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Tara Reade and the Politics of Distraction

Published in 1981, In the Belly of the Beast was an attempt to convey “the sensations — the atmospheric pressure, you might say — of what it is to be seriously a long-term prisoner in an American prison,” wrote its author, Jack Abbott. Abbott was one of those guys who spend most of their lives in prison; the kind who never had a chance.

Abbott had written a letter to Norman Mailer offering to help him with his book on Gary Gilmore, The Executioner’s Song. Recognizing the intensity of Gilmore’s writing, Mailer helped the long-term inmate get released.

None of us have gone through the mind-breaking agony of solitary confinement, but atmospheric pressure? Hey, we’re feeling it. And the spin doctors know we’re feeling it. We’re stimulation-deprived so the Trump campaign is handing out shiny objects so we think about something other than dying nurses and handouts of federal funds to Jared Kushner’s slumlord real estate ventures.

Tara Reade is the latest of those shiny objects: a sharp one. Trump campaign staff must be crowing at the prospect that mushy, well-intentioned Democrats, not to mention all those Bernie or Bust folks who think American politics is a Waldorf classroom (do Waldorf schools have classrooms?) will do them the favor of using the Tara Reade shiny object to cut their own throats.

“Ever notice that these stories come out whenever polls are announcing saying Biden is leading Trump? That's no accident,” observed a former Clinton administration official.

I checked. April 19? Big bump for Biden: 7 percent. April 27? Bigger: 10 percent. Tara talked to reporters on April 20. She talked to them again April 27. Coincidence, maybe.

Damn. Apart from our fear of a second Trump term destroying the world as we know it, it’s annoying. I hear there exist somewhere, some women who find Reade plausible. Most of the women I know are just, well, annoyed. Because the Real-Estate-Developer-in-Chief (I’m being polite) has now weaponized #metoo, and the predictable Feminists-Whose-Dogma-Ran-Over-Their-Karma (I’m looking at you, Rebecca Traister) are walking right into the trap.

My friends? We don't like it when people draw lazy false equivalence between Tara Reade and Christine Blasey-Ford. If there’s a public figure equivalent of Tara Reade, who changed her name and, apparently, her opinion of Joe Biden, as often as some of us change our hair color, it’s Rachel Dolezal. She had the same kind of weird borderline vibe. But there was something sympathetic about Dolezal, who grew up in what sounds like an oppressive fundamentalist Christian family.

I’m sure Reade has a story, too. As more background surfaces, potential connections emerge: a manuscript by her journalist father that describes, in creepy detail, what she claims Biden did to her. Some embarrassingly gushy paeans to Vladimir Putin (" most women across the world, I like President Putin…a lot, his shirt on or shirt off." Gak.)

Perhaps most damaging: The owner of a rescue farm for pregnant mares alleges that Reade conned her out of money. I mean, a person who rips off pregnant mares? That’s deep.

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What’s more important is that instead of talking (or chatting on Facebook or messaging or whatever the hell you’re doing) about a possible worldwide depression starting a refugee crisis that will make the Bible look like a couple of families moving out of Scarsdale, or whether the aforementioned economic crisis might actually revive moribund labor unions, or even what to have for lunch, otherwise sane (sort of) men and women are debating whether Biden should (God forbid) drop out so we can draft - who? - Andrew Cuomo? Hahahahaha.

What too many people aren’t discussing, rationally, is the evidence that Tara Reade and her friends and family have presented. Initially, Reade’s story was that Biden did his Biden thing: touched her on the neck and shoulders. That’s the pattern.

In March, she changed to the story to the one you’ve all heard. Hands up skirt, mean things said. I’m not going to repeat it; it’s gross. Recently, a neighbor came forward, a Biden supporter, no less, and told the press that Reade had mentioned the incident to her. Reade’s brother spoke to the media. First, he repeated the neck and shoulders thing. Then, in a later interview, he mentioned the more, uh, gross thing.

Axios and The Intercept, among other news outlets, reported that Reade's brother and neighbor “corroborated” Reade’s story.

Well, kinda, not really: John Judis, a great reporter who now works for Talking Points Memo but is better-known for his political reporting at The New Republic, pointed this out on human rights lawyer Scott Horton’s Facebook page: “This is totally wrong. These statements did not corroborate the allegations themselves. They corroborated that they had made the allegations earlier. There is a big difference; /on-the record corroborations of parts of allegations by Tara Reade.’”

Lou Dubose, another superstar investigative reporter, wrote: “Agreed, John Judis. This is shoddy and imprecise reporting that plays fast and loose with the word: corroborate.”


But facts don’t matter, right?

My guess is that back when Biden hadn’t been schooled in #metoo etiquette, he put his hand on Tara Reade's shoulder. He does that. Maybe he got carried away and stroked her neck.

That’s the pattern. Because people, much as we’d like them to, rarely change. That was Jack Abbott, too. After Mailer got him out of prison, a waiter told him he couldn't use the employee bathroom. They went outside and Abbott stabbed him. He went back to prison, where he hung himself.

Now that's a pattern.

There’s a quiet hysteria abroad in the land. American loneliness and its concomitant dissatisfactions have been making our lives miserable for decades; we were ripe for the hysteria generated by social media. Stuck at home by the pandemic, too many of us are on a hair-trigger. Like Mijikenda villagers or Puritans in The Crucible, all we really care about is finding a witch.

I just don’t think Biden is it.

Susan Zakin has written about politics for national magazines, including GQ and Salon. She was a syndicated newspaper columnist. She is the editor of Journal of the Plague Year.

P.S. Excellent piece on Mailer and Abbott in the Los Angeles Review of Books