It seems increasingly likely that former Vice President Joe Biden will be the Democratic presidential nominee, but an allegation of sexual assault that occurred in 1993 could shake his campaign.
Sexual assault allegations obviously didn’t prevent President Donald Trump from winning the White House in 2016. But at the time, mainstream media networks urged us to believe the president’s accusers. This time, however, legacy news media has largely ignored the allegations. Tara Reade, a former staffer for then-Sen. Biden, told her story in an interview with podcast host Katie Halper that circulated across social media nearly a week ago, but mainstream liberal news organizations have not reported on it.
That same practice of believing women when they come forward has apparently not applied to Reade. If we are to believe the president’s many accusers, which I do, then we also need to accept that Reade’s accusations are being made in good faith.
Conservative outlets have seized the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy. The National Review, for example, published a story with the headline “Joe Biden, Democrats, and Sexual Assault: They Never Learn.”
“Women have the right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims," Biden’s communications manager Kate Bedingfield said Friday. "We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false.”
Some criticism of Biden involves his handsy conduct in public, particularly with girls and women. That’s been an optics issue for him from before his campaign’s launch. He released a video shortly before beginning his presidential campaign last year about his plans to be more respectful of personal space.
Given these allegations and his potentially problematic conduct, it’s difficult to say this won’t be a huge stumbling block for his campaign. That’s even before looking at his history on other women’s issues, specifically his treatment of Anita Hill.
Hill accused then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Biden, then a senator, led the attack on her credibility and claims. This is somewhat ironic, since public perception of Hill’s story has become big part of feminist discussion in the years since.
The question here is about credibility. If Biden didn’t believe Hill, then his credibility is suspect. We should believe Trump’s accusers because their credibility is rightly assumed. What are we supposed to make of Reade, and why is she being treated differently? Her claims need to be investigated and discussed in public, and the Biden campaign’s outright denial is not a satisfactory conclusion to the discussion.
For some, Biden’s alleged conduct isn’t a barrier to support at all. Podcaster Stephanie Wittels Wachs said in a now-deleted tweet, “For the sake of argument, say Biden is a rapist. Trump is also a rapist. So why not vote for the rapist with better policies?”
That ghoulish sentiment is wrong on the face of it. We should not trust someone with credible sexual assault allegations against him with women’s policy, regardless of his political record.
Believing Reade and holding Biden to this standard may hand Trump the presidency. That’s a very real possibility, but if the Democratic Party has principles, it needs to follow them now.
Personally, when faced with a choice between two alleged rapists, I would elect to choose neither. It’s not like he has the nomination quite yet anyway. Bernie Sanders is still running and thus far has had no sexual assault allegations publicized against him. It’s time for principles to prevail, and that means not risking the election of another sexual predator.
Liam O'Sullivan (he/him) is a senior studying film and is an editor-in-chief of the Hoosier Flipside. He will stop at nothing to direct a Star Wars movie.
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