John M. Crisp: How seriously should the Democrats take Tara Reade?

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Historians will someday puzzle over the head-scratching ironies of the Trump presidency.

President Donald Trump is a commander-in-chief who avoided military service during his generation’s war. He loves his generals, their uniforms, military parades and fighter jet flyovers, but he mocks genuine war heroes such as John McCain. He postures as a populist, but he identifies with the very rich and has an unfaltering commitment to their continued wellbeing. He’s a reputed germaphobe who refuses to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic.

We could go on. But surely other ironies will someday look trivial compared to what historians may think of as America’s quintessential “What-Were-They-Thinking?” moment, should Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2020 election be undone by an allegation of sexual assault.

Yet the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, stands so accused by former staffer Tara Reade, who says that Biden her assaulted in 1993.

The schadenfreude on the right is irresistible. It’s more rewarding to take down the self-righteous than the unrighteous. After the Democrats’ morally superior hand-wringing over the assault allegations against Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, it turns out that they’re no better. What hypocrites!

Of course, this narrative depends heavily on false equivalency. It fails to take into account the difference in the number of allegations — one versus a couple dozen — or their credibility.

Before he became president, Trump bragged about what he considered one of celebrity’s finest perks, the privilege of assaulting women. After the “Access Hollywood” tapes, I naively assumed that Trump had come to the end of his campaign. But he and his aides dismissed the tapes as mere “locker room talk,” and enough of the electorate accepted that explanation to ensure his election.

Since then, many voters and the media have given Trump a pass on the 20 or so women who have accused him of sexual indiscretions or assaults. Trump still contends that they are just some of the many hoaxes that his enemies have perpetrated on him. He doesn’t attempt to defend himself against the indefensible; he just denies. And it seems to work.

Thus it’s an odd, ironic predicament in which the Democrats find themselves. What to do?

Biden must continue to distinguish himself from Trump. It’s possible to deny an allegation without dismissing it, and this is what Biden did last Friday. He says that Reade’s allegation isn’t true, but he does not call it a hoax and he does not attack his accuser.

Also, unlike Trump, Biden is encouraging investigation into the allegation, urging the secretary of the Senate to release any document that relates to Reade’s account. But he has been reluctant to provide access to 2,000 boxes of papers, as well as significant electronic data, related to his 36 years in the Senate, which were donated to the University of Delaware in 2012.

The agreement with the university to keep these papers sealed until Biden retires from public life is customary. But the risk of undermining the legitimate purposes of such an agreement is outweighed by the need to investigate Reade’s allegation to the greatest extent possible. Biden should make the papers available immediately.

And what if the papers lend credence to Reade’s allegation? What if they reveal more complaints by other women of sexual harassment or assault?

In another of the great ironies of American politics, the Democratic Party will have to do better than the Republican. Trump never claimed to be a moral exemplar, and his supporters have shown no interest in requiring him to play that unaccustomed role. But this is a low standard, and Biden’s party should hold him to a higher one.

The Democrats must take Reade’s allegation seriously and investigate it thoroughly. As much truth as can be discovered about it should be revealed.

Joe Biden is a committed public servant and he would make a good president. But if Reade’s allegation is corroborated, well, that’s what this summer’s convention is for. That’s just how seriously the Democrats must treat this allegation.



John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at


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