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Joe Biden: Still Stronger Than You Think

Are Tara Reade’s allegations more like Christine Blasey Ford’s, or Julie Swetnick’s?
May 4, 2020
Joe Biden: Still Stronger Than You Think
(Art Hannah Yoest, photo Getty Images)

1. Biden

In December I asked “why is everyone sleeping on Joe Biden?”

It’s still happening. Over the weekend we saw two pieces advising Democrats to start preparing for a post-Biden election. The first was from Elizabeth Bruenig. The second from Ryan Cooper.

Here’s the part of Cooper’s piece that struck me:

[G]etting mad is not going to get Democrats out of their Biden fix. Only one thing can do that—pressuring Biden out of the race, and replacing him with someone else. . . .

The Democratic National Convention is not until August 17, and before then he could be pressured into dropping out. If Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, a critical mass of the rest of other Democratic elected officials, and all the various Democratic-aligned activists groups all said in unison that Biden was unfit to be president, and should drop out for the good of the party, he probably would withdraw. The primary rules regarding candidates who drop out are somewhat vague, saying that delegates cannot be “mandated” to vote for someone else, and “shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” But this would seem to allow Biden to instruct his delegates to support another candidate, and in 11 states there are specific rules for doing so. Realistically, no unclear legal technicalities are going to prevent someone else from getting the nomination if Biden refuses to take it.

Bernie Sanders would certainly be ruled out, despite the fact that he would have the second-most number of delegates. The entire point of the panicked scramble to endorse a clearly lousy candidate before Super Tuesday was to keep Sanders from winning.

The bold there is mine. Because Democrats are not in “a Biden fix.”

Let’s stipulate to a bunch of things about Joe Biden:

  • He’s old.
  • He isn’t the greatest public speaker.
  • He has the type of truth problems that you see with the median politician.
  • He has problems with the behavior of his son, Hunter.
  • He has this Tara Reade allegation hanging over his head.

All of those vulnerabilities are real. But he is most certainly not a “lousy candidate.” Over the last year Joe Biden:

  • Led the Democratic field from pole to pole.
  • Beat roughly two dozen other candidates—including last cycle’s runner-up—while being resource poor and getting almost no institutional support from the party apparatus.
  • Was the only candidate to hold a steady and statistically significant lead over the incumbent president both nationally and in battleground states.
  • Is currently on a track to win a landslide election in which Democrats widen their House margin and likely retake the Senate.

This ought to tell you that despite whatever your priors are on Biden—and it’s worth noting that both Bruenig and Cooper are long-time Bernie stans—he possesses some powerful advantages as a candidate.

We could argue about what these advantages are; my own suggestion is that they are tied uniquely to this moment and to the current president. I do not think that Biden would be in this position if he were running against, say, President Ted Cruz or President John Kasich.

But we are where we are.

While we’re here, one of the things that strikes me about the Tara Reade story is how many observers are trying to fit her into the frame of Brett Kavanaugh.

Yet people seem to forget that there were four allegations against Kavanaugh. And only one of them was credible.

Everyone remembers Christine Blasey Ford. But there were also allegations from Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, as well as a fourth allegation from Judy Munro-Leighton.

The Christine Blasey Ford allegations were credible: the manner in which they were raised, the details of the account (which included the presence of others), and the existence of at least one quasi-contemporaneous relation of the allegation. Also, she testified to the account under oath.

No one can know with total certainty whether or not Ford’s account was accurate, but it was credible enough to be examined and reasonable people could come to different conclusions about what had actually happened, even if no legal burden of proof could be met by the available testimony and evidence.

You cannot say the same for the other three allegations. The stories of Ramirez, Swetnick, and Munro-Leighton varied in their credibility, but none were even close to Blasey Ford’s in terms of meeting thresholds for potential believability.

The Ramirez allegation was the strongest of these three, but even this collapsed when contemporaneous accounts claimed that at the time, Ramirez herself was unsure whether or not Kavanaugh was the perpetrator.

The Swetnick allegation was so patently absurd that its implosion actually helped Kavanaugh by underlining for the public that not all women making accusations were on the level.

As for Munro-Leighton, she later admitted to making up her accusation against Kavanaugh.

What you see here is a wide spectrum of examples of credibility.

From a certain perspective, Reade’s allegation might look like Blasey Ford’s. Her quasi-contemporaneous relation of her story was closer to the event than Blasey Ford’s and named Biden (Blasey Ford’s was more ambiguous).

But in other respects, it looks more similar to the other three allegations. Reade:

Also, the timing of her change in story closely aligns with her strong support of Bernie Sanders. It’s possible that new evidence may emerge, but as of right now the Tara Reade allegations look more like the politically motivated actions of the other three Kavanaugh accusers.

2. Reopening

At some point—hopefully sooner rather than later—we’re going to start loosening lockdowns and groping out way toward a new normal.

But this will not be a “reopening” in any sense of the word. People who think that it will be—that it’s just a matter of flipping the switch so that the country can get back to work—think that the problem is just supply: Consumers are desperate to buy and do stuff and all we have to do is unlock the flow of goods and services and everything gets back to normal.

This is a superficial and ultimately mistaken understanding of what comes next. Because what we’re going to face is a demand problem: People are going to change many of their behaviors and live their lives the way they did pre-pandemic.

Here’s an example from over the weekend:

The first of 40 U.S. Bad Axe Throwing venues to reopen since widespread shelter-in-place orders were issued across the country was in Atlanta on Friday. Bad Axe CEO Mario Zelaya expected business to be bad, maybe 10% of the hundreds of customers he would expect to see throw axes and drink beer on a typical weekend. “That was the worst-case scenario, especially with all the marketing we did,” Zelaya said. “The reopening weekend was a disaster. We had two customers all weekend.”

You’re going to see a lot of this sort of thing.

What scares me—and should scare you—is that you don’t need a collapse of consumer demand to zero in order to create a catastrophe. There are lots and lots of businesses where even a 20 percent decline will mean unsustainability.

There’s a reason that Warren Buffett took his position in the airline industry to zero over the weekend. Because air travel is one of the sectors that is going to see demand crater no matter what any government’s official policies are.

And here’s what “normal” is going to look like for movie theaters:

EVO Entertainment in Texas plans to open two locations on Monday, employing “airport security-style check-in,” CEO Mitchell Roberts said. Guests will be ferried through a cordoned area in the front door, asked whether anyone in their household had flu symptoms in the last 14 days, and finally be subjected to an infrared temperature screening. The theater will turn away anyone with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees. . . .[I]n Oklahoma, one theater is getting ready to rock, with Circle Cinema installing plexiglass screens throughout the Tulsa venue. “We made a lot of changes,” owner Clark Wiens told Variety in an interview. “We want to find all we can so you would not have to have physical contact with anything in the theater, beside setting your posterior in the seat.”

As for the concessions, Wiens said his theater will provide paper salt packets, and change the butter dispenser so nobody has to touch anything. Wiens expects to reopen the arthouse theater some time between May 15 and June 1. As for the movies the theater will screen, that remains to be seen.

“We are getting a title from Sony Pictures Classics,” he said. “I don’t know the name. It won’t be ‘La La Land’ or ‘The Shape of Water.’ It will be more marginal.”

I love going to the movies a lot more than the average bear and I’m here to tell you that going through a cordoned off entrance to be screened for temperature to then sit in an auditorium with a large group of people and an unknown cleaning history is a hard pass.

I wouldn’t do it to see Black Widow—let alone a “marginal” film from Sony Pictures Classics. And I would bet a cookie that the percentage of theatergoers who share my view is > 20 percent.

All of which is the very long way of saying: The economic disruptions have only begun.

3. Neo-Nazis and the ’60s

Remember when people used to read Playboy for the articles?

I’d never seen this interview before Jane Coaston flagged it last week, but it’s a masterpiece. It’s from a 1966 issue of Playboy in which Alex Haley conducts a longform interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, who was the founder of the American Nazi Party. It’s amazing on about five different levels.

“Genocidal maniac!” “Barnum of the bigots!” These are among the more temperate epithets hurled regularly—along with eggs, paint, pop bottles, rocks and rotten vegetables—at George Lincoln Rockwell, self-appointed Führer of the American Nazi Party and self-styled messiah of white supremacy and intransigent anti-Semitism. Reveling in his carefully cultivated role as a racist bogeyman, he has earned—and openly enjoys—the dubious distinction of being perhaps the most universally detested public figure in America today; even the Ku Klux Klan, which shares his Jew-hating, segregationist convictions, has officially disowned and denounced him.

Until his rise to notoriety, however, like that of the pathological Austrian paper hanger whose nightmare dream of Aryan world conquest he still nurtures, Rockwell would have been first on anyone’s list of those least likely to succeed as a racist demagog—or even to become one. The older of two sons born to “Doc” Rockwell, an old-time vaudeville comic, he spent his childhood years being shuttled back and forth between his divorced parents’ homes—his mother’s place in rural Illinois and his father’s summer cottage on the coast of Maine, where he was dandled and indulged by Doc’s ever-present house guests (including such showbiz cronies as Fred Allen, Benny Goodman, Groucho Marx and Walter Winchell).

Rockwell entered Brown University in 1938 and quickly became known among the faculty as a practical-joking, insubordinate student of doubtful promise.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.