One of the problems with politics these days is that it’s increasingly difficult to hold a single line of argument without veering out of that lane and ramming into something else.
The pundits and politicians fighting over Tara Reade’s accusations against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden often careen around like drivers without brakes or steering. Start talking about the case against Biden and you can suddenly find yourself talking about the media’s grotesque mishandling of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings or the sexual harassment accusations against Donald Trump.
Those who desperately want to defeat Trump come close to arguing that we can’t take the Reade allegations seriously if they derail Biden’s chances in November or increase the likelihood that Bernie Sanders will be the nominee.
It’s fine to berate the media for its shifting standards for Democrats and Republicans accused of sexual harassment, or to point out that Trump has his own credible accusers. Biden supporters can worry about helping Trump or Sanders. But none of that stuff touches on the questions at the heart of the matter.
The most obvious question, and probably the hardest to answer: Did he do it?
Reade says she was sexually assaulted by Biden when she worked for him in the early 1990s. Her story has changed more than once. Originally, she merely alleged that Biden was too handsy with her — something reasonable people could easily believe given 40-plus years of videotaped evidence of Biden touching, kissing, hugging and even sniffing women other than his wife (and in some cases men, too).
He has admitted to that behavior and even apologized for it while insisting (plausibly) that he’s just a tactile politician and there was nothing sexual about it. That wouldn’t get him off the hook entirely though, because Reade claimed that she lost her job in part because she complained about the behavior.
Reade’s newer allegation is far more serious. She says Biden cornered her, reached under her skirt and sexually assaulted her. It doesn’t help her credibility that her story changed. But several people have gone on the record to say that she informed them of the assault long ago.
There’s also a recently surfaced clip from a 1993 Larry King Live show in which an anonymous caller — Reade claims it’s her since-deceased mother — asked how her daughter should deal with sexual harassment by a prominent politician.
But let’s assume the allegations remain unproven.
As vice president, Biden was the Obama administration’s point person on Title IX reforms that pushed universities to move away from the presumption of innocence when it came to accusations of sexual assault.
The burden of proof was put on the accused, the definition of sexual misconduct was expanded to cover all sorts of behavior — flirting, inappropriate jokes, etc. — and the standard for harm was lowered to one of feelings. If a woman felt embarrassed or uncomfortable, that was actionable by a college administration — even if the accused didn’t intend harm of any kind.
That’s a hard standard to square with a man who admits to a habit of “harmlessly” touching, hugging or kissing people uninvited. Moreover, when the current secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, proposed rolling back these campus kangaroo court guidelines, Biden likened supporters of the move to the neo-Nazis of Charlottesville and called for a campaign to shame college administrators who would restore due process.
Biden has a long record of insisting that women who claim sexual harassment or assault should enjoy the presumption that they are telling the truth. “I believe you” was his core message to accusers.
Biden wants to be the chief law enforcement officer of the land. Even if he’s wholly innocent of the allegations against him, he owes voters an answer for why he should be exempted from the rules he would impose on others.
If Biden wants the accused to carry the burden of proof, he should act as if it’s his responsibility to disprove the Reade allegations, not the media’s responsibility to prove them. He could start by releasing his sealed papers from the relevant time he was in the Senate. He refuses to do that.
These things are true regardless of the maelstrom of other considerations and grievances people want to drag into this debate.