[Warning: graphic sexual assault]
“We were alone and it was the strangest thing. There was no like exchange really… He just had me up against the wall, and the wall was cold. And I remember he, it happened all at once…And um yeah and then he went um… he went down my skirt but then up inside it and he uh penetrated me with his fingers…And the thing I remember most, almost more than the assault itself, was that I was nothing. And he was right…I have no platform. I am no one.”
Tara Reade previously came forward the previous year, joining Lucy Flores, Amy Lapos, D.J Hill, Ally Coll, Sofie Karasek, Caitlyn Caruso and Vail Kohnert-Youn, in accusing Joe Biden of inappropriate touching. In March of this year, she found the courage to continue her story, providing greater detail into the sexual assault she suffered whilst working as Biden’s assistant.
Right-wing Trump supporters have swiftly capitalised on these accusations. Make no mistake, many of those who campaigned to put the proud sexual predator in the White House will do the same again. This time, though, they can at least pretend that they are doing this to keep a different sexual predator out. Their hypocrisy is – undoubtedly – infuriating. Likewise, however, is the brazen duplicity with which the liberal class turn a blind eye to Biden’s sexual violence altogether. The same mainstream media outlets and dropout-Biden-endorsers that described Bernie Sanders’ campaign as “tainted by a whiff of sexism” have been deafeningly silent about Tara Reade’s chilling survival story. To understand why, we need to understand the kind of coalition that the Biden campaign is trying to build and that establishment forces are trying to protect.
In many ways, Joe Biden has attempted to represent a kind of “progressive neoliberalism” that, before Trump’s hyper-reactionary rendition, enjoyed relative hegemony in Western politics. As Nancy Fraser describes, progressive neoliberalism is a combination of liberal currents of the new social movements on the one hand, and an uncompromising faith in free-market meritocracy on the other. The pursuit of multiculturalism in Wall Street board rooms. An environmentally friendly Silicon Valley. The celebration of LGBTQ+ inclusion in Hollywood. More female CEOs and undercover CIA killers. It’s about diversifying the socio-economic hierarchy, so that the aspirational few can get a foot on the ladder and climb it with the ease they deserve.
Crucially, progressive neoliberals have no interest in taking this ladder down. Rewarding those who already possess the social and economic capital required to succeed, their goal is to empower the most productive women to smash the glass-ceiling, whilst those in the basement are left to perform reproductive labour for free. Fuelling an endless profit-driven war, working-class women are divided by race and pitted against each other, as feminist themes are colonised by those who define the conditions of success.
A proud neoliberal
When it comes to analysing Joe Biden’s “progressive-neoliberal” colours, there can be no doubting his neoliberal credentials. Biden has voted to reduce financial and government regulations at every opportunity, whether that’s through NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, or the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. He also voted for Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reforms, which vowed to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” This is one of the many ways in which Clinton “got it right,” according to Biden, by “rejecting class warfare.”
And then, of course, comes the long list of achievements that define the Obama-Biden era. Bailing out Wall Street but not the 10 million Americans who lost their homes after the crash; closing hundreds of public schools for charter ones; defending an improved but nonetheless market-driven healthcare policy; and taking credit for radical growth in oil production. This is a presidential record that Biden is proud to be associated with. As somebody who promised his wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he won the presidency, Biden is firmly intent on upholding, rather than dismantling, the kind of neoliberal order that helped to construct as Obama’s VP.
Reaching across the progressive aisle
Given his horrifying record on abortion access, LGBT+ rights and race, Biden has more trouble winning over progressive voters than neoliberal ones. Nevertheless, as a behind-the-scenes effort gets under way to rectify this, it’s clear that Biden is at least pretending to paint his neoliberal badge with progressive stripes, even if they are woefully undeserved. Again, his association with Obama – the country’s first black president who was responsible for legalising same-sex marriage – is doing most of the legwork.
Running an operation that claims to “reflect the diversity of the party and nation,” Biden prioritises difference over substance, tolerance over respect and rainbow capitalism over revolutionary change. This is typified most clearly by the dropout-endorsements Biden has secured from female candidates Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, prominent African-American Senator Cory Booker, Asian-American entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and the first openly-gay presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg.
The fact that Biden voted against gay-marriage himself is apparently no issue for Buttigieg, or “the most progressive candidate ever to run for office,” as he is commonly described by British mainstream media. Neither is it problematic for Biden supporters that, as a San Francisco prosecutor, Harris oversaw more than 1,900 marijuana convictions. Nor that, as Hennepin County Attorney, Klobuchar failed to charge any police officers or country sheriffs for their involvement in 29 civilian deaths.
Nevertheless, some supporters are so convinced of Biden’s progressive agenda that Tara Reade’s story isn’t so much unreliable as it is irrelevant. A recently deleted tweet from Stephanie Wittels Wachs read, “for the sake of argument, say Biden is a rapist. Trump is also a rapist. So why not vote for the rapist with the better policies?”
The fallacy of progressive neoliberalism
Once we understand the nature of his “progressive-neoliberal” coalition, it becomes clear why Biden is glorified for pledging to pick a woman as his VP, but totally exonerated for raping his former staffer.
It becomes clear why Time’s Up will hand out pins for celebrities to wear at the Grammys, but refuse to provide Tara Reade with any legal assistance. It just so happens that the managing director of their public relations firm is Anita Dunn, Biden’s top campaign advisor.
And it becomes clear why Tara Reade’s public criticism of Biden’s policy platform and her public declaration for “positive systemic change” is invoked to discredit her as a liar with an ulterior motive.
It’s because, for progressive neoliberals, the value of diversity, empowerment and inclusion is only worth as much as their utility in legitimising the entrenched inequalities that separate people by gender in the first place. Joe Biden’s supporters know that, if anybody listened to Tara Reade, his campaign would be over, and so would his quest to fend off transformative change.
For this reason, as long as a female VP helps Joe Biden veto universal healthcare, his supporters have no interest in listening to victims of sexual violence. As Biden has said himself, believing women is important. Just not as important as maintaining the social and economic foundation of their oppression.
Progressive neoliberalism will always be a misnomer. By denigrating the status of those who carry the burden of unpaid labour, it is capitalism that makes so many women less likely to be heard, let alone trusted. It’s no coincidence that women in low-wage work and in poorer households are far more likely to experience violence. And so it’s not surprising to see Biden’s “progressive” neoliberal coalition throw Tara Reade to the wolves, given they are intent on upholding an economy that puts thousands of vulnerable women at risk of violence in the first place.
#NotMeUsToo: Radical, not liberal, feminism.
If only there was a candidate, fuelled by an intersectional movement, that believed in building a green economy which values and redistributes reproductive labour. That believed in ending a system of mass incarceration that disproportionately harms women of colour. That believed in expanding collective bargaining rights, so women can fight against workplace sexual harassment. That believed in universalising a healthcare system that currently forces women to pay higher medical costs. That believed in raising the minimum wage to benefit low-wage workers, the vast majority of whom are female. That believed trans women are women. That believed in ending military violence that forces women to repair the communities that are destroyed. That believed female liberation is part of a revolutionary struggle to build a society grounded in compassion, care and collectivity.
That believed women like Tara Reade.