Why didn’t Reade’s allegations come out during Biden’s VP vetting?
Allies of Joe Biden are finding it increasingly hard to ignore the allegations of sexual assault brought by former staffer Tara Reade. Though the story was at first covered almost exclusively alternative media sympathetic to Biden’s primary opponent Bernie Sanders, it’s now gaining traction in the mainstream press — and turning into prime fodder for his Republican opponents.
The initial response by both the campaign and liberal pundits was to dismiss Reade’s accusations as some sort of Kremlin-backed fabrication intended to derail the presidential bid of the presumptive Democratic nominee, but with reporters turning up new evidence to corroborate Reade’s account, this position is becoming less tenable by the day.
This past week brought a palpable shift in the attitudes of some prominent Democrats, and the clearest weathervane is Alyssa Milano. A major figure in the #MeToo movement, the actress has been one of Biden’s most vocal defenders throughout this whole controversy. A couple of weeks ago she had said Reade’s allegations were “clearly a smear campaign.”
But on Monday, she tweeted out that Reade deserved “the space to be heard:”
New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who previously written that the accusation was being “used to troll the #MeToo movement,” had a similar change of heart after Business Insider spoke with Reade’s former neighbor, who confirmed that she had confided in her about the incident at the time.
Still, there are many who refuse to even entertain that idea that Reade might be telling the truth. And one argument seems to crop up over and over despite having little to do with the actual evidence: If the allegations were true, then Barack Obama would have found out about it while vetting Biden to be the vice president.
This sort of logic reflects something peculiar about the mentality of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, who have an abiding trust in the expertise of their political leadership. The purest expression of this is the cult of Obama, which holds that he’s the paragon of competency whose rightness and righteousness verges on infallibility.
If Obama and his team of experienced political operatives didn’t uncover the incident, then it clearly didn’t happen, right?
Believing this requires not only a blind faith in the ability of Obama’s staff but also a willful ignorance of how this all works. The #MeToo movement shined a spotlight on how institutions protect powerful men from consequences to their careers and reputations by effectively erasing any evidence of their misdeeds.
The Democratic Party is no different from a Hollywood studio or a Fortune 500 company in that it’s made up of ambitious people who can be punished for speaking up or rewarded for their loyalty, creating the conditions for those who have power to prey on those who don’t. The result is something akin to the mafia concept of omerta, or a “law of silence.”
When vetting Biden, Obama’s team may have found nothing, but that hardly means there was nothing to find. Incidents that can damage a politician have a way of getting covered up and buried to the point where they’re beyond the reach of even the most talented opposition researcher.
Political parties have even more mechanisms at their disposal for silencing the victims of sexual harassment and violence. In addition to the threat of losing one’s job and being publicly humiliated, the potential that it could hurt the party is a powerful incentive not to speak up. A lifelong Democrat, Reade says chose not to raise the issue in 2008 because she didn’t want the fallout to damage Obama.
Reade says that she filed a complaint against Biden and was subsequently retaliated against. She was first demoted, then fired. If the record of it exists, then it’s in Biden’s Senate archive at the University of Delaware, where it will remain inaccessible until two years after he leaves public life, per the college’s rules.
Another reason why Obama’s team might not have found these allegations: They weren’t really looking for them.
The objective of vetting is to find information that could be politically damaging, and prior to the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment was normalized in both parties to such an extent that these matters hardly rated.
Biden’s handsiness and rakish behavior have always been something of an open secret.
The late journalist Alexander Cockburn wrote at the time:
Biden is a notorious flapjaw. His vanity deludes him into believing that every word that drops from his mouth is minted in the golden currency of Pericles. Vanity is the most conspicuous characteristic of US Senators en bloc , nourished by deferential acolytes and often expressed in loutish sexual advances to staffers, interns and the like. On more than one occasion CounterPunch’s editors have listened to vivid accounts by the recipient of just such advances, this staffer of another senator being accosted by Biden in the well of the senate in the weeks immediately following his first wife’s fatal car accident.
It’s also entirely possible that these and other allegations did turn up, but due to their nature, Obama determined they were an acceptable risk that could be neutralized using the time-tested methods by which these sorts of things always are — which is to say the ones we’re witnessing right now.
Biden’s campaign is being managed by SKD Knickerbocker’s Anita Dunn, an alumnus of the Obama White House and a specialist in “crisis communications” who has done work for both Harvey Weinstein as well as the Times Up Legal Defense Fund, the #MeToo-related non-profit that declined Reade’s case.
She was among the Biden staffers Obama met with at the start of the campaign. According to a source present at the meeting, the former president gave them clear marching orders: Don’t let Biden embarrass himself and protect my legacy.