Friday, May 01, 2020

Joe Biden's Problem

I try not to out-right steal other people's writing, but Jeffrey Billman is making it hard for me. I get his daily Indy Week email, which has become indispensable for keeping up with any number of North Carolina and national storylines.

"Joe Biden's Self Quarantine"
Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer, April 30, 2020
I saw Joe Biden on TV this morning categorically denying the Tara Reade sexual assault allegations, and I noticed Kevin Sier's editorial cartoon in the Charlotte Observer. So I naturally went right to that section of Billman's daily email that headlined this:


And absorbed a long, long piece that turned over every piece of evidence with just the right mixture of skepticism and open-mindedness:
For a month or so, Joe Biden’s campaign acted as though Tara Reade’s allegation that he had—how to put this politely—digitally penetrated her against her will in 1993 would go away on its own....
Then, in mid-April, the major national newspapers dug in, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
A former intern for another lawmaker told both papers that Reade had told her about the assault at the time, but she declined to go on the record.
Reade said she told her mother about the assault, but her mother was dead.
Another friend told the NYT that Reade had told her in 2008 that Biden touched her inappropriately and that she’s had a traumatic experience working in his office.
Reade’s brother had this curious exchange with WaPo: “In another recent interview, Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, said she told him in 1993 that Biden had behaved inappropriately by touching her neck and shoulders. … Several days after that interview, he said in a text message that he recalled her telling him that Biden had put his hand ‘under her clothes.’ ”
All in all: Not good for Biden, but not fatal. So long as another shoe didn’t drop.
Then a shoe dropped. Not, like, a size-12 Doc Martin. More like a size-4 slipper. Reade had said that, after she told her mother about the assault, her mother had called in to Larry King’s CNN show. Last weekend, someone dug up a recording.
“In a Larry King Live segment that aired on August 11, 1993, on CNN, an unnamed woman calls in to the show with her location identified on the screen as San Luis Obispo, California. The show was about the cutthroat nature of Washington, DC, politics and media. ‘Yes, hello. I'm wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?’ she asks. ‘My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.’ ”
“The woman does not mention sexual assault or harassment, nor does she describe in any detail what ‘problems’ she might be referring to. Her daughter’s name and Biden's are also not mentioned. In a phone interview with CNN Friday night, Reade told CNN that she is certain the voice in the video belongs to her mother, Jeanette Altimus, who died a few years ago.”
And then another shoe, this one a little more impactful. A former neighbor of Reade’s told Business Insider that in the mid-1990s Reade had told her about the assault, and another former coworker said that Reade told her that she’d been sexually harassed and then fired when she complained about it....

I appreciate Billman's summary of the action thus far, which seems fair and fairly complete, because I wasn't likely to go search it all out for myself. So I'm thankful for his work.

Billman also spends a good deal of space on Republican charges that Democrats are hypocrites. I get that. I certainly do. And don't relish the charge. Uncannily, Billman exactly captures the mental gymnastics many of us fall back on when accused of hypocrisy:
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Assume Biden is innocent. (If you want to read a former federal prosecutor throwing shade on Reade’s allegations, here you go.) What can Biden possibly say? Reade’s allegation is unprovable; it’s also unfalsifiable. She can’t give a date or location where this happened—things that would allow Biden to show he was somewhere else.
So you say, “These allegations aren’t true.” Then what? If you attack Reade, you’ll be accused of doing what Republicans did to Christine Blasey-Ford. You’re stuck with “believe all women, just not this one.”
It’s a no-win scenario for even the deftest and most innocent politician. Biden certainly isn’t the former; the latter … well, continue reading.
HYPOCRITE: There are dueling thoughts I’ve been wrestling with this week: 1) Instinctively, I don’t think Biden did it. 2) I know that I think that because I don’t want to think that he did it.
It’s not because I’m a Biden fanboy; he wasn’t my choice in the primary (Warren). It’s not because he’s on my “team”; my “team” is thinking Donald Trump poses a threat to American democracy. If Biden got replaced between now and November, pretty much anyone (ahem, Warren) would be fine.
It’s because, as boringly generic and sometimes infuriatingly terrible as his politics are, Biden always struck me as an earnest, genuinely decent guy. OK, so, the Anita Hill hearing was not his finest hour. And his habit of invading women’s personal space is gross, but even that didn’t seem ill-intentioned so much as geezer-is-out-of-touch. I’ve known men like that—empathetic, affectionate, maybe a first-rate bullshitter, but not a predator.
My gut didn’t give Kavanaugh the same benefit of the doubt, not for a second. I’ve known men like him, too—children of privilege, self-important and self-righteous, feigning indignancy and projecting rage. It’s not hard to imagine the worst.
Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. More likely, it makes me human....

I don't feel defensive about Biden's embarrassment in this matter. He wasn't my first choice in the primary either, nor my second choice. If there's a swelling movement to replace him with another candidate at the Democratic National Convention, well ... throw me in that briar patch!

Here's Billman's conclusion:
LONG STORY SHORT: Politically, Biden needs to do just enough today to keep the women’s groups on board and (best case) get the media to move on—in other words, deny, don’t be defensive, sound credible, don’t say anything dumb, don’t attack Reade, and apologize to the women you’ve made uncomfortable. He can’t do much else. 
Republicans are still going to make Reade a prop to distract from Trump and paint Biden and his female VP nominee and Democrats in general as hypocrites, and the left’s Never Bidens will use her to justify voting third party (“the lesser of two rapists,” etc.). All that’s baked in already.
If Biden doesn’t screw up, the only thing that changes the equation is a second credible accuser.
Billman's entire take on the scandal seems well considered and wholly logical and caused me to contribute to the "Indy Press Club" to We need honest opinion brokers like Jeffrey Billman. He's a crucial part of my information universe.


Red Hornet said...

I've watched Biden from the Senate gallery several hours over the years and I've spoken with him twice (total40 minutes) on AMTRAK trains. I've read a lot about Biden's life. My interactions with Biden were around the same time as the accusation. Biden was 51 and the sexual climate was different 27 years ago. About 3 years later was when the Clinton-Lewinsky affair went public. I was exposed to a number of staffers in Congress and the White House around that time living in Takoma Park, Maryland. Biden shared the type of personal anxiety Bill Clinton describes as compelling him to indulge in a risky affair. Not just any sexcapades will provide that level of release.
In our society power and sex are inextricably linked. Biden's behavioral disposition of taking possession of familiar women's bodies has become increasingly at odds with acceptable norms. He has also gone out of sync on race and foreign relations.
He supported draconian crime bills and advocated Neo-con policies. He has had two serious brain surgeries (1988) on both brain hemispheres. He was never the brightest person and always stuttered. He has trouble with concentration and staying on subject. Like Hillary Clinton he considered himself a Republican during law school.
He talks frequently about his anger and about past violent episodes in which he was impulsive but lucky. He's shakey and outdated and would be assuming the Presidency at age 78. I sympathize with his life tragedies but don't award him points for suffering. He's a third or fourth rate Presidential candidate in a very weak field, about equal overall to Klobuchar. Warren, Sanders, Inslee and possibly Gabbard were all preferable. If elected Biden presents all the same drawbacks as Hillary Clinton.
I'm trying to evaluate Stacy Abrams because she is his best VP choice.
I think that we are stuck with this old mundane guy if an election is held and he can beat disintegrating Trump. I an't help but worry about how weak and compliant to the rich Sloppy Joe will be as existential events close in on the United States and its population. Can he even put Fascism back in the can? He would have to do at least that. Sexual assault, even if he admitted it, is not disqualifying at this time. Look at Bill Clinton and Brett Kavanaugh. Honesty can be a good move.

Anonymous said...

I was never a fan of Biden - he really represents the Neo-con branch of the Democratic party. These policies weren't working before and, with a pandemic that's going to have widespread economic impacts for at least two years, don't look appropriate at all for working families and our "gig" economy.

I think the popularity of Biden, particularly among Black voters, was a statement that he was "safe" - he was the white guy that would look "strong" against Trump and, more importantly, be the candidate who wouldn't threaten white upscale suburban voters in swing districts that are afraid of higher taxes. (The latter is one of the reasons Obama choose him as VP, honestly.)

Let's face it - the only way Biden isn't going to be the nominee is if the sexual affair blows up big enough for him to drop out before the convention. That really shifts the focus to the VP slot and taking back Congress, considering Biden's age and how the party will move forward in 2022 and 2024.

Mike said...

Well, we're left to agonize over Biden, which I was doing before Tara Reade. I agree with Red That it was a different world in sexual relations, and it's plausible that there was a mutually attractive issue that got acted on and went further than she expected, and then didn't feel comfortable about, despite her involvement. Such interactions happened then a lot, a lot, and thanks be they are becoming far less now. There's a lot of residual anger, mostly female and some of it cathartic, in today's world, and we're going to have to deal with it, since patriarchalism is not gone by any means.
If there turns out to be a complaint in the archives, the Democrats are screwed, and the election will be quite a bit closer than anyone would like. Trump is very good at stoking partisan anger, far better than any Democrat, and a vulnerable Biden will be no fun to watch.