We will be spending a good bit of time debating whether Biden’s comments were properly sensitive or politically deft, and people will continue to argue about whether Reade’s charge or Biden’s denial is more convincing. But we should understand that there will be no resolution to this controversy, no satisfying conclusion, no point at which anyone feels that we’ve fully understood what happened and what we should think about it. It may fade as a campaign issue, but it will remain an open wound.
I’ll confess that when it comes to Reade’s allegation, I don’t know what to think. All the evidence is fragmentary and less than conclusive. For every piece of information that suggests she’s telling the truth and Biden did sexually assault her, there’s another that suggests the opposite.
The strongest piece of evidence in Reade’s favor is that at the time and not long after, she shared with family and friends that something had happened to her in Biden’s office, and contemporaneous accounts are critical in supporting an allegation such as this. On the other hand, there are many reasons to be skeptical of her claim. (Here’s one list.)
The result is that whether you decide that Reade is telling the truth or that Biden is, you have evidence and logical reasons to support your conclusion. But you also have to decide that other pieces of evidence and logic should be discounted. Doing that without letting your biases affect your thinking is extraordinarily difficult.
Like everyone else, I have my own biases. Biden wasn’t my favorite primary candidate — not even close — but barring an unprecedented withdrawal or a health emergency, he’s going to be the Democratic nominee, which means he’s the vehicle to remove the worst president in U.S. history from office. No one can say that their reaction to this story isn’t colored by how it might affect the November election.
That doesn’t mean I won’t criticize Biden plenty between now and November, because I will, just as I will if he becomes president. But it does mean that I want Reade’s allegation to be false, just as Trump supporters want it to be true. If Reade came out tomorrow and said she made the whole thing up, I’d be enormously relieved. It’s absurd to deny that.
And yes, we can point out that President Trump has been credibly accused of various forms of sexual misconduct, all the way up to rape, by no fewer than two dozen women, not to mention the fact that he is on tape bragging about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity. And we can observe that unlike Biden, who reiterates that women have a right to be heard and refrains from attacking Reade, Trump has met his accusers with the accusation that they’re all despicable liars; in one case, he said, “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”
You can point all that out to Trump’s supporters, but it won’t do you any good. Unlike liberals for whom sexual assault and gender equality are important issues, many conservatives are unencumbered by questions of principle, and they’re practiced at pretending to care about something for only as long as it gives them political advantage. Remind them that the president they worship is an accused sexual predator, and they’ll just laugh.
And right now, they couldn’t be happier. If you search “Tara Reade” at FoxNews.com, you come up with more than 2,500 results. It’s a game they’re practiced at playing. They don’t need to persuade the public that Trump is good, only that everyone else is just as bad as he is — just as corrupt, just as venal, just as dishonest, just as morally contemptible. The fact that the charge against Biden is the same kind that has been leveled so many times (and far more persuasively) against Trump isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.
Which is just one of the reasons why this controversy is so distressing for liberals, especially women. Even if you’re convinced that Reade’s allegation is false, it still means that we have to spend a campaign in which any mention of Trump’s alleged sexual improprieties will be met with gleeful shouts of “Biden did it too!” Those who want Biden to win — especially women — will be constantly asked to justify and explain their support for him, with Reade’s accusation thrown in their faces again and again.
When Biden was asked whether it was hypocritical to say that Christine Blasey Ford deserved the benefit of the doubt but deny that to Tara Reade, he gave an appropriate response: That’s the starting point for for any accusation of sexual assault; then you proceed to hear the person out and investigate to determine whether the accusation is true.
When we’ve learned all we can, Reade’s claim may become more or less credible. But it won’t be any less painful.