thorough review by the New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen.” This is a lie. The New York Times investigation came to no such conclusion.
It is obvious why Biden would want to discredit these allegations as quickly as possible. If he is guilty, he would want to hide that fact. If he is innocent, he has probably reasoned that conclusively disproving them would be nigh-impossible, and the longer they linger in the news, the more they will harm his campaign.
But if Democratic leaders had any moral authority, they would not let it slide so easily. If they wanted to demand accountability without drawing the presumptive nominee’s ire, they could at least offer a simple statement along the lines of “These allegations are inconsistent with the Joe Biden I have worked alongside, but I also acknowledge that a person’s behavior in professional settings is not always indicative of private conduct, so I await the results of further independent investigation.”
Instead, they have come out hard for Biden. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says that “I stand by Vice President Biden. He has devoted his life to supporting women and he has vehemently denied this allegation.” It is worth noting that same could be said of Senator Bob Packwood, a socially liberal Republican who resigned in 1995 amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Kavanaugh’s defenders even made a point of emphasizing “his advocacy of women.”
Stacey Abrams – who is jockeying hard for the vice presidential nomination – repeated Biden’s misrepresentations about the New York Times investigation before resolutely stating “I believe Joe Biden.”
When Politico spoke with various party operatives, they were concerned only with how the accusations would affect the election. None showed any concern about whether Reade is telling the truth.
With the notable exception of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, prominent Democrats have left no room for doubt. The case is closed. Biden is definitely innocent. There is no need to look any further.
The reasons for this reaction are also obvious. Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and in his defense party officials are willing to employ whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to either discredit Reade or find a reason that her allegations should not matter.
Setting A Proper Precedent
Political commentator and University of Illinois Assistant Professor Nicholas Grossman asserts that no matter how credible Reade’s allegations might be, denying Biden the Democratic nomination is unacceptable because it “will disenfranchise millions of voters.” Thus, Grossman asserts, the election becomes a binary choice between Biden and Trump, where the former is the only reasonable option.
This is ridiculous. Democratic Primary voters knew some of Biden’s flaws, but Reade’s allegations did not come out until after the crucial Super Tuesday and Michigan Primaries. It was not until much more recently that they gained widespread press coverage.
Election results should be respected. But in extreme circumstances, it does become necessary for someone to leave their elected position. This is why mechanisms like impeachment exist, and it is why it would be theoretically possible to replace Biden in the Democratic National Convention.
With so much uncertainty, it would be presumptuous to demand that Biden drop out immediately. But if Reade’s story continues to be corroborated, the option must be on the table. The process of choosing a last-minute replacement nominee would be a chaotic one – full of backroom dealing, infighting, and accusations of corruption – but if worse comes to worst, it may be the only option.
These serious allegations, not to mention the blatant hypocrisy that the party displays by ignoring them, would surely be a liability in November. But there are also more important things than political expediency.
If we want to live in a world where survivors of sexual abuse are not afraid to come forward, we must ensure that no one is above accountability. As Sarah Jones masterfully points out, the purpose of the Me Too movement is to be inconvenient. Even when it would be so much easier to ignore serious accusations and carry on as if they never happened, we must have the courage to do what is right.
It is to be expected that Democratic Party operatives would prioritize electoral victory ahead of any higher principles. The question is whether everyone else will sit silently and allow them to do so.
It is only with further investigation and inquiry that we will have the best chance to determine the veracity of the allegations – whether Biden is exonerated or whether he should step aside. This process will surely be inconvenient for Democratic leaders. But that is hardly an excuse to avoid it.
If we want to live in a country where sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable, a prerequisite is that we should at least have some confidence that the head of the executive branch is not an offender.