Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden finally acknowledged on Friday former staffer Tara Reade's allegations that he sexually assaulted her. He denied them, adding his voice to the chorus of prominent Democrats from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams who have already been fighting the battle on his behalf.
This full-court press is only partly about helping Biden defeat President Donald Trump in November. It is also a sign of wheels spinning as Democrats struggle to fight their own standards and parry the very rhetoric they used two years ago during then-judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. That, of course, was when an allegation of sexual assault was the only thing standing in the way of the solidification of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and a major political victory for Trump.
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Biden and his allies may now reap the rewards of decades spent working to lower the bar for such allegations: on university campuses, where Biden himself oversaw implementation of punitive rules for sexual assault investigations, and in the public square, where their treatment of Kavanaugh was the climax of this campaign.
Democrats were all in on this approach two years ago. Pelosi, who on Thursday emphasized the importance of "due process," insisted "we must #BelieveSurvivors." A cadre of Senate Democrats, including a number of vice presidential contenders who have leapt to Biden's defense, said then that the FBI must investigate "all credible allegations" against the now-justice, including the since-withdrawn claim that a teenage Kavanaugh organized gang rapes in his free time.
Biden himself said of Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford's allegations: "For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you've got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she's talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it's been made worse or better over time."
Now Biden must struggle to explain why his words do not apply to Reade.
It's hardly the first time Biden's views on an issue changed with the partisan winds. He oversaw the Senate investigation of Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas—an event Thomas would infamously label a "high tech lynching"—and eventually voted against the nomination. Seven years later, Biden voted against impeaching Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal; then, it was Biden who called accusations of sexual misconduct "a partisan lynching."
Ironically, the hypocrisy of the Democrats is precisely why Biden should have expected to face his current conundrum. They have eased the way for anybody to lodge such allegations, without question or consequence.
The same dynamics have also tied their hands when they try to argue that this time is different, as Pelosi has done. (After all, she told reporters on Thursday, "Joe Biden is Joe Biden.")
Maybe Biden is telling the truth, maybe he isn't. But there is no reason for the public to believe that he and his defenders are motivated by honesty rather than partisanship.
That's bad for victims and for the wrongly accused. And it's bad for future candidates. When they lack the credibility to face their own scandals, all we can say is that they, like Biden, should have seen it coming.