Mike Littwin: Biden walks the #MeToo tightrope
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On Friday morning, Joe Biden went public, as many (including me) had insisted he should. And it went exactly as everyone expected.
Meaning, of course, that we don’t know any more now than we did before Biden addressed the sexual-assault accusation made by a Senate aide that, if it occurred, happened 27 years ago. Biden wasn’t going to confess, of course. And he wasn’t going to slam his accuser, Tara Reade, either. He would walk the #MeToo tightrope, and now people will have to determine if he safely made it to the other side.
Biden said it never happened. He said it repeatedly. He said it in a long statement he released before the interview. He said he never knew of any complaint made against him, as Reade has said she did. She apparently has her personnel file from that time, but with no copy of the complaint. And then there’s this: According to Reade, her complaint said only that Biden had made her uncomfortable, which may have been a reference to Biden’s handsiness issues or something worse. It’s hard to accuse the boss.
And while there is some corroborating testimony, we’re clearly in he-said-she-said territory with no real tiebreaker in sight, except maybe this one: For those who believe that Donald Trump is unfit to be president and must be removed this November, Biden is their only hope. That could be the ultimate tiebreaker.
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Under tough questioning from Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe — tougher than Biden probably anticipated — Biden said he had called for a search of the National Archives, where if any complaint was made, he said it should be found. He resisted a similar search of his still-not-public Senate records that are being housed and curated at the University of Delaware, Biden saying there are no personnel records there.
So, what do you think? My guess — which I’m pretty certain of this time — is two-fold:
Most Republicans will either believe Reade, the accuser, or will insist, in any case, that Democrats risk being hypocrites if they don’t believe her. You might remember that approximately zero Republicans called for the many claims against Trump to be investigated.
Meanwhile, most Democrats will either believe Biden or at least hope that he’s telling the truth, while saying — some aloud, probably more to themselves — that voting for even a possibly tainted Biden is a no-brainer when he is matched against the most dangerous and unfit president in American history.
This part, though, will be said aloud and often: A single accusation against Biden is one thing. The many accusations against Trump, ranging from harassment to rape, are another. Even as I write this, there’s a request in the courts for Trump’s DNA. And Trump himself said that Biden may well be falsely accused since, he claimed, he is the victim of many such accusations.
In the #MeToo era, many of us have made the commitment to believe a woman who comes forward with such a complaint, whether or not it happened long ago, whether or not there are inconsistencies in the details, whether or not the person — as in the case of Reade — has some history of strange commentary, including her weird defense of Vladimir Putin.
But we’re now in the process of redefining what the all-women-must-be-believed commitment should mean. She must be given a hearing. She must be treated respectfully. She must be presumed credible because it’s presumably true that not many women would come forward under public scrutiny to make such an accusation. But accusations also must be investigated.
If it’s unlikely, though, that we’ll ever find resolution of the accusation — that Biden pushed Reade against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers — it’s the hypocrisy from both sides that will clearly linger.
Republicans are on slightly firmer ground when comparing Democratic reaction to this accusation to the reaction to Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination process.
Here’s what Biden said at the time of the Kavanaugh hearings, that Ford “deserves to be treated with dignity. It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward, under the bright lights of millions of people watching, and relive something that happened to her, assert that something happened to her. And she should be treated with respect.”
On Friday, Biden said Reade had a perfect right to come forward but also noted, “I have a right to say, ‘Look at the facts.’”
And yet, several prominent Democrats have sided with Biden, saying they don’t believe he could have done that. But we really don’t know what anyone might have done, and certainly not 27 years ago. But the comparison also is more than disingenuous. At the time, many Republicans called Ford a liar without any evidence whatsoever. And in the hearing for Kavanaugh’s nomination, Republicans actively blocked any real investigation of the accusations that Ford and others made.
Still, it also should be noted that in the case of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Biden, then the judiciary committee chair, stood by as Hill’s reputation was smeared by senator after Republican senator. That’s why these issues are so complicated. If you knew Biden today, you’d like to think he would have done far better by Hill long ago.
As for Trump — and don’t what-about-ism me here — he not only denies every accusation, he also mocks his accusers, even saying that one was definitely not his type. And, of course, there is the “Access Hollywood” audio tape, in which Trump brags about his ability to grab women by the pussy and that they let him get away with it because he was a celebrity.
I don’t know what the polling is on believing Trump, but I’ll bet he’s far under water. Certainly I’m old enough to remember when Cory Gardner, now an avid Trump supporter, said the tape disqualified Trump from the presidency.
This is a tough moment for Biden obviously, and Trump clearly needs a diversion from his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Reade is reportedly negotiating with Chris Wallace to do a Fox News interview. But assuming no one else comes forward, there is also danger for Republicans.
I can foresee Republicans making hypocrisy a major issue in the campaign, with the wink-wink of Reade’s accusation as subtext. I can also foresee some cable network, say CNN, holding a few town hall meetings on this issue and bringing in, for at least one of them, as many Trump accusers as will agree to appear on stage together, even if they have to be socially distanced. And then they’d have another with Tara Reade, if, in fact, she agreed to appear.
Imagine how a dozen Trump accusers willing to stand up to the president would look — sort of like how it looked when Trump brought all those Bill Clinton accusers to a debate with Hillary Clinton. Only much, much worse.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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