America should come up with a Miranda warning for politicians, one that advises them they have the right to remain silent and not say something that could be held against them the next time they run for office.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, certainly could have used such a warning a couple of years ago when he was giving credence to the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault as a teenager and almost derailed Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Biden, a former U.S. senator, had presided over a similar sexually charged Supreme Court confirmation process 28 years earlier during the nomination of Clarence Thomas. During the Kavanaugh battle, he suggested that Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to speak out against a high-profile public figure and thus expose herself to partisan scrutiny and public ridicule lent credibility to her 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,” he said.
When he made that comment, Biden was already positioning himself to run for president. He believed that in today’s suspicious-of-males environment, he had some repairing to do with Democratic women voters over an episode from his past: namely, that during the 1991 confirmation hearing of Thomas, Biden appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to Thomas and not to Anita Hill, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Biden’s shift in jurisprudence principle toward an accused — from presumed innocent to presumed guilty — is now being turned against him over another alleged moment in his past: namely, the claims of a former Senate staffer, Tara Reade, that Biden sexually assaulted her while she was doing an errand for him in 1993.
If, as Biden said a couple of years ago, Blasey Ford was believable because she was willing to risk public embarrassment and harassment by coming forward, by that same logic, Reade’s accusations against him would be believable as well — Biden’s denials notwithstanding.
Partisans on both sides may have a double standard in this matter, but Biden should have to live with his words.
He went on record, when the hot lights were on a conservative Supreme Court nominee, that accusers in sexual harassment cases — regardless of the passage of time, regardless of any holes in their stories — have earned the benefit of the doubt. He now should accept being judged by that same low standard of proof.