Members Only | September 26, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
On Kavanaugh, Democrats Don’t Need the High Ground
They have it but don't need it, because Merrick Garland.
I understand why liberals are getting their backs up over President Trump’s comments yesterday regarding allegations of sexual assault against his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But there’s another way of handling it. By saying: so what?
When asked about Deborah Ramirez, who went to Yale with Kavanaugh and said he pushed his penis in her face during a drunken dorm party, Trump said: “It’s con game they’re playing. [The Democrats] are really con artists. They don’t believe it themselves.” (Ramirez says she’s willing to testify; see a third women below.)
They know [Kavanaugh is] a high-quality person. They don’t believe it. It’s just resist and obstruct. They’re playing a con game and they play it very well. They play it actually much better than the Republicans.”
He isn’t alone.
Some Republicans (though not all) and allies in the media have portrayed allegations against Kavanaugh as another form of power politics. The implication is that there’s no substance to these claims, that they are intended to wound Kavanaugh or “ruin this guy’s life,” as Lindsey Graham said. The Democrats can’t stop the Republicans from confirming Kavanaugh, the thinking goes. So they’re throwing everything at him.
The GOP’s instinct for seeing power politics where there are gender equity concerns is fueling a backlash against them. The more they say these women are partisan pawns, the more women, even sympathetic conservative women, are pushing back.
This push and pull is healthy, I think, because it exposed finally what has long been concealed: the primitive inclination among most Republicans to see everything in terms of hierarchy, and that woman are not immune to this inclination.
What makes them conservative, as a first principal, is a deference to authority arising from the traditional organization of human affairs according to a built-in imbalance of power: white over black, rich over poor, and, yes, men over women.
The outrage conservative women feel isn’t rooted in equality. It’s rooted in believing they were the exception. They aren’t. They never were. Now they feel betrayed.
This is probably why the president likes Brett Kavanaugh. He defends him in precisely the same way he has defends himself and associates against similar allegations. Rob Porter is a former aide. He’s also a wife beater. But when asked, the president’s gut tells him to sympathize not with the victim of inequities of power, but with the man who “is supposed to” benefit from them. That is, after all, the natural order.
Chanting “Believe the Women” is healthy for our society, but it isn’t the only healthy choice. Another is calling out the Republicans for their bullshit. Liberals don’t believe Christine Blasey Ford is making baseless accusations. They find them credible and worthy of investigation. But my point is this: even if these were baseless accusations, even if Ford and Ramirez were only out to “take down” Kavanaugh, so what?
So what is they were?
I don’t see a problem with that being the case, if that were the case (I don’t think it is.) I don’t have a problem with it, because the Republicans don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to appealing to principles higher than power politics. There is a two-word response for each instance in which the GOP or its allies in the media appeal to morality, process, the Constitution, or to anything that’s not power politics.
Those two words are Merrick Garland.
Point: A man is innocent until proven guilty.
Counterpoint: Merrick Garland.
Point: This is a shameful smear and a new low.
Counterpoint: Merrick Garland.
Point: We can’t hold Kavanaugh accountable for what he did 30 years ago.
Counterpoint: Merrick Garland.
And so on.
To be sure, the Republicans will trot out the old canard about Harry Reid having started this race to the bottom. (The former senator zapped the filibuster on federal court nominees but not Supreme Court nominees.) That’s nonsense. These Republicans were the first to deny any Supreme Court nominee a hearing (most refused to even meet Merrick Garland). They did so for no reason other than power politics. They swore to do so if Democrat Hillary Clinton won the election.
On the one hand, the Democrats have the moral high ground. Give these women the benefit of the doubt, they say. Properly investigate their claims, they say.
On the other hand, they don’t need the moral high ground. Even if this were merely an opportunistic attempt to drag this nominee through the mud, so what?
Kavanaugh supporter’s second thoughts
Akhil Reed Amar was Kavanaugh’s teacher at Yale Law. Previously, he had nothing but glowing praise for his former student. That was before allegations against him.
Now Reed thinks the Republicans need to investigate the claims against him — for his sake, the Republican Party’s sake and for the sake of the Supreme Court.
He told NPR Tuesday:
Let the chips fall where they may. We have to in the end be fact-based. And if he’s rushed through—and let’s say he actually gets confirmed—the investigations private and public won’t stop. The press will still be on this issue. If Democrats can gain control in November of the House or the Senate, they can have ongoing investigations into this. They’ll have the oversight power.
My friend Marty Longman said something similar Tuesday:
I’m seeing multiple reports now on Twitter from folks who cover the Republican side in Congress that Mitch McConnell does not currently have the votes he needs to confirm Kavanaugh. Goldberg concurs in that assessment. For this reason, it doesn’t look like it will be possible to confirm him without an FBI investigation.
Julie Swetnick comes forward
CNBC reported this morning:
The lawyer Michael Avenatti on Wednesday identified another accuser of Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, Washington resident Julie Swetnick.
Swetnick, in an affidavit posted online by Avenatti, claims that Kavanaugh, as a high school student in the early 1980s, with others spiked the drinks of girls at house parties with grain alcohol and/or drugs to “cause girls to lose inhibitions and their ability to say ‘No.'”
Swetnick said these efforts by Kavanaugh and his buddy Mark Judge were done so the girls “could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys.”
Avenatti says Swetnick is ready to testify. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote Friday. The full Senate is expected to vote some time Monday or Tuesday.
Anti-corruption is better than populism
I understand why Barack Obama chose to restore order after the 2008 financial crisis. But the former president’s natural instinct for caution came at a price.
His insistence not to seek “Old Testament justice” meant that many Americans channeled their justifiable rage against Wall Street and capitalism run amok in other ways. Those other ways included supporting the so-called Tea Party, thus sending the Democratic Party to the margins of power in states and localities across the country, and, as Joshua Green reminds us, voting for President Donald Trump.
In a democracy, the pitchfork-wielding masses will eventually make themselves heard. The story of American politics over the past decade is the story of how the forces Obama and Geithner failed to contain reshaped the world. The day-to-day drama of bank failures and bailouts eventually faded from the headlines. But the effects of the disruption never went away, unleashing partisan energies on the Left (Occupy Wall Street) and the Right (the Tea Party) that wiped out the political era that came before and ushered in a poisonous, polarizing one. The critical massing of conditions that led to Donald Trump had their genesis in the backlash. And the rising tide of economic populism among Democrats makes it all but certain that the next presidential election, and Trump’s possible successor, will be shaped by it, too.
My hope is that this “rising tide of economic populism” in Democratic circles can be directed in other ways, like anti-corruption. This, along with health care, has been a key message to midterm voters in light of the president’s legal troubles, his scandals, and his association with Russia, which is like one big criminal syndicate.
In couching economic populism in anti-corruption, I think the Democrats can avoid having to answer a central question about the 2016 election: Was Hillary Clinton’s loss a matter of class or matter of race? There is strong evidence that panic among white Americans living amid great demographic change fueled Trump’s victory, but social status can be rooted—indeed, is rooted—in white supremacy and class resentment.
Many think class and race can be disentangled. I just don’t think it’s that easy. This is America, after all. Race and class have rarely been disentangled. In focusing on anti-corruption, however, the Democrats can avoid answering the unanswerable while speaking directly to the interests of a broad and racially diverse electorate.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.