There is an obvious attraction in certain simple claims. ‘Believe all women’, for instance, is easy to utter, beneficial to the speaker and guaranteed to get applause from any live audience, terrified as they are into not clapping vigorously enough. It is also a deeply unwise piece of advice. As unwise as it would be to say ‘believe all men’ or ‘believe all humans.’ It suggests that the word of a woman is inevitably worth more than a man. Or that women do not lie, and could never be expected to. Or that while some women may lie it is worth accepting the consequences of this as collateral in order to make up for lost time.
Of course the downside of simplistic claims comes when the little lie you always suspected was embedded in the claim (but which you allowed to pass for convenience’s sake) comes up and bites you. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings two years ago it was very easy for opponents of the Trump administration to say ‘believe all women’. Because they didn’t want president Trump’s nominee to be on the Supreme Court. And so they decided to always believe the accuser and believe the worst of the accused. What are these same people to do now that a woman – former Senate aide Tara Reade – has come out accusing the Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, of sexual assault?
The case of Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times is somewhat typical. When Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers were going full pelt Ms Goldberg found her happy gear. She described the accuser as ‘credible’ (‘Boys will be Supreme Court Justices’), summoned up the vision of the ‘Handmaid's Tale’ (inevitably) and concluded that Kavanaugh and the entire ‘ruling class’ in America were ‘Pigs all the way down.’
And how did the same Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times react to this latest claim? ‘What to do with Tara Reade’s allegation against Joe Biden?’ she bravely wondered aloud, before answering her own question by claiming that the allegation was being used ‘to troll the #MeToo movement’.
Of course anyone can do that cop-out. The claims against Brett Kavanaugh might have been said to have been used to troll the Republican nominee for the Supreme Court. Or Republicans in general. Or those of us who feel Margaret Atwood is a tad over-cited by the American left.
Goldberg has since responded to the mounting evidence in the Biden case, but the way she has responded is again characteristic. ‘What a nightmare’ she said on Twitter about the ‘most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far.’
Why a nightmare? Why not further evidence that we should always ‘Believe all women?’ Or somesuch. Likewise Stacey Abrams, one of the women auditioning to be Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running-mate. When asked who she believed in this case, Ms Abrams was clear: ‘I believe Joe Biden’ she said on CNN the other night. What a coincidence.
There is a lesson in here, if only we could find it. I would expect both political sides to take the lesson that they must double-down on any and all allegations against their opponents and defend their own even more fervently when this sort of things occurs. But the lesson that should be taken away is that one of the little lies of recent years is not fit for purpose. That truth and truthfulness, believability and dishonesty do not run along chromosomal lines, any more than they run along party ones.