For the Biden campaign, The Alexandra Tara Reade sexual assault allegation must be a very Kafkaesque moment.
Reade, a former Biden Senate staffer, has alleged that in the spring of 1993, Biden cornered her in a deserted hallway of the Capitol complex, pinned her against the wall, and then put his hand under her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers. Her account has been corroborated by Reade's brother and a former neighbor, who said that she told them of the incident when it occurred.
Biden has been defended staunchly by many zealous proponents of the #MeToo movement — Kristen Gillibrand, the New York senator, and Alyssa Milano, who is largely credited with popularizing the movement. The fact that these proponents of #MeToo have so zealously fought for Joe Biden to receive due process and have retracted on their emphasis on believing all women means that the #MeToo movement has taken one giant step back.
I am still going to vote for Biden in November. I believe he is the much better alternative for Trump, and I don't believe that the evidence amounts to a man who needs to step down from his campaign. But still, Biden's response to Reade's allegation disappoints me not because he denies something he believes he did not do, but because it's Joe Biden.
Biden has fought for sexual assault awareness and prevention, essentially on college campuses, as a cornerstone of his efforts as vice president, according to Emily Yoffe in Politico. The reforms he created to fight campus sexual assault were long overdue, but a vast overcorrection. To sufficiently fight a culture that did not hold men accountable, he held men over accountable and resorted to a zero-tolerance approach that used the "preponderance of evidence" standard on college campuses — a standard of evidence that basically means treating men as guilty if there was over a 50 percent chance that they committed a sexual assault. The preponderance standard is the lowest standard of evidence possible.
Not only that, but Biden's reforms came all while withholding federal funds to universities that did not follow new Title IX guidelines, ensuring that a lot of universities would rather be safe than sorry in adjudicating campus sexual assault.
While the undertaking was respectable, the result was not. Biden's 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter superseded the intentions of the alleged victim — it meant that a third party could launch a full-scale, several month-long investigation. Biden himself mocked the idea that sexual assault allegations could be complicated, and had no awareness that campus encounters could be filled with ambiguity and mixed signals. His Title IX reforms also disproportionately affected men of color, who were accused on a much more frequent basis proportionately than white students.
By the standard of the campus system that Biden himself helped build, he would be considered guilty.
Republicans are right to compare Biden's treatment to that of Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. It's a double standard that Democrats demanded justice during Kavanaugh's hearings, calling for people to believe Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford when they have rushed to defend Biden. At the time, many Democratic senators, including Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, went after Kavanaugh and said men needed to "shut up and step up." According to The Hill,
"There is a clear double standard between how the media and Democrats treated Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations versus Tara Reade's allegations," said Mike Davis, who led the Senate effort to confirm Kavanaugh.
The left-leaning media has made an effort to poke holes in Reade's credibility as a means of absolving Biden. Lucia Frawley wrote an opinion for CNN that mentions Reade's 2018 blog post publicly praising Vladimir Putin, with some sort of implication that Reade was a Russian operative. The New York Times editorial board has mentioned various inconsistencies in Reade's account, implying that she has a changing story. While all these things are fair to investigate, I don't remember these outlets putting the same emphasis on inconsistencies in Christine Blasey Ford's account during Brett Kavanaugh's Senate hearings.
The Democratic and liberal response to Biden's accusation, not only to Tara Reade but multiple women of inappropriate touching, is hypocrisy. I am a staunch liberal, but you cannot make a crusade to believe all women when it's politically convenient and then retract the statement when it's your candidate and it's politically inconvenient.
To the credit of Democrats, they were here once before when they forced out Senator Al Franken after allegations of sexual misconduct. I found the credibility of Franken's allegations not to exceed those against Biden, but Franken was forced out of office by senators like Kirsten Gillibrand, the same senator that is standing by Biden, with no due process and no ethics investigation.
I can see the logic: Franken was not as big as Biden. To take down a colleague like Franken is not as much of a political death sentence as taking a stand against your party's presumptive presidential nominee. Gillibrand, in late 2017, made the following statement in the Senate to push Franken to step down:
"I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn't acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve."
But still, Democrats have shown that they prioritize political expediency over their morality, demonstrating to voters that they'll stand by their man over their morals to believe all women.
"But u called on Al Franken to resign w/out the ethics investigation HE asked for??" comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted in response to Gillibrand's defense of Biden. And Silverman has a strong point. The Democratic defense of Biden reeks of hypocrisy.
For Biden and his campaign, the vehement denial of Reade's allegations might seem like the only option. After all, giving an inch and any sort of acknowledgment of Reade's feelings may be a sign of weakness. All Biden and the left-leaning media can do is to poke holes at the credibility of Reade's account while defending Biden's record in legislation.
But there's one thing Biden can do: apologize.
An apology in terms of how Reade feels, even though he remembers things very differently, is a decent thing to do, and is not an admission of guilt as much as many may interpret it to be. The latter interpretation is a risk that Biden and his campaign probably won't take on, but if Biden himself truly wants to be the trailblazer and champion of the #MeToo movement he has been until he himself was accused, then an apology to Reade would be the only thing that doesn't make him look like a hypocrite. Biden can apologize while not giving credibility to the allegations, even if doing so would be manipulated and considered a bad political move by most.
In 2004, the late Kobe Bryant probably proceeded against the advice of his legal counsel and apologized to his accuser after sexual assault charges were dropped:
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
Of course, the landscape of 2004 is very different from 2020, three years after the #MeToo movement has changed our perception of sexual assault allegations. I suspect that the Biden campaign hopes that the media stops paying attention to the allegation, continues denying it when it's brought up, pokes holes in the credibility of Reade, and pretends like it never happened — the Trump formula to avoid accountability. But few right now would acknowledge that it's a very easy time to be Tara Reade, and the backlash she is suffering in the national press.
Biden can still deny the allegation by addressing Reade's feelings and perceived experiences: if Democrats really want to sell the fact that they're better than Republicans, maybe they should act like it.
Maybe I'm too idealistic to think that a high-profile man like Biden can apologize for the pain a woman, a woman that accused him of sexual assault, has had to endure in raising the allegations publicly and being subject to intense media scrutiny by supposed "allies" of the #MeToo movement. Biden and Democrats, however, have sent a clear message: believe some women. Apply a high no-tolerance standard selectively. Give due process selectively. Give allegations proper scrutiny and investigate them selectively. Believe all women who accuse Republicans.
And if you only believe women when it's politically advantageous, do you actually care about sexual assault?
Without a doubt, I find it hard for anyone to take the #MeToo movement as seriously after Joe Biden will undoubtedly escape the public ire from the Tara Reade episode — the hypocrisy is damning. If Biden being accused of sexual assault is what it takes to make Democrats to take simple justice system protections like the presumption of innocence and due process more seriously, then good. I hope Democrats and trailblazers in the #MeToo movement can guarantee such protections for men of color being disproportionately affected in Biden's effort to reform how sexual assault is handled on campus.
To make sure the movement doesn't reek of hypocrisy and lose steam, Joe Biden should apologize. I doubt he will, as, again, Biden and Democrats are taking a play out of Trump's playbook: vehemently deny, attack the credibility of the accuser, and ignore the issue as much as possible. With COVID-19 dominating headlines and Trump's false statements on medication and poor management of the crisis taking center-stage, Biden is lucky this situation is not getting more front-page headlines.
I'm still going to vote for Biden in November. But as a liberal, I've lost a lot of respect for Biden and other high-profile Democrats.