Oh, thank heaven, a sex scandal. I was afraid we were going to have to talk about death and disease all spring and summer.
Instead, we get to divert ourselves, at least temporarily, with yet another of those ideological Rorschach tests where everybody's expected to factor in gender and political affiliation before deciding if what we're looking at is a sex crime or two birds building a nest.
If you're a Democrat, it's supposed to be your solemn duty to affirm that women never lie about their sexual experiences with men: never exaggerate, fantasize or otherwise embroider the exact and very titillating truth. Men, of course, only ever lie and are guilty as charged. It's congenital.
Few adults would dream of applying so preposterous a standard in private life, where persons of both genders are understood to prevaricate about everything to do with sex -- men often exaggerating and women minimizing their personal experiences -- although in polite society, the #MeToo movement has definitely cut down on the bragging.
My own attitude toward sex scandals is in keeping with the unofficial state motto of my native New Jersey: "Oh yeah, who says?" Skepticism is supposed to be a virtue among journalists, but not to a former editor who became agitated when I doubted the (imaginary) gang-rape of "Jackie," of University of Virginia and Rolling Stone magazine fame.
Anybody can say anything about anybody else, I try to remember.
Doesn't always work. I doubted Monica Lewinsky for the longest time, because I didn't think Bill Clinton was self-destructive. My bad. Anyway, if you want to see ugly squared, just wait until the first female president gets accused of sleeping her way to the top. You know it's coming.
But I digress. By Democratic Party standards, Joe Biden was just asking for it in 2018 when he told a PBS interviewer regarding sexual assault allegations that "Women should be believed." Needless to say, he was simply pandering, and at his advanced age may have believed himself immune from suspicion.
Well, think again, Mr. Vice President. A onetime aide sometimes named Tara Reade -- she's changed her name several times over the years -- has alleged that Biden essentially did to her what candidate Trump once bragged about doing to star-struck women. This supposedly in a Senate hallway 27 years ago. Biden has categorically denied the charge and called for the release of all available records, including the formal complaint that Reade says caused her to be fired.
Except Reade has no copy of her complaint, and nobody else can find it either. She now says it never mentioned harassment or sexual assault anyway. I doubt it ever existed. She did tell versions of her tale of woe to a few friends along the way, although apparently none in Washington. As recently as 2017, she was regularly posting tweets in praise of "my old boss" Joe Biden, specifically for his efforts combatting sexual assault.
By 2018, she had a new hero: Vladimir Putin. "President Putin," she wrote in an opinion column, "has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity. ... President Putin's obvious reverence for women, children and animals, and his ability with sports is intoxicating to American women." Waxing passionate, she wrote that "like most women across the world, I like President Putin ... a lot, his shirt on or shirt off."
Most of the noise on the Democratic side is coming from Bernie Sanders dead-enders. Writing in The Nation, Cornell University philosophy professor Kate Manne argues that "I Believe Tara Reade. And You Should, Too." She rationalizes that "having a peculiar regard for Vladimir Putin does not make her a liar."
No, professor, but it could indicate that Reade's personal elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor. Other observers have noticed that her tweets on the subject appear to have been written by a native speaker of Russian, which she is not: "I am avid NPR listener. Super-disappointed NPR editor decided not to air recorded interview of my friend (who is verified) that I told at the time that Joe Biden sexually assaulted me."
Reads a bit like Natasha, the cartoon spy on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
Elsewhere, Reade's ever-changing stories, trial lawyers point out, would make her a cross-examiner's daydream. "The first thing that comes to mind...," writes former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern in USA Today, "is that Reade's amnesia about specifics makes it impossible for Biden to go through records and prove he could not have committed the assault, because he was somewhere else at the time."
But this thing isn't going to trial anywhere except Fox News and MSNBC. For that matter, a crime so vaguely described is impossible to investigate. In short, it's the very definition of a clumsy smear.
Whether Democrats asked for it, or not.