In the end, it didn’t really matter how many women begged them not to do this, how many times women said slow down, stop, please, no. As of this writing, it seems inevitable that Republicans in the Senate are going to shove Brett Kavanaugh down our throats. According to polls, a majority of American women believe that Christine Blasey Ford told the truth when she said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. But the United States Senate is run by Republican men, and thanks to them, Kavanaugh will most likely soon be on the Supreme Court, deciding, among other things, how much control women will be permitted over our own bodies.
The restarted F.B.I. background check that seemed, a week ago, like a merciful concession to decency has instead been a cover-up. Agents didn’t even question Blasey or Kavanaugh. It’s not clear if they interviewed any of the more than 20 corroborating witnesses named by Deborah Ramirez, who claimed a drunken, aggressive Kavanaugh thrust his genitals into her face when they were students at Yale. The New Yorker reported that witnesses who tried to contact the F.B.I. were ignored; some ended up submitting unsolicited statements to the bureau.
Ultimately, according to the White House, the F.B.I. interviewed a total of nine people in its new review. Based on what they said, Republican leaders have declared that Blasey’s story remains uncorroborated. They’ve made plans for a procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday, and expect a floor vote on Saturday.
The behavior of Senate Republicans is not particularly surprising. Time and again, they’ve clucked disapprovingly about Donald Trump’s vulgarity while eagerly carrying out his agenda. What has truly shaken me is the zeal with which Republican officeholders and conservative commentators, some of whom I’d thought better of, have come to Kavanaugh’s defense. Something in the spectacle of a highly credentialed Republican man nearly being denied his life’s goal on nothing but the word of a couple of women has brought out the inner Trump in a lot of people.
Conservatives will say that they’re protecting an innocent man unfairly accused, not standing up for white male impunity as a principle. They either don’t believe Blasey, or they think that, in the absence of further proof, Kavanaugh should be given the benefit of the doubt, which in this case means a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. They think they’re the ones who are being fair and judicious. “One side is standing on evidence,” tweeted Commentary’s Noah Rothman. “The other on intuition and sentiment.”
In fact, both sides are standing on intuition — about who is credible, and which sorts of stories ring true. Evaluating what Blasey said — and what Ramirez has reportedly said, since she wasn’t called to testify — is necessarily subjective. But there is clear, substantial evidence that Kavanaugh has not been truthful throughout this process. Conservatives, in their anger, won’t reckon honestly with this evidence.
Instead, they change the subject. They act as if holes in a case brought by media-obsessed lawyer Michael Avenatti discredit the stories told by Blasey and Ramirez, whom he has nothing to do with. Or they pretend that Kavanaugh is under attack for his underage drinking rather than for his deception about that drinking.
Well before anyone heard about Blasey’s letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Kavanaugh had lied about whether, while working in the George W. Bush administration, he’d received documents stolen from Senate Democrats. He lied when he said he had no involvement in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants” in the War on Terror. He told senators he’d learned about Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program from The New York Times, when an email appears to show that he knew about it much earlier.
Since Blasey testified, Kavanaugh has dissembled some more. He downplayed his excessive youthful drinking to the point of rank dishonesty. At one point he claimed that references to vomiting in his yearbook stemmed from his weak stomach. In a letter he wrote while in high school, however, he described himself and his friends as “loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific pukers among us.” Kavanaugh signed that letter “Bart.” During his testimony — before that letter emerged — Senator Patrick Leahy asked Kavanaugh if he was the “Bart” whom his close friend Mark Judge wrote about in his memoir of youthful dissipation. “You’d have to ask him,” Kavanaugh replied.
Kavanaugh asked us to believe that cruel sexual innuendo in his yearbook about a girl named Renate was really a token of his and his friends’ “affection.” To distance himself from Blasey, he said that he and his friends didn’t socialize with girls from her school, Holton-Arms. But Judge, in an alternative high school newspaper, implied that he and his friends knew Holton girls, calling them promiscuous and referring to them with the term “Holton Hosebag.”
Kavanaugh was even inexplicably dishonest when, flush with self-righteousness, he claimed that he got into Yale without connections, purely by “busting my tail.” In fact, his grandfather went there.
I could go on. But when people point out that Kavanaugh has misled the country about details of his biography that are, on their own, trivial, they are accused of wallowing in triviality.
Some conservatives are acting as if, in delving into Kavanaugh’s high school and college antics, Democrats are creating some egregious new precedent. But the youthful behavior of aspirants to high office has long been fair game.
During Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation, National Review criticized her for quoting a socialist in her Princeton yearbook. People on the right were obsessed with Barack Obama’s high school drug use; Sean Hannity was spinning conspiracy theories about former members of Obama’s adolescent “choom gang” as late as last year.
The questioning of Kavanaugh, however, was not turnabout. No Democrat or feminist cares that Kavanaugh drank a lot in high school; personally, I couldn’t have endured high school sober. We care that he described his younger self as a chaste innocent who was, as he said in his Fox News interview, “focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship.” In fact, by multiple accounts, Kavanaugh was a mean, rowdy drunk and a sexist bully. After decades of conservative insistence that Bill Clinton’s impeachment was about lying, not fellatio, it’s amazing to see right-wingers arguing that’s it’s O.K. if Kavanaugh shaded the truth under oath to avoid embarrassment.
Some say that anger over Kavanaugh’s treatment by Democrats has unified and invigorated the right, with possible repercussions in the midterms. This may well be true, particularly in Senate races, where the battleground states are mostly red. But don’t underestimate how livid many women are. A spokeswoman for Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice female candidates, told me that the group raised more money the day after Blasey testified than on any day in the group’s history.
Still, I’ll admit, I’m terrified about the idea of the midterms becoming a referendum on patriarchy and thus awakening dormant Republican energy. For all his chaotic ignorance, Trump has a profound connection to his base’s grievances. He probably knew what he was doing this week when he mocked Blasey and rallied his voters to stand up to the #MeToo Jacobins. As much as the prospect of Kavanaugh’s confirmation fills me with despair, I’ll be relieved when it’s over and this gutting, squalid chapter in American life comes to an end. But whatever happens, the ugliness of this episode, with its brute assertion of Ivy League male privilege, will leave a mark. Indelible in the hippocampus is the duplicity.
More from Michelle Goldberg on the Kavanaugh nomination
Opinion | Michelle Goldberg
Christine Blasey Ford’s Sacrifice
Sept. 27, 2018
Opinion | Michelle Goldberg
Pigs All the Way Down
Sept. 24, 2018
Opinion | Michelle Goldberg
Boys Will Be Supreme Court Justices
Sept. 17, 2018
Michelle Goldberg has been an Opinion columnist since 2017. She is the author of several books about politics, religion and women’s rights, and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @michelleinbklyn
The New York Times · by Michelle Goldberg · October 4, 2018