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.