September 20, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
Confirming Kavanaugh Is Like Confessing
Confessing what? That nothing matters but power. Men’s power.
Now that Christine Blasey Ford has come forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were teens, the various strains of social justice that have been circling around the Senate confirmation hearing have come into focus. At this point, like it or not, the Republicans are between a rock and a hard place.
The more they push to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court (and they will push with everything they’ve got), the more they will appear to deepen the impression that the Republican Party does not care about anything but power. And they will do this right before midterm voters decide who’s going to control the US Congress.
If it were possible, before Ford’s allegations, for the Republicans to deny having any part of the systemic fraud and corruption eating the heart of American society, it will not be possible afterward. Confirming Kavanaugh is tantamount to a confession.
Consider the context.
First, this is the most unpopular president in modern memory, and continues to get more unpopular even in bastion states like Wisconsin, where the Republican Governor Scott Walker is running neck and neck with a Democratic rival; even in bastion states like Texas where Ted Cruz is running for his life against Beto O’Rourke.
All presidents suffer backlash in the middle of their first terms. It doesn’t matter who they are. Unpopular presidents suffer more intense backlash. Donald Trump’s unpopularity isn’t going to get better, because he doesn’t see himself as the president of all Americans. He sees himself as the president of all Republicans.
Second, this is the most unpopular president at least in part because he won despite confessing to sexual assault (the “Access Hollywood” tape); despite nearly 20 women coming forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct of some kind; despite his paying off two women, all the while receiving the glowing endorsements of evangelical Christian leaders who had, a mere two decades prior, wholeheartedly endorsed the impeachment of a Democratic president for far lesser alleged crimes.
Third, this unpopularity on account of his treatment of women is part of a larger moment in which thousands and thousands of women have come forward to say that, yes, they too have been victims of sexual assault. The numbers have been so overwhelming, and the news reports have been so unending, that no one, not even the most hardened bro, can maintain the illusion that sexual assault is the result of a few bad apples. Sexual assault is not an individual issue. It’s societal. It’s cultural.
Fourth, #Metoo comes on the heels of a passel of social justice moments bent on exposing systemic fraud and corruption, whether its police departments that kill unarmed black men without cause; whether it’s regulators who look the other way while the big banks get bigger and the rich oligarchs get richer; whether it’s shooting massacres that kill our children; whether it’s Catholic bishops who cover up serial sexual predation; whether it’s fossil-fuel firms that pollute the air, land and water; whether it’s global firms that hold wages so low that hard work is meaningless; whether it’s politicians who use their privilege to cheat the markets.
Everywhere you look you see corruption. It’s even bringing down the president’s closest aides and advisors. But until this week, few had reason to make the connection between the rot eating the heart of American society and Brett Kavanaugh.
It’s different now. In this climate, Ford’s allegations are being given the benefit of the doubt. Lending more credence to her claim is her demand that the FBI investigate her allegations before she testifies, just as the FBI investigated Anita Hill’s allegations before she testified years ago against Clarence Thomas. Seems fair, no?
No, Republicans said. They want balance, not justice.
They want Ford’s testimony in writing by Friday and her public testimony by Monday. No investigation. No independent establishment of the facts. Why? Because they want the public to decide between he said-she said, and they are banking on the public siding with Kavanaugh just enough to rationalize confirming his nomination.
As I said Wednesday, that’s risky, and a steep price to pay.
As it is, the Republicans are merely pretending to care about women’s rights, or women generally. If they ram Kavanaugh through without establishing the truth of the matter, they are going to lose even young conservative women alienated by a Republican Party that has confessed to never caring about anything but power.
The politics of Al Franken’s head
I talked last month about Old-Guard Leftists who can’t really fathom why the Democratic Party got rid of former US Senator Al Franken as fast as it did.
So typical, some said. The Democrats kill themselves before they kill the Republicans. What about due process? others asked. Opportunists like Kirsten Gillibrand were calling for Franken’s head before he had a chance to defend himself. Still others: the whole thing was a Republic hit job. Of course the Democrats swallowed it.
That was then.
Having demonstrated zero tolerance for credible allegations of sexual misconduct, the Senate Democrats fighting the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh are on solid ground now that a credible allegation has come out against the appeals court judge.
In getting rid of Franken, the Democrats showed that there are things more important than politics. This is important, because Kavanaugh’s supporters are trying to lower the standard: they are saying that there’s nothing wrong with going all-in for Kavanaugh, because the Democrats would have done the same.
To be sure, you could argue that calling for Al Franken’s head was itself a political calculation, at the very least a way of answering the demands of the party’s core interest groups, particularly women (who are probably the majority of the base at this point). To which I would say, yup, it was a political calculation, but it was a political calculation in the service of something larger than politics.
And that something that’s larger than politics (equality of treatment for women) is helping the Democrats in a partisan battle for the soul of the Supreme Court, a court that will, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, do its best to erode protections for women.
Re “Not Your Father’s Democratic Party”
Notably, Kavanaugh is serial liar under oath, which also does not help his cause. Sadly, the details of the story strongly suggest a frat-boy personality that aligns hard partying with the wealthy white privilege of lying without having to ever sweat the consequences. Not a personality one wants to see on the Supreme Court. —BLG
Re “Not Just a Men’s Club”
Arguably, Merrick Garland was a spurned olive branch. The bigger issue for Republicans is that Kavanaugh was not their pick in the first place: he was Trump’s. And Trump picked him in an effort to log roll with Republicans while serving his defense strategy. But the guy wouldn’t pass a background check for a security clearance. And, bottom line, he’s an apparatchik, not a jurist. —CW
Re “Dems Like Leftism, Not Bernie Sanders”
Yes, yes. A thousand times! I initially liked Sanders for bringing in strong-left, popular and sensible ideas. But his inability to help Clinton get elected and his spoil nature made me really dislike his role. He is not a Democrat, I keep telling people. He’s mostly a Berniecrat who wants to push an agenda regardless of whether he’s being effective in getting the agenda enacted. We don’t have to litigate it, as you and I agree, but I keep thinking if Sanders had gone all-in for Clinton, she would have won. He didn’t. It’s not his fault she lost, but he’s a contributor. —GF
Re “When the Old Rule with Impunity”
I get why you wrote this, but I maintain that it is unfair to generalize about an entire group of people of any age/race/sexual preference/etc. based on the actions of a few of them. Hopefully we will be old one day, and people will have learned this by then. I think with boomers and millennials getting all kinds of crap in the media, Gen-X-ers have had a (virtual) pretty easy time of it, but nobody’s perfect. My two cents. —GKF
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.