September 21, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
Plain Talk about Christine Blasey Ford’s Timing
Plus: Sheldon Whitehouse hints at investigating Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
I’d like to speak plainly to people (men, mostly) who say they are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Christine Blasey Ford. All they are doing, they say, is questioning the timing of her allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
First, if you are questioning the timing of her allegations, you are not giving Ford the benefit of the doubt. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt means reserving judgment until the relevant facts are known, and then coming to reasonable conclusion based on those facts. You are not keeping an open mind about criminal allegations if you are questioning anything before relevant facts are established.
I’ll get to the timing part but it’s worth hanging on this point for a moment. Ford is asking that the FBI independently verify her claims. That’s not something a false accuser does. A false accuser would want the Republicans to do what they are doing, which is avoiding the independent verification of relevant facts. A false accuser is not focused on revealing the truth. A false accuser has other priorities that probably have their inspiration in mental illness, trauma or actual malicious intent.
Chuck Grassley has said some nonsense about Ford’s claims now being public. Therefore, the FBI has no role, he said. Again, that’s nonsense. The FBI can reopen an background check on Kavanaugh and have it done in three days. Given the Republicans refusal to request an audit of Ford’s claim, that means they don’t want facts getting in the way of casting doubt on her, which is the only credible political strategy they have at this point. As long as they keep her allegations shrouded in a shadow of doubt*, they can rationalize to the public confirmation of Kavanaugh.
Now to the timing. This is the go-to strategy of anyone casting doubt on victims of sexual misconduct. It couldn’t have been so bad, the thinking goes, because the victim didn’t alert the authorities right away. If she had alerted the authorities right way, maybe there would be something to the allegations. She didn’t, so there’s nothing to the allegations. This is precisely what the president did this morning:And again: And again: I’ll leave to the experts the many valid reasons why victims of sexual crimes don’t report their victimhood. For my purposes, I want to point out something in plain English: The imminent nomination of a Supreme Court justice is perfect timing.
Be serious. This is a lifetime appointment. This man will sit in judgment on a range of controversial legal, ethical and moral issues, including issues most relevant to the most intimate aspects of the lives of millions. Even if Ford were an “opportunist,” as she has been called, so what? There is democratic value in knowing whether a nominee committed crimes. He should be vetted. Let the Ford investigation be part of that.
Lastly, I want to talk about the most sexist part of the knee-jerk reaction to casting doubt on victims of sexual crimes. They are accused of being “opportunists.” If it were as bad as they say, they would have called the police. Since they didn’t, it can’t be as bad as they say. So when they bring it up now, instead of 30 years ago, victims are opportunistically trying to sabotage men’s careers, good standing, or whatever.
Here we need to remember the cost of seizing this so-called “opportunity.” Ford has received death threats, her email accounts have been hacked, and she has been driven “into hiding” according to reporting by the Times. This is extreme, but the social cost of coming forward is common. So the question must be: the opportunity to do what?
Why is this the most sexist part? Because it presumes a woman’s interests begin and end with a man’s interests, whether they are good or bad. By this way of thinking, death threats are nothing to a woman who really wants to cut a man down. In this view, not only is the woman sadistic, she’s insane—which is par for the course.
Sheldon Whitehouse Opens a Door
For the first time I can remember, a leading Democrat opened the door to investigating a sitting Supreme Court justice. This, I think, has the makings of a strategy by which the Democrats set themselves against a court they will have lost for a generation should Brett Kavanaugh he confirmed. (He probably will be.)
Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him Thursday: “If the Democrats win back the House and/or the Senate, Democrats will investigate what happened, the charges that Professor Ford is laying out, even if that means investigating a [sitting] Supreme Court justice?”
Whitehouse: “I am confident of that.”
This is new. Or newish.
The impeachment of state and federal judges used to be fairly common in the 19th century, but the practice grew rare during the 20th century, according to Governing columnist Alan Greenblatt. New Hampshire’s legislature, he wrote, “made a habit of clearing out the entire state Supreme Court, doing so on at least five occasions.” The impeachment of Supreme Court justices was extremely rarer, but it happened.
I’d imagine this has something to do with a changing of political consensus. When the more the parties and courts grew out of sync, the more likely it was people sought to remove judges. The more in sync they were, the less incentive there was to remove.
A Supreme Court featuring Kavanaugh is going to be out of sync with the entire country. When that happened in the past, Emily Bazelon wrote, “unpredictable counterforces have been unleashed. The judiciary is supposed to be the least dangerous branch of government, but when it falls out of step with the public, it can nonetheless strain the constitutional order—and the country—to the breaking point.”
Those “unpredictable counterforces” might come in the form of congressional investigations into Kavanaugh’s history, a history that his Republican patrons don’t want to investigate, because in doing so, they risk unearthing inconvenient facts.
If the Republicans prevail, and I still think they are going to, it might be in part thanks to Kavanaugh himself, who appears to have played a role in a disinformation campaign* against Ford. According to the Post, “Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh.”
In brief, the conservatives are pushing a case of mistaken identity. Kavanaugh’s friend, Ed Whelan, served with him in the Bush administration and has been advising his confirmation effort. On Thursday evening, Whelan “publicly identified another high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s as Ford’s possible attacker,” the Post reported.
Whelan, the Post said, “pointed to floor plans, online photographs and other information to suggest a location for the house party in suburban Maryland that Ford described. He also named and posted photographs of the classmate he suggested could be responsible.” Fox News blared Whelan’s disinformation this morning, reinforcing the idea to its viewers that Kavanaugh wasn’t the man Ford said attacked her.
Now, it’s one thing for partisans to attack a woman’s credibility for complicating a confirmation process. That’s a decision the GOP will pay for on Election Day. But it’s quite another thing for a Supreme Court nominee himself to have participated in the Republican Party’s attack on a woman complicating his rise to power. That’s a mark of character, a kind of character that’s out of sync with the needs of the country.
I’ll close with Ronald J. Kroszynski, who wrote “The Case for Impeaching Kavanaugh.” He said: “The House Democratic leadership should pledge now that if they win a majority, they will conduct an impeachment investigation, to get to the truth. Doing so today would make clear to the Senate Republicans that if they rush to judgment, in the absence of a full and fair investigation, there will still be an investigation.”
shadow of doubt*
Read this thread by the Post’s Jim Rieger to see how the Republicans have been pre-judging Ford even as they say they will judge her allegations fairly.
Many thanks for @EdOverbeek for pointing out the Post’s reporting on Kavanaugh’s apparent link to Whalen’s disinformation campaign.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.