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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh’s character and fitness on display

"Sober as a judge?" Hm, not so much

It was a bad opera.

In Act One, we believed the fragile Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. 

Then in Act Two, the ever-serious Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the applicant seeking the Supreme Court job, sent in his Dr. Hyde, a screaming meanie for whom we felt something like pity.

Then came Act Three, when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) turned over the table and stomped on it, actually labeling the hearing a sham, a judgment we probably could have agreed with as well.

What really was on the grill at Friday’s hearings was not who was right, but something about whether we allow majority partisanship to interfere with anything resembling a search for truth. 

If this was about a sexual assault, we have little new information; if this was a job interview for a Supreme Court justice, whoa, that anger-machine that was Kavanaugh may have been enough by itself to raise questions about suitable character for the top bench.

As a truth-finding exercise, the hearing may have been a sham; as a showdown, it was worthwhile political theater. Kavanaugh called it a “circus” and “a national disgrace.”

The hearing proved a time for Republicans now to look hard in the mirror before following their instructions. 

And then Graham exploded it by abandoning any resemblance to an orderly search for clues by announcing this was a disgraceful exercise and blaming Democrats for creating the problem.


What did we learn?

Despite all the build-up, Act One was over pretty quickly once Blasey Ford, the California researcher and teacher, started talking. 

She made her struggle palpable and real in this instant 36 years later. Her poise, her details, her insistence were all recognizable. 

Otherwise, her strength was that she was anyone – your sister, daughter, cousin, workmate who have been made to face sexual insult, violence and assault. Her everywoman identity and her lack of polish and surfeit of passion proved a very strong presentation.

By the time she told Sen. Dick Durbin that she was 100% sure her assailant was teen-aged Brett Kavanaugh, surely, she had us all – except, of course, for a majority of Republican senators, that seemed ready to now ignore the showdown hearing and move ahead with confirmation. All we needed was the closing aria.

That anger-machine that was Kavanaugh may have been enough by itself to raise questions about suitable character for the Supreme Court.

By contrast, the judge’s testimony that followed had to choose whether to sound furious or to show humility; he chose fury, actually a tantrum by any other name, however, justified it may have felt. It became clear soon that the real issue is whether the words matter at all, whether the power politics of an approving majority was ready to roll regardless of what got said.

Kavanaugh called the process a “circus” and detailed a coordinated, funded Democratic attack plan, a wide-ranging left-wing conspiracy against himself, before he returned to a full-throated defense of his adult life of service. His, emotional, angry denials were categorical, but somehow, by comparison, devoid of much empathy.

We were left with questions, just so many questions: Why did the majority of Republicans and Trump not reopen the basic FBI backgrounder? Why did Democrats refuse to participate in whatever staff investigation did go on, however inadequate? 

Was this disgraceful excuse for a hearing the best that American senators can do to inform themselves? And if Democrats were not so quick to congratulate themselves, how indeed did her name become public, making her a victim all over again? 

Why did reporters have to make themselves part of the problem by infiltrating her classroom and becoming part of the hectoring crowd? Did the Republicans misfire by having a woman prosecutor ask questions on their behalf, only to hear in the closing minutes of testimony from the prosecutor herself that this was a lousy way to sift testimony truth from chaff?

All of that seems like detail now. The big question is what to do now: Why it is necessary for Senate Republicans to now set all of this effort aside and run toward confirmation as early as this morning? And, does the full Senate actually have all of the Republican votes? Why did we bother with the hearing?

Friday “is a day we will not forget,” Paul Waldman wrote for The Washington Post. “It will be remembered, replayed, revisited and reexamined for years. It is a day with enormous sociological and political significance, not just as a symbol or an emblematic event of a tumultuous era, but also something we will probably look back on as a direct cause of change.”

Fox News reflected the theme too. “This was extremely emotional, extremely raw and extremely credible and nobody could listen to her deliver those words and talk about the assault and the impact it had on her life — and not have your heart go out to her,” said Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. But then, so was Kavanaugh.

There was plenty of human carnage to go around.

But overall, it was hard to see translating Kavanaugh’s outrage, shouting, conspiratorial partisanship working out at the Supreme Court. So much for thinking we need someone as sober as a judge.