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What Biden Has To Say

Joe Biden, Tara Reade, and double-standards.
April 28, 2020
What Biden Has To Say
MUSCATINE, IOWA - JANUARY 28: Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign town hall meeting at the Riverview Center January 28, 2020 in Muscatine, Iowa. The Iowa caucuses are February 3. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I have no idea if Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden are true. And, like Cathy Young, I think there are reasons to be skeptical. (You can read her deep dive into the facts here.)

But the story obviously is not going away and Joe Biden is going to have to address it directly . . . and soon.

We also need to have a conversation about double standards and hypocrisy.

As usual, there is a lot of bad faith at work here. The Bernie Bros seem anxious to use the allegations to derail Biden and resurrect Bernie’s moribund campaign. Some on the right, who have shrugged off Trump’s serial groping and pay-offs to porn stars, pretend to be indignant about Biden’s “creepiness.”

But there is a legitimate and urgent question here. Do we still believe all women? Or are we starting to realize how dangerous that slogan can be to the rights of the accused?

Does the presumption of innocence only extend to guys we like? Should we set a different standard for Biden than for Brett Kavanaugh? Because, make no mistake about it, the anger on the right is every bit as much about Kavanaugh as it is about what Biden may or may not have done to Reade.

And those critics have a point.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen how many conservatives have been willing to abandon long-held standards and norms when they proved to be politically inconvenient. But that should not blind the left and the media to their own propensity for double standards and moral shape-shifting.

For years, conservatives noticed that behavior which was a felony for conservatives was treated as a misdemeanor for liberals. Think about the 1990s and the shifting standard on sexual harassment, from Clarence Thomas to Bill Clinton.

This double standard has fed the contagion of whataboutism that hangs over our entire political culture. Donald Trump would likely not have survived the Access Hollywood tape if Bill Clinton had not survived his many allegations of sexual misconduct. Conservatives may have been less likely to rally to their guy if they had not watched Democrats change the level of tolerance for sexual harassment when it came to Clinton. These things create their own cycles.

So the issue right now is not just whether Biden committed the act, it is whether the story will be treated in a remotely consistent way. Will the allegations against Biden be accorded the same level of scrutiny as the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh? So far . . . not even close.

The editors at National Review call the coverage of Reade’s allegations “a national disgrace”:

We do not know whether the accusations that Tara Reade has leveled against Joe Biden are true or false. That is a question of evidence and of inquiry that might be answered as time rolls on. We do know, by contrast, that the double standard that has been exhibited by Biden’s campaign and by the political press in tandem is a national disgrace. Both culturally and legally, due process must be habitually applied to nobody or to everyone. If, upon the most frivolous and protean of pretexts, it is routinely accorded to one faction while being denied to another, it is effectively lost.

That is the key point here: Biden deserves the presumption of innocence, but so does everyone, even conservatives you may not like.

But what should we make of the charges themselves, especially now that we have that Larry King tape, and some corroboration from a neighbor?

The invaluable Cathy Young has written a remarkably balanced piece comparing the credibility of the charges against Kavanaugh and Biden: “A Tale of Two Scandals.” In both cases, she writes, there are problems with the credibility of the charges. But, she concedes, they “may, disturbingly, be true—but also leave so much room for doubt that any fair and reasonable fact-finder would have to find in favor of the accused not only under the stringent ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard, but under the very accuser-friendly ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard (which means that it’s at least slightly more likely than not that the accused committed the offense). Perhaps one lesson to learn here is that accusations from decades ago are almost impossible to handle fairly.”

However, there is no question that most of the media treated the accusations very differently. Biden was properly accorded the presumption of innocence. Kavanaugh, not so much. What’s more, in 2018, a number of mainstream pundits noted the hypocrisy of Kavanaugh taking umbrage at broad inquiries into his personal life despite the fact that in 1998, as part of Kenneth Starr’s prosecutorial team, he advocated extremely intrusive questioning of Bill Clinton about his sexual activities with Monica Lewinsky. Today, the issue of hypocrisy in Biden’s apparent “Believe women . . . except for my accuser” position has received little attention outside the conservative press.

The best-case scenario is that we will come out of this scandal with a new respect for the presumption of innocence and a new understanding that taking accusations seriously does not require automatically “believing” anyone, as opposed to examining the evidence and weighing the facts.

Unfortunately, a far more likely scenario is that we will continue to muddle down the road of partisan double standards.

You can (and should) read her whole piece here. 

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.