If, tomorrow morning, Almighty God came down and whispered in my ear that Brett Kavanaugh had never come within a hundred miles of committing sexual assault, I would still believe that he has no business coming within a hundred miles of the Supreme Court.
This is not, I could swear to that same Almighty God on a stack of Bibles, because I am a liberal (which I am) out to avenge the Clintons (which I am not) in accordance with my hatred for white males (like my dad, my brothers, my husband, my son, and many of my friends). And it is only tangentially because of the foul mood and manners Kavanaugh displayed before the Senate Judiciary committee – no matter how patently obvious it may be that if any female nominee threw half that hissy-fit, she’d be chopped right up for fire wood.
As a matter of fact, I started out this scandal-cycle more than prepared to side with Kavanaugh.
In spite – no, because – of my default loathing of Trump, mourning of Garland, crediting of sexual-assault complaints, and dreading of an even further-right turn by the Supreme Court, I greeted the emergence of sexual-assault allegations with an instinctively cold shoulder. It wasn’t any assumption on my part that Christine Blasey Ford was lying. It was an acutely self-scrutinizing awareness of what was in it for me if she wasn’t.
It was a certain measure of deference, too, to the smooth velvet approval that Kavanaugh came cloaked in: the number of times he’d been vetted before; the glowing reviews he’d garnered from judicial sages, some of whom disagreed sharply with his politics.
Taking those cues, I’d already spent the weeks since Kavanaugh’s nomination shooting down my own objections with “true, but” bullets.
He’s sooo conservative…true, but who is this president going to pick that isn’t?
He’s a son of such privilege…True, but anyone who counts that a demerit had better be ready to disavow FDR and the Kennedys.
He’s claiming a second seat for the far right when the last one should have gone to an Obama moderate…. really, really true, but with zero Republican senators losing a wink of sleep over it, sadly irrelevant.
Once Blasey Ford arrived on the scene, I felt the usual disgust at the usual characterizations of the accuser as some sort of liar-lunatic-conspirator mongrel. At the same time, however, I just couldn’t get into the baying for Kavanaugh’s blood. It isn’t often that I find myself nodding in agreement with Kellyanne Conway, but the line she was soon taking –that with all due regard for the pent-up anger of the #MeToo movement, it could be wrong to unleash it on this one man -- struck me as valid. Especially for liberals, traditionally so consumed with the rights of the accused, the current imperative to “believe the women” instantly, completely and permanently ought to be a problematic one. That is not to question the fact that sexual assault happens to women seismically more often than false accusation happens to men. But fairness demands an allowance that in any given case, it can happen.
And Democrats, it must be said, did not seem the slightest bit concerned that it might be happening here. Days before the hearing, the cameras found Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, sparkling with certainty like a guillotine in the sun: “I believe Dr. Ford because she is telling the truth!” she declaimed.
“Really, senator?” I snapped at the T.V.. “Will you be turning your decoder ring to the weather and Wall Street, too?”
Meanwhile, back in the weeds of the matter in question, there lay the apparent impossibility of proving anything one way or the other. So, while continuing to find Kavanaugh ideologically distressing, I felt myself coming down on the side of giving him a moral and intellectual pass.
It was as I watched the nominee on Fox News that I felt my apprehensions stir and start to shift. Gradually, beginning with that interview, I began to feel less disturbed by Democratic hints of Robespierre, and more disturbed by the degree to which Team Kavanaugh had gone full Gertrude. Talk about “doth protest too much.”
Not content with categorical denial that their Brett committed the egregious acts in question, his defenders – himself chief among them -- leapt to the position that he had never done anything wrong, ever. Certainly nothing in the shitfaced-misogyny department!
This gave me a real, creeping, gut-level sense that there was something rotten in Bethesda: Kavanaugh’s desperation to depict himself – and his coterie’s desperation to depict him -- as having sprung into the world fully and perfectly formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. If, in the highly sympathetic setting of that Fox interview, Kavanaugh had taken the opportunity to draw any sort of picture of how he had matured through making mistakes, I would have likely found it human, reflective, the very opposite of disqualifying. But he sprinted the other way. By his lights, he had never done anything worse than "on occasion" drink a little too much legally-obtained-in-Maryland-at-the-time beer! He had always treated women with dignity and respect! He had a letter signed by 65 female friends from high school, for Chrissakes!
Now think about that for a second: Do you know 65 people who could truly attest to the content of your character? I don’t. Cut out one entire gender and anyone I met after high school, and I really don’t.
Maybe I am just a fool for flawed people. But even before Blasey Ford waded carefully and credibly through her testimony and Kavanaugh wigged out during his, that insistence that there were not, nor had their every been, any chinks in his armor bothered me. Then I realized he’d been a year ahead of me at Yale, where he belonged to two of its most notoriously, um, louche ‘n’ liquid brotherhoods, and I thought “he’s lying.”
Then, just before falling into the rush of general opprobrium, I caught myself on the twig of ‘probably’: “He’s probably lying. But you never know: it could come out in the next couple of days that Brett was always the designated driver or the guy who really liked his frat brothers, but sat out, even tried to steer them away from, their uglier antics. There are those kids, too.” But then came one very convincingly-told tale after another that portrayed this particular DKE as your basic Eli booze hound, and that twig snapped.
To be clear: Short of an actual crime, I could not give a rat’s boola boola if Brett Kavanaugh spent the first 25 years of his life boozing, boofing, barfing and devil’s-triangulating to his frat-boy heart’s content, provided he spent the next 25 doing better things. But that is not Kavanaugh’s account of himself. Kavanaugh’s account of himself is one of ceaseless rectitude with a touch of thirst, and it differs wildly from many others’ first-hand accounts of him. Thus, the current fixation on the follies of his younger days is not, as widely fretted, an ominous example of extreme vetting gone wild. It is an acceptance of Kavanaugh’s own, unfathomably ill-advised invitation to hold the reality of his younger self against the image he has chosen to wave at America much more purposefully than he could possibly have waved his genitalia in the face of Deborah Ramirez. It is as if he has flung open the door of his old dorm room and defied everyone not to pronounce it immaculate. It’s not our fault if, now that we’re here, the rest of us can’t help but notice the empty beer cans under the bed and the stolen-bra flag over it.
Oh, those beer cans, and kegs, and pitchers, and steins. Once the time came for him finally to speak for himself before the Senate judiciary committee, Kavanaugh didn’t speak so much as sneer, shriek and snort with derision at Democratic senators’ attempts to quantify just how much ‘ski he was wont to swill. Oddly for such an eminent jurist, he failed to grasp – or pretended that he failed to grasp – that this issue goes straight to the heart of the quandary at hand. It offers at least something of a plausible basis for the sense, which many Republicans professed to have, that neither he nor his main accuser was lying. Before and after his testimony, Kavanaugh has been plausibly described as a frequent drunk, a belligerent drunk, a stumbling drunk – but he was never, ever, his champions proclaim without possibly knowing, a blackout drunk.
Of course, I have no idea whether Kavanaugh is any kind of alcoholic. But in his testimony, there is no delicate way to say, he certainly acted like one. I know that seems like a cheap shot to take, not just at Kavanaugh but at anyone with alcoholism -- but think about it: He depicted beer as nectar, and also as the essence of bonding. He distinguished between passing out and “falling asleep” from drinking. He seemed absolutely gobsmacked that Sheldon Whitehouse did not know how to play quarters. When challenged by others – senators! In a hearing! to determine his personal fitness to serve! – about his drinking, he challenged them right back about what and how much they drank. Honest to God, after a few of those exchanges, I wanted Grassley and Feinstein to stage an intervention.
Then again, when you think of Churchill the lush and Trump the teetotaler, you remember the limits of abstemiousness as a mark of civic virtue. But regardless of his own habits, Kavanaugh displayed a shockingly backward conception of the chemical dependency that, in one form or another, has so many Americans in its grip, including at least one of his best high-school buddies. If he had said “look, I realize that the nature of addiction is such that my denying it and my friends’ denying it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but what else can I do?” I’d have ceded him that point. What got me is, this guy really, really seemed to regard “I was the captain of the varsity basketball team!” as proof that he couldn’t possibly have had a substance-abuse problem.
Even if Kavanaugh never did anything sodden or lewd his life, I found this whole "I-couldn't-have-been-a-drunk-I-was-a-star!" business troubling. He kept equating sterling credentials with sterling character; kept stressing that he couldn’t have done these awful things, because he just wasn’t that kind of guy.
Now, critics retort that he was precisely that kind of guy, to which defenders retort "nuh-uh, he remembers everything, and it was almost all studying, lifting weights and going to church!" and so goes the shouting match that can’t be won. But isn’t it clear by now that Kavanaugh most likely is, or has been, both kinds of guy? A choirboy and a carouser? An overachiever with an underbelly? In the current New Yorker, a Yale suitemate describes college Brett as someone who was, at times, “quiet, studious” and at other times, when drunk, mean and aggressive. Based on everything out there, that sounds right to me. But even if Kavanaugh does not have more than one side to him, the world is full of people who do. Since he is a judge and will probably be a justice, let's hope he was only pretending not to know this.
In any event, Kavanaugh clearly feels rage and resentment at any notion that anything he might have done as a young man should affect his chances now, and that reminded me of another two-sided split, this one in society. For all practical – and most certainly legal -- purposes, there are certain youths for whom rule-breaking is a rite of passage, and other kinds of youths for whom it is a fall through a trap door.
Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have been having a grand old time ridiculing, for example, the unearthing of an old police report revealing that an undergraduate Kavanaugh, somehow involved in a barfight in New Haven, threw ice in someone’s face.
OK, I get it: college guys drink, college guys say and do dumb things, (most) college guys (supposedly) grow out of it. But amid all the joshing and towel-snapping, I could not – cannot -- help but think of the countless American kids who aren’t captain of this or anywhere near the top ten of that, who screw up to the same level in their milieux that Kavanaugh did in his. But they’ll never find themselves fighting to get from the almost-top of the American ladder to the tippy-tippy-top, as Kavanaugh is, let alone feel free to throw a tantrum if they feel unfairly held down. For their sins, those kids fall into society’s basement, and had best act grateful for any chance they get to climb out.
Kavanaugh could also use a little brushing-up on his conspiracy theory.
I refer, of course, to what is perhaps the most self-damning passage of his testimony, which -- incredibly -- was included in his prepared statement:
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."
Many have correctly cited these remarks as evidence that Kavanaugh is far too vituperatively partisan to serve on the Supreme Court. When it came to the revenge stuff, he also sounded…dumb.
At this point, how can any sentient person be under the impression that there is any significant cohort of the Democratic Party vowing to avenge the Clintons? These days, of course, one is much more likely to find Democrats disavowing them, whether it’s the Bernie folks who approach Trumpian levels of hatred for Hillary, the armchair strategists who are still grousing about how little time she spent in Wisconsin or whatever, and most crucially in terms of the Kavanaugh fight, the #MeToo movers and shakers – Gillibrand, for instance – for whom Bill has become a total albatross. It is true that many still do wish that Hillary had been elected -- and given Trump, who can blame them? But to the degree that vengeance is motivating anti-Kavanaugh Democrats, it's vengeance on behalf of Merrick Garland -- a factor omitted from Kavanaugh's screed, presumably because he knows it reeks.
It’s Republicans who are obsessed with the Clintons, and no Republican more so than the one in the White House. Once it was clear, from early in his testimony, that Kavanaugh was going all-out wingnut, I found myself asking the same question about him that I am always asking about Trump: is he really a crazy person, or is he just playing one on T.V.?
"Does Kavanaugh really consider himself the victim of a purposeful partisan hit job which he truly believes that he can fight only by telling all these obvious, stupid, unnecessary lies?" I asked myself. "Or is he choosing to portray himself that way, so as to appeal to the one viewer who could pull the plug on his nomination but who, precisely because of this ranting and raving, won’t?"
And I came to the same conclusion for the judge as I do for the president: Either way, it’s catastrophic.
For very different reasons, Republicans and Democrats have both taken to observing that the Kavanaugh-Blasey Ford hearings failed to yield much in the way of new information. Not so. Remember back in the halcyon days of this confirmation fight, when even the most politically-neutral analysts wondered whether Kavanaugh’s expansive view of the power of the executive might hint at an over-willingness to dance to the tune called by this executive? Now we know.
Here's what else I know:
I know that in the unlikely event that Kavanaugh is withdrawn or voted down, another, perhaps even more conservative, figure will make it to the Supreme Court. I know that that scenario could very well do Democrats more harm than good in the mid-terms. And I know that notwithstanding those concerns, the question to answer is the question at hand.
Is Brett Kavanaugh fit to serve on the United States Supreme Court?