OPINION: When voting an alleged sexual predator out of office means putting another one in

Joe Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2020, has been accused of sexual assault by a former Senate staffer. Cover photo of Biden from Wikimedia Commons 

Mary McLoughlin
Opinion Editor

I’ve been delaying endorsing a presidential candidate because I have not wanted to write an ode to Joe Biden. But here we are.

Though, in my opinion, there are many reasons why Biden falls short of an ideal candidate, recent sexual assault allegations against Biden by former Senate aide Tara Reade have weighed the heaviest. One of the most horrific parts of Trump’s presidency has been watching how unphased his voter-base has been by repeated sexual assault allegations against Trump and language that has degraded and demeaned women directly from Trump himself. Now, I’m worried that reporting about Biden is following some of the same patterns.

In a Twitter thread summarizing its investigation into Biden’s assault allegations, the New York Times initially reported that, “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” This tweet earned much deserved backlash by critics who pointed out how problematic it was to exonerate Biden from a pattern of sexual misconduct, and then—in the very same sentence—list a pattern of sexual misconduct. After the backlash, the New York Times deleted the tweet and edited the article itself. Now, the sentence simply reads, “The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden.”

While the Times’ initial tweet was atrocious, I am even more horrified by these edits which seem to think erasing the pain and experiences of women is the best way to reconcile Biden’s deeply troubling behavior with the desire to exonerate him.

Though I’ve spent the last four years disillusioned about the state of our government and democracy, I wasn’t totally disillusioned about the democracy itself. At the start of the primaries, I was even hopeful. I think that because my relative privilege has meant that our government and democracy usually works for me, a part of me hung on to the idea that with enough work our government and democracy would give us the best candidate.

 Last summer, when one of my professors told me that he thought a Biden nomination was inevitable, I didn’t want to believe him. When Biden performed poorly in the debates and failed to adequately take responsibility for racist policies he supported such as anti-busing legislation, the high number of deportations during the Obama administration, and punitive criminal justice policies, I assumed it would mean he wouldn’t win. For the weeks when it seemed like progressive Democrats were outperforming the moderates, I believed we had a shot of getting one of them into the White House. But then, Biden won.

I wanted to vote for a candidate I believed in, and I wanted to campaign for someone whose name I was proud to wear on a button. Joe Biden is not that candidate. I cannot bring myself to try to believe in anyone who might be a rapist.

That idealist in me—who wants to believe in our democracy and our America—almost understands why the New York Times and so many Democrats that I know are trying to erase Biden’s sexual misconduct. That same idealism pushed me to wait far longer than I should have to read the details of Reade’s allegations. When I realized I would have to vote for Biden if I didn’t want Trump in office, I wanted to hold on to a privileged vision of democracy which gave me more options than voting one sexual predator out of office by voting another one into it.

But erasing the misogyny and racism of the candidate who is supposed to be the good guy doesn’t make him good. Instead, it only attempts to render invisible the deep and systemic evils that have made it so that our good guy and our bad guy are both so patently bad.

See also- Making Feminist Spaces Between Misogynistic Places

We started out with the most diverse playing field of Democratic candidates, and after the people (whose votes weren’t suppressed during the primaries) voted, we ended up with one of the worst options. This election revealed the hold that money and elite establishment politics continues to have over our democratic processes, and I’ve watched that realization push many of my most passionate and hopeful peers to give up on this democracy and vow not to vote for Biden.

And I understand my peer’s response. When neither candidate seems capable of delivering the progressive policies our country needs at a time when we need so much to change, I can sympathize with refusing to settle for anything short of the justice democracy promises. But ultimately, opting out of a broken system won’t fix it. The best we can do is vote for a candidate who will do the least damage at the top while we start the work of repair at the grassroots level. As disillusioned as I am by the reality that our democracy has failed the American people, I have not lost hope in the people themselves.  

In voting for Biden, I am voting against Trump’s right to appoint another alleged rapist to the Supreme Court whose appointment, like Kavanaugh’s, will continue to erode a women’s right to abortion and more deeply entrench misogyny into our nation’s very ideals of justice.

In voting for Biden, I am voting against Trump’s cabinet appointments. I am voting against Trump’s EPA which denies climate change and rolls back much needed environmental regulations. I am voting against Trump’s Attorney General whose prosecution of immigrants and roll back of asylum protections threatens the lives of the most vulnerable members of our global society. I am voting against Trump’s Department of Education who seems hellbent on unraveling public education and eroding already precarious civil rights in schools. And I am voting for diplomats, ambassadors, and foreign policy approaches which believe world peace and justice require more than assertions of force and power.

But though I am voting for Joe Biden, I will not join Democrats or the New York Times in endorsing his character or absolving his crimes. While I understand that criticizing him might hurt his electability, mending democracy requires more than just removing Trump from office. It also requires us to challenge the lack of accountability and tacit acceptance of racism, misogyny, and classism that put and kept him there.

Friends, we are up against a lot, and there does not seem to be an easy way out. I once believed that when good people worked toward good things, justice was inevitable. But watching politics unfold over the past few years has made it clear to me that there’s no inevitability. Sometimes, I feel paralyzed knowing how much work it will take to build new institutions capable of reordering the fabric of our society around justice. But just as I believe that justice is not inevitable, I know that neither is injustice. People with more power and resources than us have worked very hard to design political and social systems rooted in oppression. Opting out of those systems won’t do anything to undo that work or take away their power, but voting in a way that takes away the tools and power they have available to them will slow their ability to maintain these inequities.

After mourning the fact that democracy shouldn’t mean voting for two candidates who don’t have our best interest at heart, we have to find more to place our hope in than the promise of a president who can save us. In voting for Biden, a president who might remove the worst of Trump’s barriers for injustice, we are voting for our ability to save ourselves.

In voting for Joe Biden, I am voting for the best shot the American people are going to get at taking small and incremental measures to untangle the same systematic racism, classism, and misogyny that put Biden on the ballot. Though this election comes down to casting a ballot for the lesser of two evils—a task that breaks my heart and my spirit—my hope remains tied to the resiliency of an American people up for the work of building and rebuilding justice.

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