Joe Biden has joined a long list of public figures against whom a charge of some sexual misconduct has been credibly made. The specific accusation — that he forcibly penetrated an aide with his fingers — would carry him into the worst category of abusers, if true, making him guilty of outright rape. And yet the responses by many on the left are to dismiss the allegations against the currently presumptive Democratic nominee and to treat anyone who is willing to consider them as if we are agents or dupes of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Biden’s most recent accuser, Tara Reade, says that he assaulted her in a place where no witnesses were present, which would add a layer of difficulty if we were seeking a criminal conviction here. But the question is instead one of a job applicant whose behavior has been cast into doubt.
This puts Biden into the same kind of situation that we saw with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court. In a criminal case, the standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but when hiring someone for powerful positions like a lifetime judiciary appointment or the presidency, we are allowed to decide what the balance of the evidence says. No one has a right to hold public office. Such jobs are — or should be — reserved for persons whose experience and character make them best suited for the privilege — though we have obviously fallen short of holding applicants to that standard in too many cases.
One key piece of evidence is a demonstrable pattern of behavior. If Reade’s account were the only one, it would be disturbing, but one that perhaps could be regarded with suspicion in the midst of a campaign. But what she says happened to her is not the only accusation against him. He has multiple women who say that he has made them uncomfortable with inappropriate touching. Reade’s report is only the most extreme of these.
Biden has been excused as a touchy-feely affectionate person, but in the era of #MeToo, we look hypocritical if we say that some people must be held accountable for past acts, while others get a pass. Al Franken resigned from the U.S. Senate after he was revealed to have behaved in a crude manner during a tour entertaining American forces overseas. Katie Hill resigned from her U.S. House seat, thanks to having had a consensual relationship with a campaign staff member. Charlie Rose lost his television show and position with CBS over accusations of inappropriate touching and other forms of harassment. Whatever we may say about the severity of these cases, the accusation of Tara Reade against Biden is worse.
Accusations are not proof, and as with every other case, the claims made against Biden should be investigated, even though his rights are not at stake here. Again, no one has the right to hold public office. What is troubling beyond any specific abuses that he may have committed is the reaction across the political spectrum, especially among the verified accounts of famous people on social media. The right wing is predictably howling with glee, perhaps glad that attention has shifted away from Trump’s attacks on women, while the Democratic establishment is hoping that what I referred to above, accusing the accuser, will be a sufficient response.
This reaction is understandable — which is not the same word as excusable — given the disgust with Donald Trump. Centrists are rightly terrified of a second Trump term, and they have decided that any candidate who promises a return to the last administration’s calm demeanor and small-bore policies will be our savior. As a result, they are behaving in ways that are reminiscent of Trump’s supporters, giving their candidate a pass out of the belief that he will solve bigger problems.
I have been a Sanders supporter for a long time, and this fact is likely to discredit me with the centrists, but I have to ask them why the idea of universal healthcare and college education and protection of worker rights in an environment that allows human civilization to exist is so disturbing to them that they are willing to place all their chips on a candidate whose character is in question, among many other problems with him. We have a chance here to return to the best aspects of the New Deal and Great Society. Or we can go with yet another candidate who stumbles down the middle of the road, one who stands in good chance of losing — like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton — to the worst president in U.S. history.