Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, America’s oldest politically progressive magazine, is voting for Joe Biden:
I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them. He wasn’t my candidate, but taking back the White House is that important. Four more years of T—- will replace what remains of our democracy with unchecked rule by kleptocrats, fascists, religious fanatics, gun nuts, and know-nothings. The environment? Education? Public health? The rights of voters, workers, immigrants, people of color, and yes, women? Forget them. And not just for the next four years: A T—- victory will lock down the courts for decades. I cannot believe that a rational person can grasp the disaster that is Donald T—- and withhold their support from Biden because of Tara Reade.
I would say this even if I had no problems with Reade’s account—after all, Biden will be running against T—-, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 25 women….(I’ll leave it to others to explain why the writer E. Jean Carroll’s claim last summer that T—- raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s was a one-day story, while Reade has been all over the news for weeks.)
Fortunately, I may not have to sacrifice morality to political necessity. When I started writing this piece too many long days ago, T—- [lovers], Berners, and many feminists alike supported Reade’s allegation, first made public on March 25 …, that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 when she was a staffer in his Senate office. I was on the fence. I wrote, “I’d like to know more” on Twitter and Facebook and was reviled as a feminist hypocrite—interestingly enough, mostly by men. It was also mostly men who demanded that I sign on immediately to #IBelieveTara.
I take women’s accusations very seriously, but there have always been reasons to be skeptical about this one. To believe Reade, you have to believe that Biden put her up against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers on the spur of the moment in a hallway in the Capitol complex, where she says she was looking for him to give him his gym bag. This corridor, which she can’t precisely identify, is a public space. (Her lawyer said he assaulted her in “a semi-private area like an alcove.”) Indeed, Reade told Megyn Kelly that before she caught up with Biden, he was talking to another person. It was the middle of a workday. To believe Reade, you have to believe Biden would take that risk.
Pollitt goes on to discuss other reasons for doubting the allegation. She says Reade’s story has changed “over and over” (“Reade’s claim of supposed “retaliation” by Biden’s office exists in so many versions I got a headache trying to keep them straight”). She calls Reade’s account of filing a sexual harassment complaint “similarly bewildering”. She questions the credibility of people who say they heard about the assault years ago. Pollitt also points out that Reade has written approvingly of Vladimir Putin and is a Sanders supporter who made her allegation at an opportune moment in the campaign. Pollitt concludes:
Do plenty of famous, powerful men molest less-powerful women? Of course. #MeToo has made us all aware of that. Many studies show that most women who say they have been sexually assaulted are telling the truth. However, when you’re dealing with actual individuals, it isn’t good enough to go with generalities…. Otherwise, you get arguments like those of the feminist philosopher Kate Manne, who writes in The Nation that Biden is “the type” of man who would sexually assault Reade, because he has “a demonstrated history of handsiness.” That’s like saying a man accused of armed robbery is “the type” because he was in the habit of shoplifting. Touching women, invading their space, commenting on their bodies, looking them up and down are all regrettably common, especially among men of Biden’s generation; impulsively assaulting a staffer in a public hallway, not so much.
… Her supporters compare her favorably to Christine Blasey Ford, who waited even longer to come forward with her accusation that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school. Democrats believed Ford, they say, and doubt Reade for political reasons…. it may even be true that some find Ford more credible because, unlike Reade, she has led a solidly middle-class life of professional accomplishment and respectability. But it’s also true that Ford did not change her story, testified under oath, took a polygraph test, and had four sworn affidavits from people she told about the incident plus her therapist’s notes.
As I write, Reade’s story seems to be falling apart. PBS NewsHour has posted an article based on interviews with 74 Biden staffers, who spoke highly of their boss and his respectful and enlightened behavior toward women. One staffer, who had worked with Reade, said her office problems had to do with her poor performance at the task they shared, answering mail from constituents…. NewsHour reporters investigated the hallway where the assault is alleged to have happened and determined that there was no “semi-private area like an alcove,” as her lawyer claimed, where Biden could have assaulted Reade unseen.
An article in Politico portrays Reade as a manipulative, dishonest user who exploited acquaintances and kind people who tried to help her over the years, and who always spoke proudly of her time working for Biden. Of course, liars can be raped, users can be raped, people who skip out on the rent can be raped. But it is an intentional misreading to say, as some have claimed, that the article slams Reade for being poor. Very few poor people trick veterinarians into billing others for medical care for their pet horse.
We may never get to the bottom of this to everyone’s satisfaction. I certainly won’t be holding my breath waiting for the journalists who ran with this story on very little evidence to climb down, let alone apologize. On Twitter, Biden is still a rapist, and perhaps always will be. Meanwhile, Reade and her supporters have made it harder for the next woman who claims to have been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped. False claims are rare, as I mentioned earlier, but they loom large in the public imagination. People still remember Tawana Brawley, who was not, as she claimed, raped by a gang of white men, including police officers, over four days in the woods in upstate New York—and that was 33 years ago.
Here’s what I do know: Whether or not you believe Tara Reade—and I’m betting that the case for believing her is going to get weaker rather than stronger as the weeks go by—you should vote for Joe Biden if he is the nominee. And he is almost sure to be the nominee, despite the best efforts of some Sanders supporters to use Reade to force Biden to step aside. Moreover, there is nothing hypocritical about feminists supporting Biden. We have a perfect right to support the candidate who will be better for women and their rights than the one who will send us back to the 1950s. It is the only intelligent thing to do. Not only is Tara Reade’s claim far from proven, weighing the personal against the political is what voters do all the time….
I realize Democrats and those to their left care deeply about their principles. Al Franken was hustled out of the Senate, after all, on the basis of far less serious—but better attested—allegations than Reade’s. But this time we need to take a leaf from the evangelicals, who enthusiastically support D—- T—- and don’t give a hoot that 25 women have accused him of various kinds of misconduct or that he paid hush money to a porn star. They don’t care about his dishonest finances, either, or his still-unrevealed income taxes or indeed anything detrimental about him. What they care about is what D—- T—- will do for their issues: install Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, for starters.
Whether or not you feel in your bones that Tara Reade is telling the truth, the evidence is just not there. We do not have the luxury of sitting out the election to feel morally pure or send a message about sexual assault and #BelieveWomen. That will not help women at all. Or anyone else.