Why Joe Biden can do no wrong
One columnist wrote that Joe Biden could boil babies but she would still vote for him in the election. Some feminist leaders said that they believe he raped one staffer but they would still endorse him. Good government advocates have opposed investigations into previous sexual harassment or corruption claims against him. It appears politicians and pundits have discovered the glory of the presidential bull. In this case, Biden is much like a papal indulgence that allows writers, journalists, and members of Congress to forgive any sin in a crusade to retake Washington.
In the 11th century, Pope Urban made formal the use of indulgences to be purchased to forgive sins. The papal bull for the crusade went with those who fought in the Holy Land and committed many atrocities in the name of a higher order. The practice was defended as simply drawing from the “treasury of merit” by Jesus Christ, the saints, and the faithful.
Today, the election has become the ultimate crusade. Critics of President Trump seem to be enjoying indulgences in tossing aside all of their moral and ethical considerations. The freedom given to Biden is nowhere more evident than in a recent column in The Nation by Katha Pollitt, who wrote about the allegations of sexual assault made by Tara Reade. Pollitt clearly dispensed with any struggle over feminist or moral qualms and declared, “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.”
“We do not have the luxury of sitting out the election to feel morally pure or send a message about sexual assault and #BelieveWomen,” Pollitt said. Otherwise, she would have to come to grips with her statement in a past column amid the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in which she said, “Some of his defenders seem to be saying that even if the allegations are true, it should not really matter.”
Critics have expressed disgust at Trump saying that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and would not lose voters. Yet they now afford Biden the same immunity even if he starts boiling babies. The same indulgence has now been claimed by politicians and pundits in dealing with allegations of sexual assault against Biden. Many demanded in the Kavanaugh controversy that every woman has to be believed when claiming harassment. Those who questioned Christine Blasey Ford would be seen as insensitive, if not complicit, in the abuse of women.
Some of us have already said that Biden has the stronger case so far, but we would still support an investigation into these allegations against him. However, many Kavanaugh critics quickly declared Biden to be innocent and opposed searching of his records, including those under seal at the University of Delaware, about allegations of sexual harassment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she did not need a “lecture” when confronted with past statements. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared that she sees no need for an investigation because she knows Biden and believes him. She resents being asked about it as a victim of sexual assault. “That is all I am going to say about it,” she said.
Others struggled with answers until they found the presidential bull. Lisa Bloom said that she believes Biden assaulted the staffer and lied about it, but she would endorse him. Linda Hirshman wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times that she believes Reade but would still vote for Biden. Hirshman explained that Democratic voters knew Biden was a member of a “boys club” when there was “still time to pick someone else.”
Then there is liberal commentator Karine Jean Pierre who declared years ago that sexual misconduct allegations alone must disqualify candidates from running for office. Guess what? She joined the Biden campaign as a senior adviser this week. The fact is, without these political indulgences, this sulfuric hypocrisy would choke the life out of Washington.
After his work on the atomic bomb, scientist Robert Oppenheimer noted, “The physicists have known sin, and this is knowledge which they cannot lose.” If commentators have known sin, whether it is mortal or venial, it is in the abandonment of facts for a true faith in politics. For legal analysts, the cardinal sin in this era is the distortion of the law to fit a cause rather than a case, as many are still twisting the criminal code to come up with other crimes against Trump, regardless of future implications.
In echo chamber journalism, legal analysts are selected according to their willingness to declare that Trump or his associates committed criminal or impeachable offenses. Any such political theory, no matter how unhinged or unsupported, is welcomed across the pages of the Washington Post or in segments of cable news. Indeed, the allegations of prosecutorial abuse or judicial overreach in the Michael Flynn case were ridiculed.
Some legal analysts have even encouraged the judge in that case, Emmet Sullivan, to take liberties with the law. The Los Angeles Times published a recent column by former federal prosecutor Harry Litman, telling Sullivan to “make trouble” for the president. Litman admitted there remains “little leeway” to reject the dismissal of charges, but he encouraged Sullivan to “accomplish what Congress, multiple inspectors general, and a majority of the electorate” could not yet do and “hold the president and his allies accountable for a contemptuous disregard for the rule of law.”
The liberating element of the presidential bull is that it relieves the bearers from justifying the means to the ends of a crusade. All sins are forgiven for the higher purpose of defeating Trump this fall. You can support someone you believe to be a rapist. You can distort the criminal code or encourage raw forms of judicial activism. With the presidential bull, Biden will simply declare, “I absolve you,” and all will be forgiven and forgotten.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.