The case for a new Democratic presidential nominee

The problematic presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
The problematic presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Image: Reuters
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Former vice president Joe Biden is the “presumptive” Democratic nominee for president. This presumption is problematic for voters, although it was convenient for the party to quickly weed out choices and competing voices amid the chaos of the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has worked out just fine for Biden. As primaries have been delayed and canceled, progressive Democrats have dropped out of the race and fallen into line behind the guy who’s not Trump. But Biden’s got problems. Most notably right now he’s plagued with a sexual assault allegation that he adamantly denies, and has exposed the hypocrisy of the political left and right alike.

Biden is accused of sexually assaulting a member of his Senate staff, Tara Reade, in 1993. Today he issued a statement saying it “never happened.” He argues that if she complained officially to Senate staffers, as she claims to have done, the records will be found at the National Archives.

The alleged assault has been investigated by various publications and the results are inconclusive. Some people close to her recall her telling them it happened, and others who worked with her and Biden at the time do not. So for now it’s a he-said, she-said about a man who wants the highest office in the land and may or may not have been a pussy-grabber in the Trump tradition. Certainly, he’s got a reputation for being awkwardly handsy, if nothing else.

Trump—who has been accused of rape, repeatedly—is eager to embrace the man he’s called “Sleepy Joe,” taking him into the warm and powerful fold of men in high places plagued by galling ladies. “I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know exactly. I think he should respond. It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times,” he told reporters yesterday.

The script has been flipped for everyone, Democrats and Republicans. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who was so very intent on getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, although assault allegations from his past arose in 2018 during his Senate confirmation hearings, is suddenly interested in the integrity of government officials, saying the Reade allegations must be investigated. “It’s a very challenging thing to run for president. And I think everyone that’s done that has realized their entire life is opened up to scrutiny,” he explained, although he’s never pressed Trump for more information on the dozens of allegations by women against him.

Meanwhile, Reade’s accusation has led to Democrats echoing Republican talking points of the not so distant past. Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams told CNN, “I believe that women deserve to be heard and I believe they need to be listened to, but I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible. I believe Joe Biden.” Abrams is of course entitled to her opinion, and is thought also to be angling for the vice presidential nomination, which may explain her motivation for standing firmly behind Biden.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton endorsed Biden this week, prompting the Trump campaign to remind everyone of her words in 2015 when she published a video telling victims of sexual assault, “You have a right to be heard and you have a right to be believed.”

Frankly, these are all pesky details. The problem with all of this politicking is that the American people are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are currently no choices for president that have not been accused of sexual assault, and apparently no party can be consistently relied upon to stand up for its stated principles. Meanwhile, no one is stating the obvious, which is that it’s not too late to pick candidates who do.

We’re debating within strict parameters, living the Overton window principle. The theory describes the range of acceptable mainstream views on a given issue. It isn’t fixed and can shift over time as it has regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, or the decriminalization of marijuana, for example. But right now, with the November presidential election fast approaching, the only acceptable range of views is a discussion about choosing between Biden and Trump.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views,” linguist and progressive activist Noam Chomsky wrote in his 1998 book, The Common Good. ”That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Perhaps that is one reason why the potential presidential candidacy of Libertarian Michigan congressman Justin Amash “can only cause trouble,” according to the New York Times. Amash broke with Republicans, despite having been one of the party’s young darlings, after the Mueller report was released last year, showing Trump may have obstructed justice when investigated for collusion with Russians interfering in the 2016 election. He voted with Democrats to impeach Trump in December. He’s principled to be sure, but definitely not a Democrat, which makes him a pain for the party and a possible unwitting aid to Trump’s reelection.

Arguably, Amash entering the race should have generated excitement, not dread. Just like the accusations against Biden should have led to an outcry, not a muted scramble to manage the story so that it won’t harm the “presumptive” Democratic nominee.

I am a great admirer of the accumulated wisdom and experience of authorities who have dedicated decades to mastering a subject or a profession, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of gentlemen who made it to old age without abusing the power granted to them by the patriarchy and their privilege.

But I don’t appreciate the presumption that only an old white man can win the race and am ready for a robust national debate about good choices. Democrats attempt to mitigate this insult by promising a woman as vice president, as if placation will continue to suffice. But now more than ever, faced with a postmodern pandemic, Americans need a candidate who will inspire them and Biden doesn’t seem to be that guy.