The liberal activist group MoveOn.org, a seven-million-member organization that lobbies for progressive causes, was founded in 1998 to oppose the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying to Congress about his sexual improprieties. The organizers thought the public should stop caring so much about Clinton’s mistreatment of women, thus the genesis of the name: It was time to move on.
That same year, the crusading feminist Gloria Steinem, known for her support of alleged victims like Anita Hill and the completely discredited children claimed to have been abused at Satanic daycare, penned an op-ed for The New York Times in support of Clinton, even “if all the sexual allegations swirling around the White House turn out to be true.”
On Monday, The New York Times published a piece by the feminist attorney and scholar Linda Hirshman: “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway.” Hirshman’s piece is well in-keeping with a long tradition of liberals and Democrats discounting problematic sexual misconduct allegations leveled against members of their own political tribe. Indeed, the Democratic establishment has greeted Reade’s sexual assault accusation against the former vice president with an all-too-familiar collective shrug. Those who broke ranks and gave voice to Reade’s accusation, including MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, were met with condemnation.
This is the norm of politics: He may be a sexual predator but he’s our sexual predator, damn it. We are witnessing a reversion to this norm, and it should take no one by surprise.
The actual surprise was that, for a brief moment, at the height of the #MeToo movement, there was an effort by liberals to stand on principle and hold powerful Democrats accountable. This culminated in late 2017 with the successful ouster of Sen. Al Franken (D–Minn.) for alleged sexual harassment and nonconsensual touching. Then the reversion began: The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer, who once teamed up with Ronan Farrow in the service of publishing one of the less credible Brett Kavanaugh allegations, wrote a piece arguing that Franken was wronged by his overzealous colleagues.
One of those overzealous colleagues, Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D–NY), has become synonymous with #MeToo feminism. Gillibrand invited Emma Sulkowicz to the State of the Union in 2015. She said “I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.” When she was running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination last year, she complained that some of her rivals were insufficiently committed to the cause of combatting rape. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m really sick of it,” she said. “I’m so freaking sick of it.”
When asked last week about Reade’s allegation, Gillibrand said that Biden had her support.
Biden, similarly, has balked at being held accountable under the harsh standards that he himself worked tirelessly to enshrine for people accused of rape on college campuses. On Wednesday, following Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s final approval of new rules that restore due process and the presumption of innocence to college Title IX adjudication, Biden issued a promise to reverse the changes if elected president.
This hypocrisy runs in both directions, of course. Republicans who were silent about the numerous sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump don’t exactly have the moral standing to weaponize the Reade allegation, though that obviously won’t stop them.
Trump himself is apparently wary of the accusation against Biden, though. He reportedly asked an aide, “Does it sound like bullshit to you?”