This is what we know: Joe Biden has behaved inappropriately with women on a number of occasions.  We also know that one of those occasions almost certainly occurred with Tara Reade in 1993.  What we don’t know is whether whatever Biden did with Reade was more than inappropriate—whether it rose to the level of sexual assault.  I agree with calls to investigate the 1993 incident, but the chances are that any such investigation will have an inconclusive outcome.  So, what will we do then?

I hate to consider the possibility that Biden actually assaulted Reade, but it’s impossible objectively to rule it out. There are several witnesses to her recounting an unpleasant encounter with Biden back around the time it happened.  So, let’s not kid ourselves: something happened.  What we don’t know is whether that something was what she now says it was.  There are enough inconsistencies in her various reports of the incident to raise reasonable doubts about her credibility.  There’s also a weirdness factor about Reade. As Linda La Tourneau reports, she has changed her name repeatedly over the years.  And then there’s her off-and-on infatuation with Vladimir Putin.  Here’s Reade writing about Putin in 2018: “President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity.”  And in 2020, when she first publicly raised the assault allegation against Biden: “When the anti-Russia, anti-Putin propaganda starts up, personally, I shut down….I like President Putin…a lot, his shirt on or shirt off.” As Michele Goldberg put it, Reade “seems almost engineered in a lab to inspire skepticism….”

So, who to believe—Biden or Reade?  I don’t see any basis for answering that question with a very high degree of confidence one way or another. Some critics on both the right and left suggest that the Dems should  ditch Biden.  After all, Democrats weren’t willing to give Brett Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt in the accusation against him—isn’t it hypocritical now to defend Biden?  But that question assumes that the case against Biden is roughly as strong as was the case against Kavanaugh.  It’s not. Tara Reade is no Christine Blasey Ford, whose account arguably fell short only because of her inability to remember details. In my judgment, the Ford accusation against Kavanaugh was very probably true. I think that the Reade accusation might possibly be true. There is a big difference between “might possibly” and “very probably.”  Biden gets the benefit of the doubt if only because the doubt is that much greater than was the doubt in the Kavanaugh case. I would be more comfortable if the gap were even greater than it is, but politics, like the rest of life, is messy. We don’t always get to operate within our zones of comfort.

One good thing that hopefully will come out of this mess is the demise of the @MeToo slogan “Believe women!”  That slogan represents an overcorrection for the historic tendency to downplay women’s charges of male sexual misconduct.  It suggests a fixed presumption in favor of the accuser. That’s just wrong.


In writing my post I had overlooked this excellent article, which is the best single inventory I’ve seen of all the reasons to doubt Tara Reade’s account.  So, I’m downgrading my assessment of the truthfulness of her sexual assault claim from “possibly” to “probably not.” I am now quite comfortable with the gap between her credibility and Blasey Ford’s.


One comment

  1. Jeffrey Herrmann May 4, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    In the absence of eye witnesses we have to judge who is telling the truth based on circumstantial evidence, such as the character of each person, their reputations for veracity, the existence or non-existence of similar occurrences, etc.
    First, if in fact she made these same allegations to friends back in 1993, it is NOT corroboration of their truthfulness. Liars repeat their lies to multiple people; fantasists repeat their fantasies to multiple people; truth-tellers repeat their stories to multiple people. You can not infer the truth of an utterance form the fact, if it is a fact, that it was spoken multiple times. Repetition does not prove the truthfulness of the speaker.
    Second, there is no similarity between unwanted kissing or hugging and unconsensually digitally penetrating a woman’s vagina. Vastly more men have engaged in unwanted kissing or hugging and never digitally raped any woman than the number of men who have done both. It is quite possible that there are men who digitally rape women but never hug or kiss them. Having engaged in unwanted kissing or hugging does NOT suggest that a person has also committed digital rape.
    Third, and this is so far uncorroborated as well as denied by Reade, she has been accused of several acts of dishonest behavior including procuring about $1,400 worth of veterinary services for a horse she had been given but having the veterinarian bill and collect from a non-profit for which she had volunteered and from which she was asked to leave. The head of the non-profit has produced some documentary support for this, but it is not conclusive. It is also alleged Reade sought to hide her car on the non-profit’s ranch to conceal it from a repossessor. She would appear to be in dire financial straights. Reade says all this is false and slanderous. If true, it would bear on her veracity.
    Fourth, many articles have documented instances of Reade saying things only to contradict them later. For example, in 2017 she repeatedly praised Joe Biden for opposing sexual assault. That, in my opinion, casts doubt on her veracity and credibility.
    On balance, I think Joe Biden did not commit the alleged acts that would constitute sexual assault.

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