I was sad for a lot of reasons when former Vice President Joe Biden emerged as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
I had supported Elizabeth Warren and would have enthusiastically voted for Bernie Sanders. They have big ideas, passion and an unquestionable commitment to making life better for working people. Biden feels like a page from the past.
Democratic voters are angry, exhausted and appalled by the presidency of Donald Trump. As the primaries wore on, they sought refuge in the comfortable, the familiar. They wanted a return to sanity, not a revolution. Like an old slipper, Biden felt just right to a lot of voters.
Unfortunately, the world soon went into shutdown mode, and took the American presidential campaign with it. Biden virtually disappeared from view as the coronavirus turned life upside down, and President Trump turned his daily news briefings into the marathon campaign rallies he craves.
And then Tara Reade stepped forward to claim that Biden sexually assaulted her nearly 30 years ago when she was a low-level staffer in his Senate office, and suddenly Biden was back in the spotlight, though not for reasons any candidate would desire.
On Friday, under pressure from women’s groups, editorial boards and supporters, Biden made his first high-profile TV appearance in what seemed like forever. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he vehemently denied assaulting Reade.
“I am saying unequivocally it never, never happened, and it didn’t,” Biden told co-host Mika Brzezinski. “It never happened.”
Reade has said she filed a contemporaneous complaint with a congressional personnel office about harassment, though it did not mention the alleged assault. Biden has called on the National Archives to examine its files from the period, and to release anything pertaining to her allegation.
"If there is a complaint, that’s where it would be,” he said. “That’s where it would be filed.”
Brzezinski also pressed Biden about his personal papers at the University of Delaware, which are sealed until two years after he leaves public life.
Why, she wondered, couldn’t Biden just comb through those records looking for mentions of Reade, who says Biden’s former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, took notes during a meeting where she complained about Biden making her uncomfortable. (He has said he has no memory of any such meeting.)
Biden seemed befuddled by the question. “Look, I mean, who does that search?” he asked. He expressed concern about confidential conversations with President Obama and world leaders in the files, and said they don't contain personnel records, reiterating that those would have gone to the National Archives.
Biden, a U.S. senator for 36 years before becoming Barack Obama's vice president for eight years, does not seem like the kind of man who would pin a young staffer against a cold wall in a Capitol Hill hallway and penetrate her with his fingers. But the MeToo movement has shown, all too depressingly, that the only common denominator among men who harass and abuse women in the workplace is that they crave power.
It’s true that Biden has had trouble keeping his hands to himself, and sort of apologized after he was finally taken to task last year. But every other complainant to date has accused him of being a creepy space invader, not a rapist. Unlike with Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by at least a dozen women, there’s no pattern here.
Still, I take Reade seriously. I have to. Imagine what a woman has to lose by stepping forward like this. Anita Hill was savaged when she testified that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers, received death threats.
Over the years, Reade has given various accounts of her alleged assault, and they have changed and become more graphic over time. A year ago, when a handful of women came forward to complain about Biden's unwanted touching, Reade told the New York Times that he had "publicly stroked her neck, wrapped his fingers in her hair and touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable." She did not make the more serious assault allegation until this spring.
Still, two of her friends, who have allowed themselves to be identified in news reports, have said Reade told them Biden assaulted her a couple of years after it allegedly occurred. One, Lynda LaCasse, said she nevertheless plans to vote for Biden.
In a 1993 clip unearthed by the Intercept, a woman who has been identified as Reade’s late mother called in to Larry King's talk show with a vague complaint. The woman said her daughter had worked “for a prominent senator and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.”
Reade told Business Insider that when she worked in Biden’s office, she was told she dressed too provocatively, and that she was asked to serve drinks at a fundraiser because “Biden liked her legs.”
We will never know whether Reade is telling the whole truth or has embellished a partial truth. I think it's entirely plausible that she left Biden's employ in unhappy circumstances, that she did not like the way she was treated and, like other women, had physical interactions with him that left her feeling yucky. But a rape in a public Senate hallway? It seems implausible, and I struggle with that.
In the meantime, for those of us who believe it is too late to revive the campaign of Bernie Sanders, or that it would be folly to get behind a third-party candidate — no thanks, Justin Amash — it’s important to think about the allegations in the context of the upcoming presidential election.
You hear a lot from these folks (and often from Biden himself) about Biden’s integrity. People talk about his empathy, his humanity and the stunning amount of personal pain and loss he has endured.
And while that is all true, we cannot overlook his flaws: He was accused of plagiarism in law school. In 1988, when he first sought the Democratic presidential nomination, he was forced to drop out after he was caught plagiarizing British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock’s speeches about his hardscrabble upbringing. He turned a blind eye to his son Hunter’s sleazy exploitation of the family name.
And now he is fending off a terrible accusation, which he has handled with something approaching grace, if not full transparency.
He's not perfect, but he's not Donald Trump. If Biden is elected, he will surely begin to mend this broken country, renew our standing in the world, stop the demonization of immigrants, expand access to healthcare, appoint judges who put people over corporations and try to save us all from climate change.
Which, at this particular moment in history, is good enough for me.