WeeklyWorker

15.05.2020
A thoroughly bankrupt political method

Inconvenient memory

Jim Creegan points to the hypocrisy of both those attacking Joe Biden over accusations of sexual abuse and those defending him

Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against Joe Biden are highly unlikely to cost him the Democratic nomination. But it is improbable that they will vanish from the news cycle between now and the November election - Donald Trump is sure to make political hay of them, untroubled as usual by the blatant hypocrisy involved in attacking anyone else for sexual misconduct.

Reade alleges that, when she was on his staff in 1993 at the age of 28, the senator from Delaware pushed her against a wall and penetrated her digitally. This is more solidly corroborated than the allegations levelled at Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in 2018. Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, claimed that he and another male high-school acquaintance attempted to rape her at a beer-sodden soirée in 1982. Her story was denied by Kavanaugh and his alleged accomplice, but corroborated by four affidavits, none of them contemporaneous. She testified before a highly contentious televised Senate hearing, after which Kavanaugh was confirmed by the upper chamber’s Republican majority.

Reade’s allegations, on the other hand, are now corroborated by two witnesses, who say Reade told them about the incident at the time: a friend who was contacted by reporters, but has chosen to remain anonymous; and Reade’s brother. Two additional persons confirmed that Reade referred to the episode a few years afterwards: a neighbour, in addition to a co-worker in the California state senator’s office, where Reade was later employed: this employee recalled Reade telling her that she had been sexually harassed by a senator for whom she had previously worked.

There are also two pieces of circumstantial evidence. Reade said that her mother, now deceased, had made an on-air phone call to a television talk show, alluding to the accusation. And, sure enough, a search of the archives of The Larry King show turned up a 1993 clip featuring a call from Reade’s mother, who related that her daughter had had problems with a “prominent senator” she worked for, but could not get anywhere with complaints to his staff, and had nowhere else to go but to the press, which she declined to contact out of respect for the senator. Furthermore, two interns from Biden’s office recollected that Reade suddenly ceased to be their supervisor, adding weight to her claim that she lost her job after filing an internal complaint.

There is also a supporting piece of documentary evidence. A 1996 divorce filing by Reade’s ex-husband does not name Biden or mention sexual assault; it does, however, say that Reade several times spoke of sexual harassment problems she was having when working in Biden’s office and that they had a traumatic effect on her.

From silence to cynicism

More politically significant than the accusation itself was the response it got from the major media. Reade’s story first broke on March 24 in The Intercept, a leftwing online publication, and Reade was interviewed shortly thereafter on several ‘alternative media’ outlets. But not until April 13 - fully 19 days later and well after Bernie Sanders had dropped out of the Democratic primaries - did the country’s leading dailies, The New York Times and The Washington Post, cover the story. During that interval, the major television networks, in addition to the Demoical crats’ cable-station stalwart, MSNBC, maintained an embarrassed silence. Only the station’s Republican counterpart, Fox News, and Newsweek magazine carried the story. By contrast, Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh were reported in all major media the same day they became public.

And what of female Democratic politicians, and the feminist organisations that are a mainstay of the Democratic base - the ones whose support for victims of sexual assault has always been fervent and categorical; the ones who shout from the rooftops that women must be believed at all costs, and have called for the resignation or firing of men accused of offences far less serious and thoroughly substantiated? Would they stand by another woman with the courage to confront a powerful man, even the one they hoped to elect? Or would they join Biden and his handlers in their inevitable resort to the ploy feminists so despise: attacking the motives and reputation of the accuser? Their first response was to look the other way and keep their mouths shut.

In January of this year, Reade went to Time’s Up, an organisation founded to help sexual-abuse survivors in the wake of the #MeToo movement, for funding and legal counsel. She was denied funding on the grounds the acceptance of a case against a candidate for federal office would threaten the group’s non-profit status - a claim legal experts have dismissed as false. It has been suggested that the decision may have had something to do with the fact that the head of the public relations firm hired by Time’s Up is a top advisor to the Biden campaign. Time’s Up did furnish Reade with a list of lawyers to contact, all of whom refused to take her case.

Among the first feminist public reactions - also following an extended silence - was that of Alyssa Milano, an actress closely associated with #MeToo. Having instantly tweeted her solidarity with Blasey Ford, and having appeared at an anti-Kavanaugh rally draped with a banner that read “Believe women”, Milano was now seized by a concern for due process. “I’ve been vocal about Biden and my support for him. I don’t feel comfortable about throwing away a decent man that I’ve known for 15 years … without there being a thorough investigation.”1

Then followed articles by liberal Democratic feminists Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times and Amanda Marcotte of Salon magazine. While not dismissing Reade’s allegations as necessarily untrue, both were emphatically undecided. They both asserted that Reade’s story had “changed over time” - a fact that Marcotte called a “red flag”. They were referring to the fact that Reade had joined a complaint about “inappropriate touching” levelled by eight women against Biden in April of 2019, without mentioning the assault, which Reade explained by her fear of the consequences - since including character assassination and death threats. Assault victims, according to psychologists, quite commonly show an initial reluctance to divulge their experiences fully.

Biden initially denied Reade’s charges through a campaign spokesperson. But after it became obvious that the story would not go away, his campaign went into full crisis mode. Its first line of defence was to call upon female Democratic elected officials to act as Biden’s surrogates. Nancy Pelosi, the majority leader and speaker of the House of Representatives, went on record as saying that, although women’s accusations deserved a hearing, she could not believe such things of a person as wonderful as Joe Biden. Stacy Abrams, a failed black ‘progressive’ candidate for governor of Georgia, who has been aggressively angling to become Biden’s vice-presidential pick, asserted her belief in his rectitude and credibility. She claimed that the New York Times had exonerated him in its initial report - which the Times denied.

Abrams was joined in her declaration of credulity by Kamala Harris, who ran for president in the Democratic primaries before rallying to Biden, and by Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York and former tobacco industry lobbyist - also an early primary candidate. As a self-proclaimed champion of women’s causes, Gillibrand had led the charge for the resignation of Democratic senator Al Franken from Minnesota, for posing in a gag photo of a sleeping actress on an airplane flight, with his hands covering, but not really touching, her breasts, and of kissing and touching other women without permission. Perhaps not unmindful of becoming his vice-president or a member of his cabinet, Elizabeth Warren also chimed in with her belief in Biden as the soul of integrity.

As media coverage of Reade’s story went mainstream, Biden came under increasing pressure to answer Reade’s charges directly. He did so on an MSNBC interview with Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew) on May 1. While categorically denying the allegations, Biden rebuffed a suggestion that he open his sealed Senate papers, archived at the University of Delaware, to a search for a written complaint Reade says she filed for sexual harassment (but not assault) years earlier.

The major media and some feminist Democrats have over the past couple of weeks shifted their stance from avoidance and denial to calling for further investigation, which the New York Times took the lead in urging.

Question of motive

In assessing accusations of this kind - sexual assault rarely being perpetrated in the presence of witnesses - the motives and reliability of the accuser are key. Reade appears politically naive, but her biography gives no hint of mental instability. In their predictable attempts to discredit her intentions, Biden’s defenders were quick to play the well-worn Russia card. They dredged up admiring remarks about Putin from Reade’s Twitter account in 2018. They also highlighted the fact that Reade supported Sanders in the Democratic primaries.

Alleged ulterior motives must have at least a semblance of plausibility. Are Reade’s doubters suggesting that she was in the employ of the Kremlin or of Trump? Or perhaps that she was part of a last-ditch manoeuvre by the Sanders campaign to deprive Biden of the nomination - one that involved concocting a lurid tale out of whole cloth and exposing her fabrications to the scrutiny (and obloquy) that would surely follow? Reade has, in fact, been very circumspect in matters of publicity, refusing an invitation to tell her story to Trump’s main television mouthpiece, Sean Hannity, on Fox News. She says she is a fourth-generation Democrat, who wishes to avoid being used by the Republican propaganda machine.

She finally allowed herself to be interviewed by the mainstream television journalist, Megyn Kelly, who is famous for asking Donald Trump, in a 2016 presidential debate, about his having described women as “pigs and dogs”, and who also endured sexual harassment at the hands of her employer, Roger Ailes, the late disgraced president of Fox News. Reade told Kelly that she would gladly consent to be examined under oath, and take a lie-detector test if Biden would do the same. She also said she thought Biden should withdraw from the presidential contest.

Readers may legitimately ask why so many pixels are being expended on a sex-abuse scandal during a time of worldwide pestilence and social disintegration. This writer does not share the belief that female accusers should always be taken at their word. Biden, moreover, is complicit in crimes far graver than the one Reade alleges, and feminist demands for explicit verbal consent and notions of “male toxicity” are often over the top. The significance of Reade’s testimony, however, is that it undermines the Democratic posture as defender of female and minority rights.

Sexual and racial oppression are an - often horrific - reality, concerning which no socialist should be complacent. But it is also important to understand how these issues are used by bourgeois liberals to protect the existing order. Class struggle challenges the foundations of capitalist society, while demands for racial and gender equality, which are not conjoined to a wider project of social emancipation, do not. Accentuating these causes thus gives Democrats an easy means of appearing ‘progressive’. It also allows the party to appeal to layers of middle class civil-rights leaders and feminists who have no intention of questioning capitalism, but rather desire a more equal place within it, and greater access to its upper echelons.

Joe Biden may not have recognised the value of bourgeois feminism when he voted for the Hyde amendment banning federal funding for abortions in 1976, or when, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, he refused to call witnesses that would have backed up Anita Hill’s sexual harassment charges against the far-right black Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, thus ensuring his confirmation. Now, however, Biden recognises the importance of living down his past record on women’s rights. He reacted to Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by saying she “should be given the benefit of the doubt”, and added: “... for a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets the facts.”2 He is now pledged to choose a woman for his vice-presidential running mate.

The Reade case is therefore important because it exposes Biden’s hypocrisy, and that of certain bourgeois feminists, who have no intention of letting self-professed principles stand between them and proximity to power.

An honest position is nevertheless open to women’s rights supporters who still intend to vote for Biden. They can argue that the single assault charge made against their candidate pales in comparison to the open misogyny and 25 sexual misconduct complaints that have been lodged against Donald Trump. Then there are all the other horrors of the Trump presidency. A long-time feminist writer, Linda Hirschman, makes precisely such an argument in a New York Times op ed: she exhorts women, on the basis of a purely utilitarian calculus, to “suck it up” and vote for Biden.3

Beyond issues of sexual abuse, this advice - “suck it up and vote for Biden” - could well serve as the slogan of all those ‘progressives’ - from Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed him, to the 80 founders and veterans of Students for a Democratic Society, who signed a letter urging the Democratic Socialists of America to do likewise. A future article will examine the reasons why such a slogan represents lesser-evilism in its most impoverished form.

Jim Creegan can be reached at:
egyptianarch@gmail.com


  1. . Interview with Milano quoted in Reason magazine by Bobby Soave, April 7.↩︎

  2. . Quoted in ‘Biden gave Christine Blasey Ford the “benefit of the doubt”’ The Washington Post; ‘Why not Tara Reade’, April 30.↩︎

  3. . The New York Times May 6.↩︎