You Can Choke on Schadenfreude

Published May 8, 2020

Syndicated Column

During Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, some conservatives, including supposedly Donald Trump-despising ones, declared themselves “radicalized.” “Kavanaugh snapped something in me,” Sohrab Ahmari tweeted. The Democrats had demonstrated their depravity, they said. On the strength of this revelation, they ran into the arms of Trump.

What is the logic of that response? If the Democrats and progressives resorted to irresponsible character assassination, trafficked in loose accusations and failed to respect due process, how is the correct response to do exactly the same thing to them? “He is a liar and a cheat; therefore I must be one?” If that is the standard, then we are consigned to an endless cycle of slander, with each side pointing to the other’s previous outrage to justify itself.

And let’s not mince words; the left has a large store of grievances, too. As Amanda Carpenter notes, the Republican Party impeached Bill Clinton for perjury and all-around smuttiness, yet is wedded to the serial sexual abuser in the Oval Office. It has even backed a credibly accused child molester for a senate seat.

Enter Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer with a dubious story of abuse. The right is gorging on schadenfreude. “MeToo Hypocrites Who’ve Gone Silent for Joe Biden” huffed a New York Post columnist. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called Nancy Pelosi a hypocrite. “She endorsed Joe Biden after knowing the Tara Reade situation.” And The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn noted the discomfort of figures like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and actress/MeToo heroine Alyssa Milano, who have stood by Biden only to take arrows from other progressives. (Milano has wobbled.)

Andrew Sullivan recalled that it was none other than Joe Biden who took the lead, during the Obama administration, in revising standards of proof in sexual assault cases on college campuses. “Biden is now claiming simply that he never did what Tara Reade said he did. Let’s posit that he didn’t. Too bad. If he were to attempt to defend himself, by his own campus logic … he would be barred any knowledge of what he was precisely accused of.”

But hold on, doesn’t it matter if Biden is actually innocent? Yes, he was part of an administration that tore down some crucial protections for the accused. Yes, Democrats entertained absurd allegations about Justice Kavanaugh. Yes, they condemned Bob Packwood while excusing Teddy Kennedy. Yes, Democrats filleted Clarence Thomas while giving Bill Clinton a pass (or many), and yet, what have we become if we are indifferent to actual innocence in our rush to settle scores?

As a policymaker, Joe Biden needs to be held accountable for his poor judgment about standards of proof in sexual misbehavior cases. It’s quite a different matter to say that he personally should face a false accusation to achieve poetic justice.

Did conservatives not object, fairly, in the Kavanaugh case that a decades’ old accusation is nearly impossible to verify? Did they not protest that Kavanaugh’s whole adult life, which contained not a hint of scandal, was evidence that he was not a sexual predator?

In 2019, Reade claimed that Biden had made her “uncomfortable” by touching her neck and shoulders 27 years ago. But in March of this year, Reade, a Bernie Sanders acolyte, suddenly changed her story to one of criminal sexual assault. Her Twitter feed revealed a highly suspicious motive. In response to Ryan Grim, who speculated that a match-up between Sanders and Biden would bring extra scrutiny to Biden, she tweeted “Yup. Timing… wait for it….tic toc.” So many details of her account strain credulity. In her telling, the sexual assault took place after she had already filed a sexual harassment claim. So we are expected to credit that Biden, knowing this, still elected to push her up against a wall and reach into her underwear — in a public place.

Biden has been rebuked for being too physically affectionate with women and men. But in his long career, he has never been accused of sexual misconduct of any kind. As with Kavanaugh, this is critical evidence. Predators don’t pounce just once. Reade is a woman with a weird Vladimir Putin fixation, a clear motive to damage Biden and a story full of holes. Conservatives were right to object that the “Believe women” mantra, if taken as categorical, leads to terrible miscarriages of justice. Of course, some women lie. But if conservatives are sincere, they will see that Biden is the Kavanaugh here, and that injustice is injustice.

Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her new book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”

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