When Politics Hijack #MeToo Justice

by Valerie Morales

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Politics is not a handsome business. It’s cowardly and dirty, conniving and underhanded. The racist Willie Horton ad aimed at dismantling Michael Dukakis was effective. The “Two Hands” ad aimed at stoking white fears when a black man named Harvey Gantt was running against Jesse Helms worked.

It’s the same sort of shadowy tactics that obscure the Tara Reade allegations, more of the same baby out the womb for electoral college gain.

First, the allegations themselves. Reade calmly insists Joe Biden stuffed his fingers inside her vagina after pushing her against a wall. In 2019, when she first mentioned Biden made her uncomfortable with his “touchy” hands, and that he liked her legs, and that she was demoted because of her failure to give in to his puerile desires, she failed to mention the fingers in the vagina thing. In fact, one of her friends told Vox reporter Laura McGann that what Biden did to Reade “wasn’t that bad. [Biden] never tried to kiss her directly. He never went for one of those touches. It was one of those ‘sorry you took it that way.’”

A year later, the same friend says, “It just organically rolled out that way. She wanted to leave a layer there and I didn’t want to betray that. It wasn’t my place.”

Is the first Tara Reade story valid? Is the second story add-on for political retribution, a Donald Trump way of doing things? Is Tara Reade being paid off?

Because Reade has cozied up to Fox News, and because she at one time praised Vladimir Putin, and because she has a lawyer who is a Trump megadonor- you know the saying: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a damn duck.

This too: Reade is a Bernie Sanders supporter. In her interview with Megyn Kelly, Reade asked Joe Biden to drop out the presidential race. Why? So Sanders can mosey in? Or, so Trump can remain in office?

Tara Reade wanted everyone to know her story. She pitched it to every major newspaper who worked themselves into a nauseated frenzy to find corroboration and break the story. Then she married her first accounting with a second more contemptuous story and it created a tsunami of reporters digging and digging and trying to see if it was really true. In an ironic epilogue, she blamed the same reporters she was trying to romance, accusing them of creating inconsistencies that accompany any story with two very different versions.

Initially, Tara Reade said her story wasn’t about the assault but abuse of power. She was the powerless Senate staffer and Biden was the powerful man. The roles are more equal now that she is on the attack; she is acquiescing her power, but with a caveat. Accusing Biden of assaulting her cannot, on its own, bestow upon Reade the kind of feminist heroism the victims of Harvey Weinstein enjoyed. #MeToo isn’t a meritocracy, nor is it aspirational.

Joe Biden and Harvey Weinstein, as men, are opposites. Catholic and Jewish. Politics and art. Biden exaggerated or made up truths and fondled strangers. Weinstein was a pathetic bully who nurtured women and then brutalized them. The sad threads of an overinflated ego, his own narcissistic cruelty, and fictional dramas defined Weinstein who asked strangers to watch his films. Joe Biden has asked voters to elect him, again and again.

2.

I brought up Tara Reade to a close friend. My friend Loni said “who?” I had to qualify it by saying “the woman accusing Joe Biden of assault.” Then she shrugged and said, “I don’t believe her.”

It’s not surprising. Women regardless of their privilege, race, their history have the same burden. They are forced to disprove they are not lying, that a man (or men) did assault them. They have to eliminate themselves as a suspect and prove they are not angry/crazy/bitter chick trying to smear a good man’s name.

In the Megyn Kelly interview, Reade implied all women who come forward with a story of sexual assault should be believed. But what black women know and white women obfuscate is that Emmitt Till’s body was thrown in the Tallahatchie River because a white woman lied. The Scottsboro boys and the Groveland Four in Florida? White women lied. Before you say that’s old history and things have changed, Mary Zolkowski said a black man raped her and she was lying. That was two years ago during the infancy of #MeToo, so no, we’re not in a post-racial anything, and in certain cases, women do lie about sexual assault.

What pushes Tara Reade’s accusations beyond the #MeToo margins is that she has framed accountability within a political denouement. While most women that men have assaulted want justice, court, trial, a jury, testimony, jail, suffering, Tara Reade wants Joe Biden to drop out of the presidential race. It gives her accusation a hint of political revenge and is responsible for cornering Democrats into their litany. I believe Joe Biden. I believe Joe Biden. I believe Joe Biden.

When powerful women say they believe Joe Biden, they are also saying to Tara Reade: you are a liar. You are manipulating a situation for political reasons.

I have no earthly idea if Tara Reade is telling the truth or not. What I do remember is that the judge in the Stanford rape case gave the defendant Brock Turner probation. One of his rationales was that yes Turner did something ghastly, but prison time would hurt his future earnings. The judge didn’t give two cents about the trauma the drunken defendant inflicted. It’s a man’s career that matters more than a woman’s suffering.

It’s a hybrid of what Democrats are saying in their tribal-up Tara Reade game plan. Don’t let this accusation ruin Joe Biden’s career. But unlike Brock Turner who the world didn’t need, Joe Biden is an important ally for justice, peace, positive health outcomes, empathy, calling a racist a racist. He is the good shepherd in this battle against Donald Trump because what Donald Trump is doing now is more despicable than what Joe Biden did 25 years ago. Trump is creating pain for thousands.

3.

Like many #MeToo oeuvres, Tara Reade is telling a dramatic story that has dropped like a piece of undercooked meat. Some like it that way, rare and bloody; they eat it up. Others need more seasoning, need it to be tender. That Tara Reade is being pimped out by Fox News- and liking it- during a pandemic only hardens the polarization and the taking of sides.

The timing is curious. What we want to hear during a pandemic is where do I go to get my vaccine? And when can I go back to work? Not grabbing women by the pussy, act 2.

If Tara Reade was granted her wish and Joe Biden dropped out of the presidential race and Donald Trump remained the president, there would be little to no legislation to strengthen sexual harassment and workplace harassment laws, or to flatten rape culture. That means in practical terms Tara Reade’s revenge creates more personal capital for her than it benefits the country’s women who need a leader in the White House that has real empathy for sexual assault and its survivors.

Despite his flaws, Joe Biden did write the Violence Against Women Act. What has Donald Trump done for victims of assault?

Millennial women are on Tara Reade’s side as are Republicans. Democrats and Independents are wait and see. It’s comforting for Tara Reade, the support she’s getting in the midst of the ugly cruelty. But it’s not acceptance. None of this attention says a damn thing about #MeToo. Or Reade’s honesty.

I look upon #MeToo as a Xmas tree. It used to be a huge Douglas fir decorated with a lot of lights and tinsel. Now it’s one of those small potted plants you put on the center of the table. It still makes the room glow but everything about it is small.

#MeToo is a test of the lens. What you see is who you are. If you want to pick and choose your victims depending on social consequences then Tara Reade is another liar used by conservatives for political gain. But if you believe women and their stories of assault matter, and need to be heard, then #MeToo is still relevant.

The problem is that in a presidential election year we have divided loyalties. We want Donald Trump to disappear and we want a woman Vice-President who will have an inside track at the presidency in four years. But we also want men to be accountable.

The question is always the same: which do we want more, and what are we willing to overlook to get what we want in November? And spiritually, what does that, at the end of the day, turn us into?

Writing: Race and Gender, Politics, Healthcare, Environmental Abuse, Domestic Violence

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