“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
Surely, some variation of that plea rose from a million lips last week. And Joe Biden complied. His presidential campaign forcefully denied the account of a California woman who says Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 when she worked in his Senate office. As reported by the Washington Post and New York Times, Tara Reade says Biden pinned her against a wall, put his hand under her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.
“It is untrue,” said Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “This absolutely did not happen.”
Perhaps your instinct is to believe her. After all, for all his famously handsy ways, Biden comes across more as a genial back slapper than a sexual predator. Then again, Bill Cosby came across as fatherly, Matt Lauer as a straight arrow, and we all know how those tales came out.
We won’t be getting into the weeds on this, except to note that, as is generally the case with alleged incidents like this, it is possible to find Reade’s account either credible or dubious depending on which pieces of the available evidence one chooses to give weight to. But it’s worth noting that the evidence Christine Blasey Ford brought against eventual Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was also frustratingly inconclusive.
And many of us certainly had no trouble believing her.
To believe Reade, however, is to raise a difficult question — at least for the political left: what do you do with that belief? What does it change?
Very little, apparently. Biden’s campaign has moved on from her accusations unscathed, picking up endorsements from Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The people who told us to “believe women” when they allege sexual assault have been conspicuously quiet. A Nexis search Thursday for Reade’s name found that it had appeared in U.S. newspapers only 50 times in the previous week — and 12 of those were in the Post and the Times.
Yes, this lack of attention is surely due in part to the fact that there’s a bigger story unfolding just now. But it’s hard not to suspect it also reflects a tacit decision to whistle past this particular graveyard. And it says something about these strange and fractured times that this may have been the smartest, and ultimately, even the most moral choice.
Consider that this fall, for surely the first time in history, both candidates for president will be men alleged to have committed sexual assault. Biden has been accused by one woman. Trump stands accused by about a dozen who say he groped their breasts and backsides and kissed them without permission. One says he raped her. In a notorious video, Trump bragged of sexually assaulting women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said.
This is not to mention his other awfulness, his stupidity, coarseness, narcissism, pettiness, lies, corruption and an incompetence that has helped unleash a deadly pandemic. Small wonder many of us consider Trump’s reelection incompatible with national survival.
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If Reade were sacrificed to the cause of preventing that, it would be painful and unfair, yet arguably defensible. Because if there are two evils here, Biden is much the lesser.
But let us at least admit, if only in the silence of individual conscience, that this is the calculation we’ve made, the terrible choice forced upon us by the exigencies of a fraught moment. We live now in paradox and emergency where, heaven help us, principle may have become a luxury too costly to afford.
So yes, Joe Biden stands accused of sexual assault and that’s truly appalling.
Vote Joe Biden for president.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
© 2020 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.