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Hypocrisy, Cynicism and Tara Reade

Four years after Tara Reade briefly worked as a staffer for then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden, I occupied a similar office in the same town. The summer of 1997 saw me tucked into one of a few polyester suits purchased off the clearance rack at Benetton, a pink “I-badge” hanging from my neck, heading for the Old Executive Office Building, where I worked as a White House intern. Through his Democratic Party connections, my father had arranged for me to spend the summer cooped up with Bill Clinton’s speechwriters.

I learned a lot that summer, but very different things than I’d hoped. I learned that D.C. staffers, interns and even chiefs of staff worship the men and women they serve with a desperation I have not seen equaled since. And I learned that the men in high office—D.C.’s version of Hollywood stars—often come to believe they are as god-like as the underlings tell them they are.

One morning, we interns were called together quite suddenly for an urgent talk, delivered by the woman who headed the internship program. She scolded us for seeking out opportunities to meet the President. She said we were not to act like groupies. In fact, if we saw Bill Clinton coming down the hall, we should turn heel and scurry back inside our offices. She reminded us to act like professionals and—swerving her speech toward the young women of the group—admonished us against wearing provocative clothing.

I found myself in line for the bathroom soon after. The college co-ed in line ahead of me turned her pretty black curls to face me: “I wonder what short-skirted vixen stole her man,” she said. It would be another six months before any of us would hear the name “Monica.”

Taking advantage of female staffers and interns seems to have been rampant practice among powerful men on Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill in the 1990s. A year before Reade worked for Biden, Republican Senator Bob Packwood was forced to resign after 19 women—19 women—came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, most of them staffers who’d worked for him. They were divorced women, women with children, secretaries who needed the job. Packwood later wrote in his personal diaries that there were “22 staff members I’d made love to and probably 75 others I’ve had a passionate relationship with.” Amazing how passionate a woman can be when the children at home depend on her paycheck.

Which doesn’t mean that every staffer who claims she was sexually harassed or assaulted ought to be believed, Tara Reade included. “Believe all women” was always a silly idea—almost as ridiculous as the current spectacle of Democrats scrambling to disavow it.

“’Believe All Women’ does have an asterisk,” Susan Faludi recently wrote in The New York Times, in reference to a slogan popularized during the rise of #MeToo. “It’s never been feminist boilerplate.” In fact, Faludi explains, “believe all women” was merely a strawman that conservatives constructed to ridicule and undermine the #MeToo movement, to trap feminists in hypocrisy when they predictably failed to ‘believe’ women who accused prominent liberal men. According to Faludi, feminists on the left never cried “believe all women.” We all know some women are untrustworthy.

“This is why the preferred hashtag of the #MeToo movement is #BelieveWomen. It’s different without the ‘all.’ Believing women is simply the rejoinder to the ancient practice of #DoubtWomen,” she writes.

It’s an interesting argument—ridiculous on its face, but perhaps pointing to important truths.

As a linguistic matter, there is no doubt that “believe women”  means  “believe  all  women”—just as “disbelieve women” means “disbelieve all women.” If “believe women” meant only “believe some women,” it would be too obvious to mention. Who would need to be told that some women’s accusations were worthy of credence? If the pledge meant only “believe those women with ironclad, corroborated claims,” it would be unnecessary. The belief would come naturally, following the evidence.

Indeed, “believe some women” is an edict as old as time, when it comes to claims of sexual assault. In the Book of Samuel, it meant believe your sister or daughter, Tamar. In other times, it meant believe white women, however untrustworthy their claims. A great many innocent American black men were lynched as a result of the evil application of this imperative.

In any case, as David French points out, whether the slogan was “believe all women” or just “believe women,” many supporters of #MeToo seem to have interpreted it as the former. National Public Radio tweeted on February 7, 2018: “‘Believe all women’ has been the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement—a mantra embraced by some but dismissed by others as naïve.” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney tweeted on September 26, 2018: “We stand with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, & Julie Swetnick. #BelieveAllWomen @HouseDemocrats.”

But it’s also true that those who sought to ridicule such cant tended to use the more capacious formulation in order to expose it as nonsense: How could one even “believe all women”? Maddeningly, women themselves do not always agree. Very often, there is a Christine Blasey Ford, and also a Leland Keyser. The attempt to believe contradictory claims by various women at the same time can only end unhappily, in paradox.

I would venture that many Democrats who will nonetheless vote for Biden do believe Tara Reade’s accusations—or at least some portion of her story. The era was right, and so was the guy: Joe Biden is famously “handsy.” No eyewitnesses corroborate the event, but then, that is the norm with sexual assault. And unlike Christine Blasey Ford, who had no one confirm that she spoke of the alleged event at the time, several people have said that Reade told them about bad experiences at her job soon after the assault allegedly happened—including her neighbor, Lynda LaCasse (who intends to vote for Biden anyway), an unnamed friend interviewed by journalists, and even perhaps her mother, who appears to have called in to Larry King Live on August 11, 1993, five days after her daughter left Biden’s office. Reade’s ex-husband referred to her sexual harassment in Biden’s office in their 1996 divorce proceedings.

The PBS NewsHour story by Daniel Bush and Lisa Disjardins, based on interviews with 74 former Biden staffers (62 of them female), claims the conduct alleged by Reade, in the words of Cathy Young, “was dramatically at odds with Biden’s usual behavior.” In the years after Monica, would it surprise us if politicians, Biden included, began cleaning up their formerly messy acts? Bill Clinton, as beloved a Democratic president as America had seen in generations, provided this object lesson for every man in high office: If even Teflon Bill met disgrace for having fooled around with the interns, mere mortals didn’t stand a chance.

Turning to Reade herself: She is no ideal accuser designed by political consultants; she’s a real person with a messy biography. Reade seems to have been plagued by money troubles; always pleading for rent breaks or failing to pay on time. A trail of excuses and lies follow her—about when she would pay, and whether she had the credentials for a job. They mark her as irresponsible, unlucky and just beaten down. But those who still believe her might argue that these are precisely the sort of circumstances that would lead a man to think he could exploit her without repercussion. Who would stand in her corner?

It’s hard to miss the classism that inheres in our current discussion of these weaponized claims of sexual assault. Several media outlets have published the comment by Ben Savage, who worked closely with Reade at the time, that she “just didn’t seem to fit into office culture.” Among that battalion of shellacked Ivy Leaguers, all of them outfitted with a patina of perfection, how many would?

Last week, it was reported that Reade had misrepresented her educational background, though that, too, might be excused by her remaining defenders as something that might be resorted to by a single mom struggling to make ends meet. In the real world, women who get assaulted often don’t lead pristine lives. They mark themselves as prey in so many ways they don’t intend, which doesn’t mean they don’t deserve our support.

Perhaps this is what “#BelieveWomen” was getting at—not what Faludi claims, that it was a rejoinder to the “ancient practice” of disbelieving women. “Believe women” frames a woman’s account as an “admission against interest,” to quote the rules of evidence—a story likely to be credible, because who but the truthful would disclose it?

Bringing such claims forward involves a loss so significant—in privacy and dignity—that it merits a presumption in a woman’s favor. Perhaps #BelieveWomen was—or should have been—a reminder that when women make these claims, it is usually because something bad happened to them.

Usually, but not always. And here we need to introduce the “election-year moment”—the identical twin of the “Supreme Court confirmation” exception. In these dramatic and fraught national psychodramas, where women are breathlessly lectured that so-and-so’s election or confirmation will inexorably lead to back-alley deaths and women-as-chattels under the law, there are alternative explanations as to why a woman might falsely accuse a man.

And let’s not forget the allure of celebrity granted to women who make accusations at these particular moments. Few remember the name of Matt Lauer’s main accuser. But everyone knows the name “Christine Blasey Ford,” startup feminist icon. The “Believe Women” presumption, in the case of a high-profile nominee from the other political party, may not apply.

This does not exonerate those feminists who refused to stand with Tara Reade from the start—a cynical, hypocritical move if ever there was one. But perhaps it gets us to the right result. Perhaps allegations of sexual assault from 27 years ago, even if plausible, are not enough reason to deny one’s vote to a man who’s otherwise treated female staff decently over a long career.

Perhaps, given the stakes, you examine the moral bank account of a candidate: so many deposits and withdrawals. You weigh a serious, unproven accusation against everything else you know about a man. Feminists never extended this courtesy to Kavanaugh—who had a nearly forty-year track record of treating women kindly, against a vague episode alleged to have occurred when he was seventeen. Listen to Tara Reade, but also, listen to the many others (like Meghan McCain) who vouch for Joe as a very good man.

And perhaps the woman who delivered that tough talk about short skirts to our intern class all those years ago wasn’t merely protecting her boss, whose swiveling head was so easily spun. She wasn’t only thinking of the young women in front of her either, all of us more pliable than we wished to believe. Whether she fully realized it or not, she was looking out for a country that had made it through the Nixon years while still managing to regard its presidents, not as priests, but not as a class of scoundrels either. A country that could still be addressed from the Oval Office and feel a measure of pride, and look upon the pristine architecture of that very White House with something approximating hope.

 

Abigail Shrier is author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, forthcoming in June. Follow her on Twitter at @AbigailShrier.

 

 

Comments

  1. #BelieveWomen was—or should have been—a reminder that when women make these claims, it is usually because something bad happened to them.
    Usually, but not always.

    No, not always but it was originally just a twitter hashtag which hardly lends itself to caveats or depth.
    More relevant here is that political smearing has been around a lot longer than hashtags. ‘Believe women’ is just the latest brand of car both sides of the political spectrum are driving their agendas around in. What was essentially a call for allegations of sexual harassment to be taken seriously has now been politically weaponised in its literal form on both sides. One side names & shames the other side counters ‘believe’ is only about the death of due process.
    Of course it can be milked any which way but at the end of the day the exploitation by some won’t change the reality that there is a very real demand & value in taking grave allegations seriously.

  2. A pleasantly balanced article that shows how a better way of dealing with this kind of accusation could look like, for the benefit of all people, whether men or women.

    Perhaps, given the stakes, you examine the moral bank account of a candidate: so many deposits and withdrawals. You weigh a serious, unproven accusation against everything else you know about a man.

    An excellent suggestion, which I fully support.


    That having said, I am not going to judge Joe Biden on the Tara Reade story. But unfortunately in his moral bank account he has other, much larger and completely undeniable withdrawals.

    Most notorious is the redefinition of sexual consent on campus under Title IX, which denies a fair trial to all young men accused of rape. An atrocity of which he is even proud and which he wants to continue and expand on as president.

    Moreover, he seems so immersed in his identity politics that he does not even shy away from dictating skin color to people according to their voting behavior. Is this the mindset that should guide our future? Seriously, what kind of sick thinking is showing here?

    It is utterly embarrassing that such a person is the best candidate the Democrats can find.

  3. Perhaps, given the stakes, you examine the moral bank account of a candidate: so many deposits and withdrawals. You weigh a serious, unproven accusation against everything else you know about a man. Feminists never extended this courtesy to Kavanaugh—who had a nearly forty-year track record of treating women kindly, against a vague episode alleged to have occurred when he was seventeen. Listen to Tara Reade, but also, listen to the many others (like Meghan McCain) who vouch for Joe as a very good man.

    How about looking at the candidate’s record and platform when making your decisions at the polls? Is that too outre? Crazy, right?

    (Meghan McCain? Seriously?)

  4. As a linguistic matter, there is no doubt that “believe women” means “believe all women”—just as “disbelieve women” means “disbelieve all women.” If “believe women” meant only “believe some women,” it would be too obvious to mention. Who would need to be told that some women’s accusations were worthy of credence? If the pledge meant only “believe those women with ironclad, corroborated claims,” it would be unnecessary. The belief would come naturally, following the evidence.

    I do have some doubts. When you hear something like “Women are uninterested in engineering” , it rarely means that the person saying it doesn’t believe in exceptions (All women are uninterested in engineering). Neither does it mean that “Some women are uninterested in engineering”, which would indeed be too obvious to mention. The word “women” in such cases has statistical connotations. If you’d respond to such a generalizing statement by pointing out that that’s not true for all women, people will roll their eyes at you as that is also considered too obvious to mention explicitly.

    (I am not interested in getting drawn into a partisan battle over this as I haven’t followed the movement at all, I just took issue with this part as a “linguistic matter”.)

  5. I note that the Guardian article accuses British police of underreporting rapes.

    I am inclined to believe it. In fact, haven’t there been suspicions for years that British police have been underreporting many types of major crimes, cooking the books, so to speak, and allowing Her Majesty’s Government to crow that Britain incarcerates a much smaller percentage of its population than the US?

    The Pakistani pedophile rape gang in Rochdale, for instance?

  6. Of the more than 4,900 audited rape reports, 552 were found to be inaccurate.

    So 11% were found to have “inaccuracies”.

    The inaccuracies in recording can range from incomplete paperwork to not recording a report of rape as a crime but noting it as an incident.

    Incomplete paperwork, WOW.

    Now why would people record something as an incident rather then a crime?

    Recorded rape has more than doubled since 2013-14 to 58,657 cases in 2018-19. However, police are referring fewer cases for prosecution and the [CPS is charging, prosecuting and winning fewer cases]. The number of cases resulting in a conviction is lower than it was more than a decade ago.

    The Guardian reported in September 2018 that senior staff at the CPS had urged prosecutors to take the “weak cases out of the system”, in order to improve its conviction rate for rape.

    So attempts to classify non-rapes as rapes lead to a lot of investigations that go nowhere and don’t end in conviction. Its almost like the cops of the spot have a pretty good deal for what is rape versus an “incident”.

    Inspections of police forces also found that vulnerable women, including those with mental health issues, addiction issues, or those reporting rape in a domestic abuse situation or who had been trafficked into prostitution were particularly at risk of having their cases ignored by police in a number of forces.

    I can believe that low class women being used as prostitutes by brown pimps is getting under reported.

    I can believe black college stars that can throw a football can get away with rape.

    But let’s get real about what #MeToo is about. It’s about whether the college educated white cis male rule following set is committing a bunch of rape against white cis females college grads. It’s not about Pakistani harems of underclass white trash. #MeToo doesn’t touch that. And I don’t believe that there is some epidemic of rape on campus or in the conference room.

  7. I would submit that rape and sexual assault cases should be taken neither seriously or lightly but based upon the evidence at hand. Dubious claims should be taken lightly unless more evidence arises. Other claims may require additional information. Some claims will have enough evidence to justify immediate action. In other words not all rape and sexual assault claims are created equal and therefore any uniform response either totally serious or overtly light will produce injustices. Rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated without physical harm or threat of physical harm begin as she said, he said, therefore additional proof may be be required and credibility of the parties must be assessed.

  8. Perhaps, given the stakes, you examine the moral bank account of a candidate: so many deposits and withdrawals. You weigh a serious, unproven accusation against everything else you know about a man.

    Fair advice indeed.

    However one of the things we “know about a man” is the level of evidence Biden believes should end a persons career once they have been accused. He was very articulate about this during the Kavanagh debacle.

    Therefore one can easily sidestep a detailed analysis of the life and times of Tara Reade and instead just apply the mans principles to the man. And under these principles Biden is clearly guilty.

    Its simple, its easy, and it is actually very fair.

  9. Actual rape and sexual harassment victims are also harmed by previous false accusations. Additionally law enforcement resources are wasted. If a case can be made beyond a reasonable doubt that someone maliciously made a false accusation of rape or sexual harassment, that person should be prosecuted and subject to penalties one grade lower than penalties prescribed for the underlying false charge. This is not to say prosecute the victim when the jury comes back “not guilty” or cases of mistaken identity proven through DNA. Rather cases where after investigation law enforcement determines the accuser is lying and believes it can so prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Think Jussie Smolett; he was taken seriously until his charade was exposed.

  10. You are correct, however I am not making the case that if someone is inconsistent in any way they are therefore unfit for office.

    What I do believe is that if someone judges another person by a set of standards, its fair to judge them by those same standards.

    That is not a partisan belief. Show me a Family Values Republican caught in the Men’s room with another man, or helping get an abortion for his mistress, and you will find my position remains unchanged. I will judge him unfit for office. There is a difference between bowing to the political winds, and utter rank hypocrisy.

    Now if Biden admitted he was wrong, that would be a different story. But he is not doing that. Take your Obama and Hillary examples. They both changed their position. Obama never said “Oh no, I never once said I believe marriage is only between a man and a woman and any video you have otherwise is all taken out of context”.

    However that is what Biden is doing.

  11. Yes, although in large part that is because there is no proof for the actual thing he has been accused of. I could believe he is totally innocent, or completely guilty. I literally have nothing at all I can use to make that determination. Being a jerk doesn’t mean she is making up false accusation, and being “handsy” doesn’t make him a rapist. I have nothing here I can use to make a decision beyond my own bias.

    However there is plenty of proof for the charge of “hypocrisy”. So its not surprising that it would be the focus.

  12. My problem with Biden is not that he said this, but that he obviously thinks in this sick way. The apology does not imply that he has changed his inner attitude in the slightest.

    Certainly not. No disagreement here.

    I agree with you mostly here, but this is not only about the character of the leader, but also about his political objectives. More often than not, elections are about choosing the lesser of two evils, which Biden convincingly refuses to be.

    As I said, this is not just about the two of them, but above all about the policies they represent. And if a binary decision is forced upon me in a war of identity politics, I would never support the side that considers me an enemy.

    Funnily enough, that’s not true. My sympathies were with Berny Sanders, in my opinion by far the only candidate with personal integrity and a genuine interest in a better world. Even if some of his political concepts were too socialist for my taste, his honest abhorrence of the divisive identity politics would already have qualified him and could have helped heal a divided society.

    Many probably will do just that. Given the aforementioned problems with Biden, I should hope that his supporters will feel the same the other way round?

  13. I love these voices of moderation posts where both sides are bad but the other side is always worse. Now isn’t that bipartisan?

    Now I will concede that Trump can be extremely divisive but the most? Trump’s snide obnoxious comments are generally directed at other politicians, person of power or celebrity. In short he targets people who desire to climb into the ring, not typical citizens or voters. Unlike democrats who classify half of the country as deplorable, look down their noses at mothers who stay at home and bake cookies or pick on Joe the plumber. Democrats, the so called party of the people, have become the party of Marie Antoinette or in the case of Nancy Pelosi “let them eat ice cream!” But hey those republicans are out of touch too. It is only that the democrats are worse.

  14. He even acknowledges this only works because of the implicit threat that someone may be feeding the dog something harmful. Hence why “they wont like it”.

    She overreacted, however by his own admission he was threatening her dog. The implicit threat was exactly what he relies on to get people to change their behavior.

  15. Indeed, it’s 2020 & yet domestic & sexual violence are still quite the problems.

    They always will be: the reasonable aim is to diminish them, not ‘zero tolerance’. The latter is a nasty authoritarian concept.

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