“We did not do a complete search of records from his office. If something had come up, we would have looked at the records. I do not recall and do not believe we reviewed his Senate records.” —William Jeffress, lawyer for the Obama campaign’s vice presidential search team
It is almost mid-May of 2020, a deadly viral pandemic still rages, the federal government response has gotten more and more cavalier and grotesque, and in this hellacious midst the Democratic Party is preferring to blindly believe we’re going to have a normal election come November. Presumptive nominee Joe Biden’s sexual assault allegation by former Senate staffer Tara Reade continues to, maybe not dominate headlines – see: that whole pandemic thing – but reporting does march on. New wrinkles develop, opinions are bloviated, online shouting matches are had, interviews are requested, and women are asked to account for a man’s alleged misdeeds. The usual shit. I have no idea if this allegation is true or not. There’s an unsatisfying possibility we may never know one way or the other.
What I do know is that the Biden Hive is out in full force on behalf of their anointed man, and I also know from lived experience that one such argument they advance is full-throated, misleading stupidity – that of VP vetting. I’d like to dismantle it. For the record, pointing out the speciousness of a particular argument in your guy’s favor doesn’t mean he’s guilty. It just means you need to stop saying it, partly because you sound like a dumbass, and mostly because bad arguments keep us further from truth and justice.
The ardent supporters insist Biden couldn’t possibly have done this because he was super-duper vetted for President Obama’s vice presidential slot, and wouldn’t this allegation have surfaced then? We’re beyond certain it would’ve, so case closed. Oh, sorry, I forgot the all-caps. CASE CLOSED AND I HOPE A BIRD SHITS IN YOUR EYES! I summed up Twitter for you, now you don’t need an account.
First of all, let me say up front that if you were on the team that vetted Biden for VP, I guess you do you, but that’s not something I’d personally brag about. Did the team not discover that he had to terminate his 1988 presidential primary campaign in disgrace because he plagiarized some of his campaign speeches? Y’all know that’s all on his Wikipedia page, right? Because that alone should have been disqualifying. Writing up campaign speeches and plans is not exactly a JAMA submission. Do you know how easy it is to just… not plagiarize? It’s a ridiculously low bar that apparently Biden couldn’t manage to clear. Did the VP vetting team also not find out about how he treated Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings? Did they not realize that three other women besides Hill had similar stories about Thomas, thus establishing a pattern? And that it was Biden who prevented them from testifying? Did they not figure out that Biden personally promised Clarence Thomas and his wife that he’d vouch for Thomas’ character, regardless of what Hill said? Because again, the Thomas confirmation debacle, and the mysogynist and incompetent manner in which Biden handled it, should have been disqualifying. So, dear vetting team strutting around Twitter, your chest thumping isn’t terribly convincing. Because either you didn’t find glaringly obvious disqualifications that have long since been a matter of public record, or you found them and just didn’t care. As Annie Savoy would say, “How embarrasin’!”
In 2001, I had Tara Reade’s 1993 job, just not for Joe Biden. I worked as a Staff Assistant for a different senator for one year. That senator retired in 2012, and since I worked for her, she has sought multiple high-profile positions within state and federal government, all of which require scrupulous vetting. As a former employee of hers, I have never once been contacted. If you think vetting includes calling every former member of a Senator’s staff, you are mistaken. There’s no way the 2008 vice presidential vetting team would have reached out to Reade.
Then we have all this confusion and brouhaha over some paper complaint Reade says she filed, with Biden supporters so sure it doesn’t exist because the VP vetting team would have uncovered it in 2008, and Biden detractors clamoring for someone to find it. People seem hellbent that this is either some sort of GOTCHA moment or that it’s sweet, sweet vindication for their White Savior. A lot of nuance and important details have left the building. Let’s talk about how Senate staffs are structured.
Senators have a large staff, and the larger the state they represent, the larger their staff. Senate offices are very top-down, hierarchical organizations. Senators are generally quite close with their senior-most staff (though very few of them are seen as indispensable). Conversely, they usually couldn’t pick their entry level staff and case workers out of a lineup if their life depended on it. Senators themselves generally don’t weigh in one bit on hiring, shuffling, and firing lower staff positions. When it comes to senior staff, loyalty is often rewarded over competency (oh God, do NOT ask me how I know that), and senior staff – the chief of staff and the various top directors – have a lot of authority and autonomy. They make a lot of daily decisions, including what and what not to actually tell the Senator. I’ll give an example. When I was a Staff Assistant, part of my job was to compile a report at the end of each day keeping track of what are known as Constituent Issues. This means I took calls from the voting public that ranged from “Please vote yes/no on an upcoming bill” to more general “please do something about X issue” to the craziest shit you can possibly imagine, like demanding a list of local nail salons or requesting the Senator’s permission to never pay taxes again. I would categorize the issues and count up numbers of calls for and against each issue as relevant. Then I would submit my report to a senior director, who would then synthesize my report with the other state offices’ reports and hand a final memo to the Senator herself, which was supposed to capture a snapshot of what was and wasn’t important to the voters. More than once, I would read that final report and find that part of my contributions just… weren’t in it. Whole issues would just be omitted. And there was a pattern, too. It always happened when large numbers of voters didn’t like how she’d voted on a recent bill, or were urging her to vote opposite of how she was planning on an upcoming bill. Those numbers would be curiously absent. When I asked why, I was told that senior staff often just omits certain numbers in the final report because the Senator won’t want to hear it. So when Biden claims he was never informed of anyone filing a complaint, or of Reade’s office responsibilities being thwarted, he is likely being truthful. The senior staff handling it probably just never told him.
So why didn’t the VP vetting team find this paper complaint in 2008? Well, William Jeffress, one of the lawyers on that team, has freely admitted they didn’t search Biden’s Senate papers because at that time he was still a sitting Senator. So it blows my mind we’re still having this conversation at all. One of the vetters just admitted they didn’t look. How much simpler can the guy spell it out? Alright, but people want to look now. Fine. I can’t imagine anything triumphant for either side will emerge. Also, you do realize it’s quite possible Biden’s senior Senate staff made that complaint disappear, right? Since 2017, when the #MeToo dam broke, we’ve read story after story of the tricks and tactics Human Resources departments use to downplay or disappear sexual misconduct complaints of high profile employees. You honestly think a Senate staff can’t do the same? To sum up, no, Biden’s VP vetting team didn’t find it because they didn’t look, and had they found it, or should someone find it now (assuming the senior Senate staff didn’t bury it of course), it likely won’t offer any clarification.
I have no idea if Reade’s allegation is true or not. Her complaint does not fit the formula of a false rape allegation. On the other hand, I’m keeping in mind that she is the only woman thus far to accuse Biden of sexual assault. He’s multiply accused of sexual harassment (which should be a disqualification in and of itself), but not assault beyond Reade. And while false rape accusations have a pattern, actual rapists do too. There’s almost never only one victim, and with Biden, so far there is. That should alert red flags. I have no way of definitively knowing, and I doubt we’ll properly adjudicate it on a food blog. What I hope to do with my writing instead is to advance a better framework for discussing accusations of sexual misconduct. Biden will NOT be the last man to stand accused. We’re going through this again, you can take that to the bank. And my hope is that when we do, that conversation will be better informed, more honest, more patient, less tribal, less reactionary, and with the blessed absence of “himpathy”. In other words, don’t just assume a vice presidential vetting process would have found this, instead ask how the process worked and consider how it might have been missed. When one of the vetters himself tells you they didn’t look at the Senate papers, maybe believe him and stop yelling the exact opposite.
Le Grand Ranch + My Favorite Things for Dipping
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, grated or very finely minced
- ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup thinly sliced chives, plus more for garnish
- 1 tbs finely chopped fresh dill
- 1 lemon, halved
- ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce, or more to taste
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Your choice of Things for Dipping: I use poached large shrimp, endive spears, and boiled baby potatoes
- In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, creme fraiche, garlic, parsley, chives, and dill. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon half, then add the Worcestershire, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
- If you are making shrimp: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Squeeze the juice from the reserved lemon half into the water, then drop both squeezed lemon halves into the pot. Add the shrimp and cook, uncovered, until the shrimp are bright pink. This happens very quickly, and times will vary depending on the size of your shrimp. But you’re looking at about 3 minutes max, so don’t walk away. When the shrimp are done, lift them out with a slotted spoon or spider and let them dry on a paper towel lined plate. Chill until ready to serve.