I listened to and watched almost all the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing Thursday; 9 hours I’ll never get back. Can any sense be made of the ordeal? Here are a few observations
One, Ford was very credible. She was credible in two ways: one, her stories, even if incomplete and not thoroughly investigated, hung together.
Second, she was personally credible: Beyond the impact of the assault, her story of struggling with anxiety, her fear of public humiliation (and then death threats) are all too plausible. Even Utah Republican Orrin Hatch grudgingly admitted afterward that Ford was a “very attractive” witness.
Her willingness to talk openly about needing and doing therapy with her husband and then on her own was impressive. Even her fear of flying (which she manages by force of will for work and important family trips) sounded like many people (me for instance), and explained much about why she kept quiet about her story so long. And her naiveté about politics, her vain hope that she could leave her story to have whatever impact it would in the Senate behind the scenes.
Three, her courage, to face the Committee and the country and speak her truth even as her voice shook, was undeniable.
Well, no– “undeniable” is not appropriate here.
In the snake pit of our current politics, her testimony was eminently “deniable” — by the Republican majority, many of whom are skilled professionals in denial and discounting anything that gets in the way of their agenda.
It seems clear in retrospect that their plan as the hearing began was to patronize & brush Ford off. Judiciary Committee Republicans, wisely not trusting themselves to hold back from going after Ford with guns blazing and knives flashing, muzzled themselves and turned to a woman sex crimes prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, imported from Arizona. Her assignment was to undermine Ford’s assertions with a matronly smile.
Here the majority made a big mistake. Mitchell seemed genuinely impressed with both Ford’s sincerity and her background a a social psychologist. Mitchell’s questions were mainly mild, and as Ford explained many of the points of her story, it seemed that Mitchell was maybe coming to like and admire Ford. Behind her, the Committee’s eleven alpha male warbirds perched like unhappy manikins, while Democrats heaped her with praise and asked encouraging softballs.
Which is to say that Mitchell was a dud as a committee hatchetperson (to her professional credit, I think).
By the lunch break, it was clear that Ford was a hit. And word came down that the White House was surprised and livid; no doubt many members of the majority couldn’t stand being quiet any longer.
So when the committee reconvened to hear Kavanaugh, the tactical plan had changed markedly. I don’t know if they consciously thought of it this way, but they clearly decided to do a remake of the Clarence Thomas triumph.
Kavanaugh insisted that no one but a few clerks had seen his opening statement before he made it. Perhaps so, but he had spent much time consulting at the White House and with others in prepping for the appearance. As he is known for his studies of precedents, my guess is he went over the Thomas hearings in the process.
The Thomas scenario is built on flipping the abuse script and making the wannabe rapist into the victim.
Thomas claimed that the exposure of his chronic sexual harassment of a professional black woman, Anita Hill, was in fact a white racist plot which subjected him to a “high tech lynching,” in which he (somehow) actually died, and was then reborn as the bloodied but unbowed knight of truth against white supremacist slander.
I know, for younger readers this scheme may sound crazy, but it worked. And that’s exactly the thrust Kavanaugh adopted.
Instead of white racists, Kavanaugh picked Democrats as the assassins, and among them, fingered the former presidential couple as the kingpins:
“This whole two-week effort,” he charged, “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. . . .”
“Outside left-wing opposition groups”?? (Is that George Soros I see slinking around a corner, checkbook in hand??)
“No one can question your efforts but your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and destroy my family will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to withdraw.”
Destroy? Really? No question, the Democrats on the committee wanted to defeat his nomination. But in Kavanaugh’s political universe his struggle is not political but apocalyptic, life & death: “This has destroyed my family and my good name,” he shouted. “A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government,”
Let’s just note that if his nomination were to be defeated, Kavanaugh would still retain his day job as a federal appeals court judge. And if he is confirmed, despite the controversy he’ll have a gig with life tenure.
Nevertheless, he insisted he’s been “totally & permanently destroyed . . . .”
And just like that, he let the dogs out. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina opened by throwing a fit, and he was followed by several more
Graham: To my Republican colleagues: If you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics. You [Democrats] want this seat? I hope you never get it. I hope you [Kavanaugh] are on the Supreme Court. That is exactly where you should be and I hope the American people will see through this charade.”
“This man is not a monster,” Utah’s Orrin Hatch opined. And not coincidentally, that was the last we heard from Rachel Mitchell, who was supposedly going to grill Kavanaugh as she had Ford. Nope; she sat there, ignored, the rest of the day. (I hope she got paid by the hour.)
Democrats had five minutes apiece to question him, but here he lapsed into his previous well-greased pattern of evasion, evasion, evasion. Was he a college drunk? “I like beer,” was as far as he would go. Several asked him if he wanted an FBI investigation of the charges. All he would say was, “I’ll do whatever the Committee wants,” which means no, because the Committee never wanted one.
And he was clever in dealing with Ford. Here he seamlessly updated the Clarence Thomas scenario. Then, Anita Hill was dismissed as “a little bit nutty, and a little bit slutty,” an aggrieved employee carrying a grudge.
But today, one is constrained to pretend sympathy, especially in dealing with charges of sexual assault: “I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time,” Kavanaugh said more than once, “but I have never done this to her or to anyone . . . .”
Consider that Ford had only a few hours earlier directly and unblinkingly affirmed that she was 100 percent certain that Kavanaugh was her attacker. Kavanaugh was too deft to call her a liar, or even a willing participant in the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy which was after him.
Instead, she had to be somehow 100 percent mistaken. Which, for those who had watched her confident affirmation, could mean only that she was delusional; nutty a la Hill– only more than a little bit. Kavanaugh’s dodge there was a metropolitan update of the euphemistically lethal Southern jibe, “Bless her heart, she can’t help it.”
As the hearing adjourned the atmosphere was archetypal: a pack of feral white males had gathered, baying for blood. And they may get it, as soon as Friday.
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