Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, has a problem. Those competing in the vice-presidential sweepstakes to join the Biden ticket as his running mate have a problem. Most of all, the Democratic Party has a problem. What the Democratic Party has touted in the past as the proper response to allegations of sexual abuse is now coming back to haunt them.
Since the #MeToo movement went viral in the wake of allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017, leaders in the Democratic Party supported women who came forward to detail their experience. That, combined with Joe Biden’s own history — he authored the Violence Against Women Act, led an Obama administration effort to address sexual assault on college campuses, and voiced support for all women who raise similar allegations — puts party faithful in an uncomfortable position.
That is because at the end of March, a former Biden aide named Tara Reade claimed that when she worked for Biden in 1993, he sexually assaulted her. Biden, his vice presidential contenders and many in the Democratic Party are now trying to figure out how to deal with the allegation.
Following mounting pressure to address the issue, Biden appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week and denied the allegation. He also addressed the apparent hypocrisy between his denial now and comments in support of Christine Blasey Ford during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. “Look, from the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claim seriously when she steps forward, and then vet it,” Biden said.
“Look into it. That’s true in this case as well. Women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make. I’ll always uphold that principle. But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. And in this case, the truth is the claims are false.”
Some in the Democratic Party — including those who supported Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings — have made comments in support of Biden. Some have stayed quiet. But many, it seems, would like this issue to go away without too much conversation about it. That is not likely to happen.
It is important to acknowledge sexual assault even when it’s inconvenient and even when the allegations are against someone in your own party. And it’s important to support the people who come forward to talk about this difficult subject. Support does not mean unqualified belief in an accusation. Rather, it means providing a framework for allegations to be reviewed in an even-handed, open-minded manner. All of which is very difficult to achieve in general, and even more so in a politically charged environment like a presidential campaign or a Supreme Court nomination.
In this case, a thorough investigation will be best for Biden, for the Democratic Party and for the electorate. We may not get a conclusive answer, but we need to try.