Act 1 of that drama had actually taken place years before, when President Bill Clinton was accused of carrying on with a White House intern. Then came Kavanaugh, and for Act 2, nearly everyone reversed their previous position on official sexual misconduct.
You may recall, hazily, how adamantly Democrats insisted that this sort of thing should utterly disqualify a man from higher office. When Republicans confirmed Kavanaugh anyway, the left erupted with incandescent, implacable rage. Even a year later, Slate’s legal reporter, Dahlia Lithwick, wrote that she refused to go back to the Supreme Court, that with Kavanaugh on the court, “none of us, as women, were ever going to be perfectly safe again.”
If there was one good thing to come out of that mess, it was that Democrats rethought expedient embraces of sexual abusers. “I was wrong” editorials were penned; progressives insisted that from now on, #MeToo would override realpolitik.
And now, Act 3: The shoe of the accused is back on a Democratic foot.
Tara Reade, who worked for Joe Biden in the early 1990s, has alleged that the then-senator pushed her up against a wall and groped her very intimately. Initially, this allegation could be, and was, brushed off as less than credible. Reade has changed her story over time, and some of the details raised eyebrows of older women, who wondered how anyone working in an office back then could have gotten away without wearing pantyhose to work. So for a brief time it was viable to insist that the distinction was not the politics of the accused but the credibility of the accuser.
But now it looks very likely that Reade’s mother called in to CNN’s Larry King in 1993, when the attack is alleged to have taken place, to complain that her daughter had been forced to leave a senator’s office because of his misbehavior, although she mentioned only unspecified “problems.” A former neighbor of Reade’s has emerged to say that Reade told her about the attack in the late 1990s, with much the same description that Reade gives today. This is far more corroboration close to the time of the alleged event than Ford ever had.
That doesn’t, of course, mean Biden did it. Moreover, even if you find Reade credible, it is perfectly defensible to vote for Biden anyway, as I myself am planning to do come November.
For example, one might argue that we should not make political decisions based on accusations this old, unless there is credible evidence of a pattern that continued long afterward. Once decades have passed, it becomes impossible to evaluate such accusations fairly, because too many memories and records have been lost. The verdict ends up resting too much on one’s subjective evaluation of the accuser’s credibility, and such evaluations are inevitably colored by one’s prior opinion of the accused.
That would have been a very good position to take on Kavanaugh, not just because there was so little solid evidence. A decent society allows for rehabilitation, and when we cannot get clear evidence of a crime, then if there’s no evidence of later wrongdoing, we should err on the side of hoping that either the accuser was mistaken or the offender has reformed.
But if you insisted that Kavanaugh must go, it’s hard to argue for mercy now without saying the painful words “I was wrong.” Alternatively, Biden’s supporters can insist that such accusations should disqualify you for higher office, no matter how old or uncorroborated, while noting that in this election, they have no candidate who hasn’t been accused of sexual assault — in Trump’s case, by numerous women.
Yet how many of the people grasping at this defense would actually vote for Trump — or any Republican — if only it weren’t for those allegations? The answer is probably close to zero. Republicans are hoping that Democrats will make their hypocrisy explicit; in fact, they believe Democrats already have.
That’s probably a fair accusation in many cases. But Republicans who are certain they’ve caught Democrats in a double standard should ask whether normal standards really should apply during a dire crisis such as the current pandemic. For even if I didn’t believe in a mercy standard for decades-old crimes, I’d still argue that however important it is to protect victims of abuse, protecting them very much includes getting the Republic out of the hands of our current fool of a president.