“Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up)
In the early morning hours of November 16, 2017, the Roger Stone-affiliated now-suspended Twitter account, the “Stone Zone,” declared “QUOTE: Roger Stone says it’s Al Franken’s ‘time in the barrel’. Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.” A few hours later, right wing talk radio star and regular guest on Sean Hannity’s FoxNews show, Leeann Tweeden, accused Senator Franken of harassment releasing a photo, included on a souvenir CD-ROM distributed to the cast and crew by the producers of the USO tour on which Franken and Tweeden performed, of Franken’s outstretched hands apparently caught approaching Tweeden’s tits while she sat upright napping in a military cargo plane’s seat, wearing a helmet and Kevlar vest. Franken issued his denial with an apology and a request for a Senate ethics committee investigation. But Senate Democratic leadership focused on a campaign to pressure Franken to resign his Senate seat.
It was no secret that Franken has had a long and storied career as a comic performer and comedy writer with some social boundary issues. Tweeden is a less widely recognized former model and radio-TV personality with passionately outspoken right wing perspectives, often featured in arguably agit-prop programming as Sean Hannity’s Fox News show that drew Franken’s attention in his bestselling book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (2003). Holding two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time is seldom easily done but often necessary in socio-political realities, at least.
By now we should recognize the Putinesque Eurasian fascist playbook: exploiting weak points, a cultish adoration of the leader while aggressively projecting his flaws and faults upon rivals in order to bully and brutally press twisted political advantages, erode trust in civil institutions and make sick jokes of rules and conventions.
Russian activist lawyer Alexei Navalny is one of Vladimir Putin’s longest surviving political opponents. His Anti-Corruption Foundation offices have been raided by police and targeted with comically sleazy women sent to loiter in front of the office by Putin’s oligarchic inner circle. While Navalny is not without his faults — his nationalistic tendencies lead him to approve of the illegal Russian invasion of Crimea, for example — his anti-corruption reports typically appear solid as he brings the receipts. Moscow based correspondent and 2015 IWMF Courage in Journalism award recipient, Anna Nemtsova wrote up a strong review in The Daily Beast of a Putin banned YouTube video outlining the relationship between Putin, Russian oil oligarch Oleg Deripaska, 2016 Trump campaign CEO Paul Manafort and social media influencer and self-proclaimed “oligarch huntress” Nastya Rybka.
“Over the course of 25 minutes,” Nemtsova wrote, Navalny “tells of a group of scantily clad women sent to ‘attack’ his headquarters, apparently to embarrass him. Instead, he chose to be amused, and to find out more about them. Seems they are a hired hit team, of sorts. One of their recent antics: protesting nude in front of the U.S. embassy, bodies bared to freezing cold as they presented banners saying ‘I Love You Harvey’ and ‘Weinstein Is a Real Man.’ (One wonders, naturally, if this group or one like it was ever invited to the presidential suite at the Ritz to urinate on the bed where Michelle and Barack Obama had slept — but Navalny’s investigation doesn’t go there.) Navalny’s team focused on one of those women particularly: Nastya Rybka. As seen in his YouTube presentation, she posted an Instagram video threatening, if that is the word: ‘Alex, one of us will find you and fuck you and post the video of it on the internet. Because of you and those like you, people keep fighting wars now.’…”
Consider the anguished story of Tara Reade in the context of the MeToo movement to “believe women” within the wider scope of American political descent into fascism.
There really is little or no public record to turn to either for confirming Reade’s accusation or acquitting Biden of it. But both Reade and Biden have contributed significantly to the public record to reveal some insight into their respective characters. For example, while Joe Biden’s Senate public policy resume is typically spotty for a lawmaker that served 36 years in the Senate, for the time in which Reade alleges his sexual harassment, Biden was advancing landmark legislation in the Violence Against Women Act.
Reporters for PBS NewsHour, Daniel Bush and Lisa Desjardins, reached out to “nearly 200” of Biden’s former Senate, White House and current campaign staff, ultimately speaking with a total of 74, including 62 women. “Overall,” they wrote, “the people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.”
Under a Medium byline, Alexandra Tara Reade wrote approvingly of Vladimir Putin back on November 27, 2018, with a testimonial assertion in a conversation with an unnamed friend, that “I don’t care what your politics; just admit that his sheer, calculated vision and willful energy brought Russia back to be a world power. Now, I said this to a friend recently, she waved her glass of Merlot at me and began the ‘anti-Russia’ lecture we all have come in America to memorize, a tale of spies, oligarchs, rigged elections and murders. I start to drift. I listen to the Sade song playing in the background ‘The Sweetest Taboo’ as she speaks. When she finishes, I say, ‘Well, he is very good to women, holds them in high regard.’ She starts to protest then stops and says, ‘yes, yes, but…’ She trails off no doubt thinking of the American President’s obvious disdain and objectification of all women. I shrug. Maybe, America is on some wrong side of very big issues and we need to look at our own actions.” Indeed.
“There was,” wrote Lucia Brawley for CNN, “Reade’s 2018 posting to Medium — since deleted — in which she publicly praised Vladimir Putin, who has poured so much time, energy and money into electing Donald Trump. She wrote, in part: ‘To President Putin, I say keep your eyes to the beautiful future and maybe, just maybe America will come to see Russia as I do, with eyes of love.’ (Reade told Vox that ‘when she wrote the praise of Putin, she had “watched a bunch of Noam Chomsky” and was working on a novel set in Russia.’)…”
Meanwhile, in 1993, as Bush and Desjardins report, women serving on capitol staffs were circulating an unofficial list of senators that “you didn’t want to be on an elevator alone with” or generally ought to avoid, including but not limited to Oregon Republican Senator Bob Packwood, who would resign in 1995 after his pattern of aggressive sexual behavior toward women were revealed to reporters; Republican South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Joe Biden’s name never came up in recollections of that list.
Given all that we know by now of Vladimir Putin, why should we trust Tara Reade about him? We know that Putin frames, jails and kills journalists and political rivals. We know that Putin’s collaborationist regime in Chechnya tortures and murders queers in concentration camps. We know that Vladimir Putin’s regime is fascist.
“She referred to Putin as a ‘genius,’” elaborated Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles, writing in USA Today, “with an athletic prowess that ‘is intoxicating to American women.’ Then there’s this gem: ‘President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity.’ In March 2019, Reade essentially dismissed the idea of Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election as hype. She said she loved Russia and her Russian relatives — and ‘like most women across the world, I like President Putin … a lot, his shirt on or shirt off.’….”
Given what we know about the relationship between Trump, Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, why should we trust Tara Reade’s accusation of Joe Biden? We know from the impeachment of President Trump that Zelensky is stuck between Trump and a 265-mile frontline at Ukraine’s eastern border facing Putin and Russian-backed Ukrainian militia under de-facto Russian control since 2014, while Trump leverages favors from Zelensky for dirt on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Finally, take what we can gather from the coincidence of Roger Stone’s prophesy about Leeann Tweeden’s revelatory accusation of Al Franken and consider the cynical art of timing.
Consider the appeal by columnist Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times on May 4, 2020: “Try to imagine what would have happened if, a few weeks before [Washington Bureau Chief for The Intercept, Ryan] Grim reported on [Brett Kavanaugh accuser, Christine] Blasey, she had tweeted at him, apropos of Kavanagh’s fortunes, ‘Yup. Timing … wait for it … tick tock.’ My guess: She never would have been asked to testify publicly. Democrats would not have dared to champion such politically tainted allegations. Of course, Blasey didn’t tweet that. Reade did, after Grim tweeted that Biden would fare poorly in a two-person race against Bernie Sanders….. [I]t’s hard to compare Blasey’s case with Reade’s. Blasey had four sworn affidavits from people whom she’d told that she’d been assaulted, as well as therapist’s notes and the results from a polygraph. She testified, and was cross-examined, under oath. The Democratic plea, at the time, was for a thorough F.B.I. investigation.”
Democrats and other voters concerned for the future of the American democratic experiment who wish to rid the White House of Donald Trump and reverse the Republican Party’s retrograde policy agenda must navigate a socio-political landscape of extreme cynicism and elevate our ability to function with a first rate intelligence and hold such opposed ideas in our minds at the same time.