Seems like a risky answer. How many liberals, including and especially women, have already written defenses of him to the effect of “Even if he’s guilty, he’s not as guilty as Trump”? Or, worse, “Even if he’s guilty, I prefer his policies to Trump’s”?
Now here’s Biden himself correcting them: No, if you believe Reade then you shouldn’t pull the lever for me.
I think it’s actually a low-risk answer, though. Watch, then read on.
Biden to women who believe Tara Reade’s assault allegation: "If they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn't vote for me. I wouldn’t vote for me if I believed Tara Reade.” pic.twitter.com/xGf84Jtu1S
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 15, 2020
The risky answer would have been the one used by his defenders, that voters shouldn’t let a li’l ol’ thing like sexual assault color their views of who’d make the better president. That would seem monstrously callous and a complete betrayal of #MeToo, prioritizing his own selfish political ambitions over the trauma suffered by victims of sexual violence. And it would positively reek of guilt. “Vote for me whether I digitally raped someone or not” is the sort of desperation move you make when, er, you just might be guilty of that rape.
Instead he signaled with his answer that his priorities are in order: Of course sexual assault is disqualifying in a politician. If you truly believe Reade, you’re morally compelled to hold that against him.
What’s clever about that is that Biden surely realizes that Democrats who are grasping for reasons to ignore this Reade matter and vote for him anyway will surely find those reasons. No one who’s struggling with the cognitive dissonance involved in believing Reade but also wanting to support Joe is going to watch this clip and resolve that dissonance in Reade’s favor. What they’re going to do is talk themselves into admiring Biden for having the right priorities here. And then, in due time, as the psychological urgency to oust Trump mounts, they’ll talk themselves into simply disbelieving Reade. Or, at the very least, they’ll talk themselves into intractable ambivalence about whether to believe her or Biden, in which case they’ll conclude they have no choice but to give Joe the benefit of the doubt and vote for him.
And in fairness to them, there’s plenty of material out there to support cautious skepticism of Reade’s stories. PBS interviewed 74 former Biden staffers (62 of them women) and found no one who experienced sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct by Biden or had even heard rumors of him behaving that way with others. That doesn’t prove anything, of course; the left was quick to dismiss the many women colleagues who spoke up on behalf of Brett Kavanaugh’s character on grounds that none of them had personal knowledge of how he might have behaved towards one very specific woman, Christine Blasey Ford. But the character witnesses did give us an inkling that there’s no pattern of behavior, and miscreants who go around attacking women tend to behave according to patterns. Same with Biden.
There’s also this:
Ben Savage, who said his desk was next to Reade’s in the Biden mailroom, disputed her charge that she was forced out of her job in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint she claims to have filed.
Savage, who worked as the office’s systems administrator, overseeing computers and information processing, told the NewsHour that Reade was fired for her poor performance on the job, which he witnessed — not as retaliation for her complaints about sexual harassment.
But according to Savage, Reade had been mishandling a key part of her job and an essential office task — processing constituent mail, something they worked on together. Savage said he recalls reporting these issues to his boss, deputy chief of staff Dennis Toner. After that, Savage said he began diminishing Reade’s duties, taking over some of her tasks and rerouting parts of the process to exclude her.
PBS also followed the route from Biden’s old office in the Russell Senate Office building to the Capitol gym; it was somewhere along that route where Reade would have been assaulted, according to her story of what happened. They couldn’t find any alcove or private space where he might have plausibly assaulted her without being seen instantly by someone passing by. Former Biden staffers also question Reade’s claim that Biden once asked her to serve drinks at a fundraiser in Washington, which she considered demeaning. None of them could remember him ever hosting a fundraiser in Washington while they worked for him. And some claimed that he had an office policy banning staffers from doing campaign work.
Cathy Young has also been looking at Reade’s claims and thinks she’s found a pattern of exaggeration. Young compared the claims Reade made against her ex-husband in her 1996 divorce filings and the claims she made about him 13 years later.
In her 2009 article, Reade wrote that “Tate” violently shoved her on one occasion when they were still dating in Washington, D.C. in 1993, and started battering her shortly after they moved to North Dakota later that year: “The first time he hit me, we had lived in the Midwest all of two months. The subject of the fight was unremarkable—the damage to my nose and jaw was not.” On the other hand, Reade’s February 29th 1996 statement accompanying her application for a restraining order (at a time when she had no incentive to minimize accounts of her husband’s violence) mentions episodes of “yelling and screaming,” as well as furniture-slamming, but alleges only one violent interpersonal incident prior to February 21st, 1996—at some point in late 1995: “Three months ago, he punched me in the arm during a heated discussion.”
In the 2009 article, Reade asserted that in the three years after their daughter was born, “Tate would beat her, threaten her, and commit incredible horrors against both of us.” In her 1996 statements, she alleged no violence toward the child other than one incident in which Dronen admitted to shaking her, and her main concern was that Dronen might leave with the girl, not commit “incredible horrors.” And while the restraining-order petition claims that Dronen frequently talked about killing himself, the 2009 article gives these suicide threats a far more sinister murder-suicide twist: “Tate threatened to kill himself, Molly, and me if I left.”
Other episodes recounted in the article are similar to ones described in the divorce files, but are dramatically amped up.
Young goes on to note that “In a particularly bizarre passage in the 2009 article, Reade insinuates that her ex-husband was a suspected serial killer: ‘I received news that Tate’s DNA was collected by the FBI for two missing women’s cases because he was a ‘person of interest’—Tate’s profile was that of a sociopath.'” Is that true? False? Seems unlikely.
Anyway, there’s one other clever aspect of Biden’s “don’t vote for me if you believe the accusation” answer. Namely, it tees up reporters to put the same question to Trump. The president denies the sexual misconduct charges against him, just as Biden denies Reade’s, but what’s his advice to voters who suspect there may be something to those charges? Does he think they should vote for him anyway Because Judges? Or does he share Biden’s moral intuition that some things are more important than winning? I feel like I know how he’d answer but I’m curious to see it.