This fight is much bigger than Brett Kavanaugh
The Senate Judiciary Committee will cast the first of three votes Friday, each will position Brett Kavanaugh closer or further away from a seat on the Supreme Court. The Friday morning Senate session was met with just as much contention as was present at the end of Thursday’s hearing.
The anxiety and turmoil inside the halls of Capitol Hill is indicative of the sentiment among the people in their homes and out on the streets. The people in this country are as diametrically divided about the confirmation as the Senators who represent them.
Thursday’s hearing and testimony from Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, successfully invoked a visceral and emotional response from people inside and outside the chamber, on both sides of the ideological line, perhaps more successfully than originally intended.
As a whole, the “right” direction may be more muddled Friday than it was Wednesday. But the entirety of the situation, the weight of the accusation and consequence, the lives that hang in the balance of this one decision – it has become a point of singularity representing a social movement struggling to find legal backbone and guardrails. They may not have known the fight for this particular SCOTUS nomination would loom so large over the social conscience, but there’s no going back now. The side of history people choose to stand on today and in the few days that follow will not be forgotten.
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Now is a good time to take inventory of where we are, how we got here and what we learned (or didn’t) from Thursday’s testimony.
The #MeToo movement, born in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, has empowered millions of women and victims of sexual assault – it evolved from a hashtag into a powerful voice. That voice has found its way to into the political realm, where values go to thrive or die systemically. Scores of people are no longer willing to accept the statistics and silencing of sexual assault victims – is it any surprise that our legislators would eventually be forced to contend with the issue?
The topic is uncomfortable. The due process question is uncomfortable. But being a victim of sexual assault is by far the most uncomfortable position to be in and those dealing with that lingering trauma deserve to be treated with respect in both commentary and in practice. We as a country have not arrived at either place with any level of sincerity. Thursday’s hearing proved just that.
It became a shit-flinging fest between the two parties in the second half and as entertaining as that can be, that is not why the hearing was on the agenda and in this context, it was disrespectful.
But that’s not how it started.
It started with Christine Blasey Ford, for the first time in front of cameras. Her real-life image and voice were heard for the first time. She was…credible, if that’s the word for it. She seemed sincere. It was hard to discern what she would have to gain by being there, taking on the light of the world to publicly discuss an event she claims has impacted her adult life episodically. She told the committee she felt the pressure of civic duty, that she truly believed Kavanaugh’s behavior toward her as a teen should be known as he is considered for a lifetime appointment to highest court of the land.
The professor was slightly timid and obviously nervous, telling the selected prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, she was “terrified” to tell her story out loud. “That’s just not right,” Mitchell responded. But she proceeded anyway, with grace and humility, careful not to change the details she had previously recalled. It should be noted that she told the same exact story to a marriage counselor in 2012, long before Kavanaugh made it to the short list. She began ringing the bell when the nominee was just a twinkle in Trump’s eye.
She was treated, on the surface with the cameras rolling, with a level of respect not given to Anita Hill 27 years ago. The silent Republican senators seemed to be listening, some even outwardly moved as she described being pushed into a bedroom, held down with her mouth covered to silence her screams, afraid she would be “accidentally” killed as she caught the eye of Mark Judge and hoped he would help her – she hoped he would pull a drunken Kavanaugh off of her before he could get past her one-piece bathing suit. The whole room seemed to internalize her recounting how the two boys laughed at her expense while she hid in a bathroom, just hoping to escape. She was 15.
That is the story she alleges. That is the story she attested to under the scrutiny of a lie detector test (regardless of who paid for it), the same story she welcomes the FBI to investigate.
Each Senator in that chamber heard the same story, and yet, when they broke the session prior to Kavanaugh’s testimony, several Republican members took an immediate position of defense for the nominee. They were careful to tell hallway reporters they respected Ford and thought she was credible, but shirked the possibility that Kavanaugh could have assaulted her. Their refusal to subpoena witnesses, namely Mark Judge, or reopen the FBI investigation lends evidence that they made up their minds to confirm the nominee long before they heard Ford speak. The hearing was never meant to sway their decision – it was lip service to placate the masses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham best summed up the delicate line (i.e., double-speak) GOP members of the committee are straddling in a statement during the Senate meeting Friday morning: “I do believe something happened to her. But I don’t believe it was Kavanaugh.”
And there it is. That was the end of the concern for Ford’s testimony. They found a way to say they believed her and didn’t believe her, in the same breath. They agreed on a talking point and stuck to their guns, and when Kavanaugh took his place in the chamber to testify, it certainly appeared they had handed him a loaded weapon as well.
In contrast to Ford’s demeanor, the judicial nominee came out swinging. He was angry, almost militant in the opening speech he yelled into the microphone. He condemned the Democratic members of the committee, espoused a conspiracy against him and the president – even threading in a theory of Clinton vengeance – and of course, he lamented the suffering he, his family and his reputation had endured under the multiple allegations of sexual assault – all of which he called “outrageous.”
The second half of Thursday’s hearing shifted focus to how wronged Kavanaugh has been, how audacious it is to accuse to such a “good man” of such horrible behavior and how the Democrats should be ashamed for “dragging him through the mud.” Ford’s name and her story faded away as the verbally violent warfare waged on. Republicans accused the Democrats of playing political football, while they were punting the ball themselves.
And let’s be honest here, both sides were justified in admonishing each other. Dianne Feinstein handled the situation poorly, reserving Ford’s allegations for a time that would maximize dramatic effect. Chuck Grassley disrespected process and precedent for a thorough FBI background investigation. The left promised to block this confirmation at all cost and the right did just that with Merrick Garland. Everybody in that Senate chamber has taken part in political theatrics and manipulation.
But that doesn’t make Christine Blasey Ford a liar and it doesn’t make Brett Kavanaugh innocent. It is entirely possible we will never know the truth of what happened in that bedroom in 1982, but what is obvious is the Senate Republicans’ lack of interest in the truth at all – the refusal to allow the FBI to investigate the claims is all the proof of that we need. Kavanaugh’s own resistance to an FBI investigation is telling, his combative and elusive responses to questioning from Democrats made him appear guilty and defensive, regardless of whether he is or not. Sen. Dick Durbin repeatedly challenged him to personally request an investigation and the long silence that fell carried the weight of a thousand words.
Kavanaugh flatly refused to withdraw his nomination and opted to join the partisan battle led by none other than Sen. Lindsey Graham, who tore into an angry diatribe during his turn at the mic, shifting the tone of the entire day and process. In that moment, it was no longer about Ford. Her voice and those of many others were shuttered as it became more and more clear that the pursuit to tip the Supreme Court balance was more important than any victim or any repercussion at the ballot box. They’ve calculated that it’s worth everything they will lose to get this one win.
Similarly, Kavanaugh seems to have weighed the risks and it appears he’s willing to accept them – it’s all worth it if he’s confirmed to the Supreme Court in the end. Hell, Clarence Thomas survived, right? Some student just finished reading a Thomas opinion for a some class, somewhere, guaranteed. For Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court is the holy grail. There is no further up the ladder from that – it’s a lifetime appointment. If he endures this process and gets confirmed, he’s reached the mecca of legal careers. What wouldn’t you do or say, or deny, to get to the mecca?
There will be repercussions, that much is known. If the “Year of the Woman” that followed Anita Hill’s testimony is any indication, the GOP has hell to pay in November. Women are bigger and stronger than ever before and their place in the halls of government and justice is being solidified more with each passing election. People will have to answer for their votes today and in the days that follow. Constituents will hold their elected officials accountable. People will protest…oh, they will definitely protest.
But the best way to suppress the barreling train of progress is with a final stop at the Supreme Court and that is exactly what they intend to do by charging ahead, despite calls from the American Bar Association and millions of other citizens to delay the vote until an investigation can be conducted. Integrity be damned.
What’s going on right now is bigger than the president or any political party, it is more than the #MeToo movement or the fear that movement instills in some, it transcends gender and age – simply, this is a fight, welcomed or not, for the integrity of our laws and democracy as we know it. People should pay attention.
Update, 9/28, 1:20 p.m.
Amid pressure from Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, the Senate Judiciary Committee will ask the White House administration to request the FBI reopen Brett Kavanaugh’s background investigation as it relates to allegations of sexual assault. They are requesting the investigation be concluded no later than Oct. 5 and any interim Senate vote would be contingent on the results of the investigation.