We need to talk about Tara Reade (opinion)

No matter your political views, you must not ignore or dismiss Reade. Even though for many Americans the implications of her accusations are horrible, even though many of us fear this he-said-she-said case might destroy our country’s one chance to rid itself of President Donald Trump, we must not reflexively discredit her, or give Biden a pass, or look away.

We must always listen to women’s accounts of sexual assault. We must give them their due weight.

But listening to every woman doesn’t necessarily mean believing every woman. We can be skeptical of the accused — in this case a presumptive Democratic candidate for the highest position in the land — and his supporters, and demand a response to the allegations. Biden has now given one. We need to decide whether we believe him. In doing so we must also follow the facts.
And we should cast a wary eye at those who have a vested interest in promoting and tweeting about such accusations — whether they are Republicans, such as the Chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, and the President’s son, Don Jr. — or prominent supporters of Biden’s Democratic primary opponents (such as Bernie Sanders’ former campaign staffers), who spend more time saying we should honor Ms. Reade’s relatively thin allegations than they do demanding investigations into more than a dozen women who have credibly accused Trump of sexual harassment or worse (Trump denies those allegations.)
Many of those accusers bravely came forward early on, only to see him elected President — even after tape leaked in which he boasted of committing sexual assault.
Indeed, to deflect from his own sordid alleged track record with women as he pursued the presidency, candidate Trump reverted to a tactic familiar to anyone who has followed his career arc — he paraded Bill Clinton’s accusers, like props, at a press conference before a 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton.
With democracy, women’s rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, the economy, the climate, and public health at stake in November’s election, we would be remiss not to notice the similarity here — as the incumbent’s flaws are now transferred by his supporters onto the challenger.
It’s a gambit Trump and his supporters have used over and over: His children benefit from nepotism and graft … so you accuse Biden’s son of corruption. A growing number of women have accused Trump of everything from severe sexual harassment to rape. So, are we surprised to see Trump supporters pounce on Reade’s allegations as they to try to take down Biden and accuse him of sexual assault, especially in light of his commitment to naming a woman running mate?

Again, we don’t know what happened in this case; but we should assess reports and allegations with our eyes wide open. That means that even as our society belatedly begins giving accusers more support and credence, we must still vet each claim and ask the uncomfortable question of who stands to gain from it.

This means that just as we must not look away from the allegations against Biden, we also must not look away from the circuitous trajectory of Reade’s narrative, from her description last Spring of mere discomfort at him touching her neck when she worked for him nearly 30 years ago, to the relatively sudden claim that he digitally raped her back then.
A year ago, Reade had joined several other women in complaining about unwanted touching from Biden, a demonstrative man who says he has had to learn to rein in that impulse. But “in an interview with The Post at the time, she does not mention sexual assault, and she gives varying reasons for her departure from his office at other times,” according to a timeline of the Reade allegations by Amber Phillips in the Washington Post.
It was not until two months ago, when Biden was on a track for the nomination, that Reade expanded her allegations against him in a podcast interview. There are several very good reasons a woman might change her initial account of sexual harassment to something more serious — a strengthening conviction; a new courage. But a trip through the details in the timeline of Reade’s particular narrative gave me pause and made me wonder if that was what was at play here in this election year. Take a look for yourself.
There was also the odd occasion of Reade’s 2018 posting to Medium — since deleted — in which she publicly praised Vladimir Putin, who has poured so much time, energy and money into electing Donald Trump. She wrote, in part: “To President Putin, I say keep your eyes to the beautiful future and maybe, just maybe America will come to see Russia as I do, with eyes of love.” (Reade told Vox that “when she wrote the praise of Putin, she had ‘watched a bunch of Noam Chomsky’ and was working on a novel set in Russia.”)

Recall that Trump’s accusers have lost privacy, security and peace of mind by stepping into the light, while the accused has risen to vaunted heights. Meanwhile, the very factions trying to silence Trump’s accusers have cynically weaponized the #MeToo movement — and legitimate accounts of women’s victimization — to take down Democrats. Remember when Trump crony Roger Stone predicted that it would be former Sen. Al Franken’s “time in the barrel” before the first accuser ever stepped forward?

Republicans know that Democrats feel tethered to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct, so any Democratic public figure can be politically guillotined for almost any level of suspicion, as Al Franken was, while Republicans tolerate a President who has faced repeated allegations of sexual misbehavior and implemented policies harmful to women at every turn.
Just a couple of days ago, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, declared his party’s crusade to keep the Senate a “dog fight.” If that’s true, the fight to keep the White House is a bear fight, with Trump already clearly demonstrating there is no depth to which he won’t sink to maintain power. To save America, Democrats must preserve the sharp distinction between listening to every woman and believing every woman.

Discounting women’s valid claims leads to a society that rewards predators, exemplified by the one inhabiting the Oval Office, while reflexively and unthinkingly believing certain claims does its own damage to truth and justice.

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