I Believe in Stacey Abrams. I’m Disappointed in Stacey Abrams.

When beautiful lies reveal ugly truths

A closeup photo of Stacey Abrams speaking at an event.

Politicians are not auditioning to be my friend. Every election cycle, I remind myself of this as I consider which candidates to support. I do not need to believe they are the best people in the world. I need to find them capable of the important work they will be tasked with should they be elected. I need to believe that more often than not they will concern themselves with the greater good over what will be the greatest good to them personally.

All too often, though, we treat politicians and political campaigns like entertaining spectacles. We want candidates to enchant us with soaring rhetoric about how great this country is and how they are the best, nay, the only choice to further that greatness. We want candidates to be perfect, always saying and doing the right thing even when we know perfection isn’t possible. Perfection isn’t the goal. We want politicians to be beautiful liars without having to contend with the beautiful lies they tell.

Every time I listen to Stacey Abrams speak, regardless of the subject matter, I have the impression that she is the smartest person in the room. When she ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, I followed her race closely, impressed by her political savvy, her work to protect voters, and her interest in reforming the criminal justice system. When she lost that election, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but she did not allow that to temper her ambitions. She put her political energy into Fair Fight 2020, an organization focused on fighting voter suppression not only in Georgia but across the United States. I would even contend that her work with voter suppression is more important than anything she could do as an elected official, as Republicans redline and make voting districts malleable, to disenfranchise voters who threaten their power.

What has always most impressed me about Abrams is her willingness to show her ambition. She isn’t coy about her political aspirations. She is undeterred by naysayers. I was not at all surprised when she openly lobbied to serve as Joe Biden’s vice president in the 2020 presidential campaign. In an interview with Elle, she pointedly said, “I would be an excellent running mate,” and I believe her. She would excel on the campaign trail and as vice president and, in an ideal world, someday as president. Her attitude is a marked departure from politics as usual, where potential vice president selections normally demure public interest in their aspirations. Instead, she admits that she wants the job, is well-qualified for the job, and should be chosen.

I like her and what she stands for but I don’t expect to be her friend. I don’t need her to only tell me what I want to hear and, in fact, I am invigorated by the ways in which she challenges my thinking.

It would be wonderful to see an American presidential candidate make an interesting and viable choice for his or her running mate. Hillary Clinton had that opportunity in 2016 and went with the milquetoast choice of Tim Kaine, politics as usual. Biden has committed to choosing a woman as his running mate but has not offered any further insight. Were he to choose a Black woman, he would finally invigorate a campaign that has been successful but wildly uninspiring to many voters.

I say all this to make it clear that I do not expect Stacey Abrams to be a perfect politician with whom I agree on everything. I like her and what she stands for but I don’t expect to be her friend. I don’t need her to only tell me what I want to hear and, in fact, I am invigorated by the ways in which she challenges my thinking.

I was still disappointed by her comments in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against Joe Biden. For once, she behaved like the worst kind of politician. She said what she was supposed to say, that women are supposed to be heard when they raise such allegations and that those allegations should be thoroughly vetted. But she also affirmed that she believes Joe Biden. That may well be true but I am left wondering if, instead, she believes her political aspirations are more important than a more critical and nuanced engagement with the matter at hand.

When Abrams first offered her public support, Biden and his campaign had not made a statement about the allegations. Instead, he left that work to his surrogates, forcing the women supporting his campaign, and the Black women, in particular, into an untenable position. They had to do the messy work he abstained from in service of his own political aspirations.

Tara Reade’s allegations are disturbing. Several major newspapers and media outlets have, indeed, pursued the story, unable to make a definitive determination as to the claims’ veracity. That’s par for the course. These stories, particularly when so many years have passed, are notoriously difficult to prove. It is troubling that Reade has changed her story but that is not atypical. She does not necessarily come across as credible but to say that forces us into a terrible bind of interrogating the victim rather than the victimizer. Sexual assault is indiscriminate. It happens to all kinds of people, regardless of their flaws, and believing victims should not be predicated on their character.

I don’t know what I believe about Reade’s allegations. Nonetheless, her allegations should be investigated with the same rigor all sexual assault allegations deserve. That is what I am supposed to say but it is also what I believe. We cannot apply the maxim that we should believe women only when it suits us. It has been disheartening to watch liberals, who purport to support victims of sexual assault, stay silent on this topic hoping it will simply go away. If these allegations are indeed true, we have to choose the less terrible sexual predator in November 2020. And no matter where our allegiances lie, Joe Biden, however unfortunate or uninspiring a candidate, is better than Donald Trump. At this point, just about anyone is better than Trump. His tenure as president has been an unending horror, particularly for vulnerable populations. If he is elected to a second term, the damage may well be irrevocable. We cannot allow that to happen.

Politics is a dirty business. Power is dangerous in anyone’s hands. But right now, power is in the hands of a president and a political party who only seek to destroy anyone who doesn’t share their ideology while they rob the country blind and fatten their own coffers. It’s a travesty and yes, now would be a perfect time for real political change but revolution is rare. Real change takes time and, all too often, requires making compromising choices. It is deeply unfair, if her allegations are true, that Tara Reade will be the sacrificial lamb at the altar of necessary change. There is no recompense this country will be able to offer her.

Stacey Abrams knows that. She has her political ambitions. She prides herself on being forthright but she also knows there are times when she has to play coy like every other politician. That’s what she was doing when she made her statement, that somewhat cynical and bland statement that appeases people who believe Tara Reade and people who don’t and also allows her to stay the course. She says the right things while also letting her candidate know that when necessary, she is willing to be the kind of politician she might ordinarily disdain.

Sometimes, politicians are going to disappoint us, no matter how much we need to idealize them. Abrams and her decision to provide cover for Joe Biden is disappointing. Her decision is worthy of critique but I still believe in her and the work she does. I am far more interested in holding to account men like Joe Biden who will let women — especially Black women — do their dirty work.

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

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