As the pandemic persists into another week, and CARES Act money has started arriving in the accounts of Americans who received their refunds via direct deposit, the news cycle has started to return to political news in addition to 24/7 coronavirus coverage. BL:UF – everything is still on fire.
On Sunday, the New York Times published an article exploring the accusations made by Tara Reade against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. I am not going to spend any time trying to verify if Reade’s allegations are true or not. First, we know that false rape accusations are incredibly rare (estimated to be between 2-8% of all accusations). Second, it is not worth my time or energy to try to discern fact or fiction when the NYT has already demonstrated reluctance to publish the accusations after some feel they have spent too much time vetting the story. Finally, the accusations of Biden being inappropriately friendly and touching women without consent are clearly true, and they are very troubling even without this assault allegation.
If true, these accusations mean the that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president is, at the very least, a sexual harasser, at worst guilty of sexual assault. Suddenly Democrats are faced with a moral dilemma. Do they, yet again, push aside outrage about a white man candidate’s assault allegations because they are certain he will fight for their interests?
Altogether, these are different times. The #metoo movement, the Kavanaugh hearings, and an elected American president who has not just been accused of but has admitted to sexual assault has changed the way American society, writ large, thinks about the assault behavior of powerful white men, especially those in positions of power. Democrats have railed against Trump and Kavanaugh for their record of sexual assault and treatment of women. It was easy to do so because these men also diverged politically and personally from Democratic policies and world views. But, now, faced with a candidate that seems to have policies that are, at least, closer to ones that promote women’s interests, climate change, education policy, and more, the question of how to respond to a political candidate with sexual assault allegations suddenly seems much tougher.
Critics will say that not voting for Biden in the presidential election is a presumptive vote for Trump (that argument, by the way, is just a way to dismiss someone’s valid concerns about a candidate instead of validating and responding to them). However, that is not the only option. Although this wouldn’t be the “usual” way to do things, Biden hasn’t been officially nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate. He can still withdraw from the race. That will create a bit of a procedural mess, but the alternative to that mess are the other messy outcomes: voters forced to either choose which perpetrator to vote for or choose to not vote at all. With a Biden withdrawal, the Democratic Party would have figure out what comes next. That would be largely unprecedented, yes, but it would also open the race back up to what has been a strong slate of very qualified candidates. In contrast to those who say it’s too late, too far into the race to go back, Biden’s withdrawal would not break the system – in part because the system is already broken – this second chance at a viable democratic nominee might be the catalyst needed for real, lasting change to the primary system.
Another option, of course, is a write-in campaign for a third candidate if Biden decides to remain in the race and, subsequently receives the Democratic nomination.
A write-in campaign and a renewed #metoo movement will require organization. We’ve seen a few accounts of how organizing for change looks in a quarantined world. Organizing and mobilization is always difficult, and even more so in the time of shelter-in-place orders. But now is when we need organized movements most to fight for stark and grave disparities this pandemic has revealed. There will not be a better time to rethink and restart mobilization for those who need it the most now (and always).