Brett Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley, told Martha MacCallum of Fox News: “I know Brett. I’ve known him for 17 years.”
But that’s hardly his whole life. And that’s hardly the whole Brett. She knows him mainly as a husband and a father, moved by the emotional currents that those roles stir up, distinguished by the traits that they tease out.
“They know Brett,” she said of the couple’s two daughters. “And they know the truth.” They do indeed — part of it. But not all of it. He may be the gentlest man on earth with them. He may be a feminist in terms of their ambitions, their basketball league.
But he may be nothing of the kind to women in the abstract or women who were in his path when he was very young, very inebriated and very insistent.
A Yale roommate of his told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh was “frequently, incoherently drunk” during the time in college when, their former classmate Deborah Ramirez alleges, he exposed himself to her.
“Is it believable that she was alone with a wolfy group of guys who thought it was funny to sexually torment a girl like Debbie?” the roommate, James Roche, said. “Yeah, definitely. Is it believable that Kavanaugh was one of them? Yes.”
So possibly that’s Kavanaugh, too. That’s him riding a wave of testosterone and booze, among similarly pumped-up, zonked-out buddies.
As Brett Kavanaugh’s admirers and detractors stage a ferocious battle over his biography and reputation and those of us watching it try to determine what he’s capable of and what he’s made of, too many of us fall into a familiar trap.
He’s either a wrongly tarnished angel or deceptively phlegmatic devil, prey or predator, “a loyal friend or fratty enabler of bad behavior,” as Kyle Swenson wrote in The Washington Post. A man like Kavanaugh couldn’t do what he’s accused of, or a man like him indisputably did it.
His ethics are elastic and his lies abundant — about his actions in the second Bush administration, about his awareness of a mentor’s obsession with pornography and mistreatment of women. Or he’s a primly religious, utterly devoted family man whose blemishes are the inventions and exaggerations of political foes.
That’s a misleading, false dichotomy, inconsistent with everything we know about human nature and about ourselves.
I don’t believe that anyone persuasively accused of what Christine Blasey Ford says that Kavanaugh did to her has any business on the Supreme Court. So we must try our hardest to come to a best guess about what happened more than 35 years ago, including by listening closely to her scheduled testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
But that effort isn’t served by the caricatures that have come to dominate this discussion, as they do so many others. Those caricatures are out of sync with life. And no set of character witnesses — to Kavanaugh’s virtues or vices — is the final, irrefutable word. They caught a few scenes of him. They didn’t see the whole messy movie.
We show different colors at different times in different situations. We age, sometimes in ways that make us better, sometimes in ways that make us worse. We fashion ourselves, with or without cunning, into who and what we need to be for friends, lovers, parents, children, bosses and employees based on their diverse expectations and ever-shifting demands.
We are genuinely saints and we are genuinely sinners. We are pieces that add up to an incoherent whole.
In the interview that Kavanaugh and his wife gave to Fox News on Monday, he repeatedly mentioned the Sept. 14 letter that 65 women who knew him during high school signed and sent to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It vouched for positive interactions with and impressions of him.
But it doesn’t mean that other women couldn’t have had negative ones. A person’s experience of Kavanaugh likely hinged on the circumstances. Perhaps it was the luck — or curse — of the draw.
Hence the push and pull in the New Yorker article about Ramirez’s charge. Some of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates said that it didn’t jibe with his character. Others said that it did. They aren’t necessarily contradicting each other. They’re describing their partial perspectives from particular vantage points.
Kavanaugh is being typecast, but he’s many types. He’s entitled. He’s diligent. He’s arrogant. He’s earnest. He’s the beer-mad treasurer of the “Keg City Club,” according to what he wrote in his 1983 yearbook from his all-boys Catholic secondary school, Georgetown Prep. He’s “an avid consumer of legal scholarship,” according to what a former professor of his at Yale Law School — a Hillary Clinton supporter — wrote in praise of him in The Times.
Speaking of that yearbook, The Times on Monday night published a story, by Kate Kelly and David Enrich, about a phrase that Kavanaugh included on his page: “Renate Alumnius.” It was apparently an unsubstantiated boast, made by him and other football players, about Renate Schroeder, who attended an all-girls Catholic school nearby.
Now known as Renate Dolphin, she was among the 65 women on that letter, and she learned only afterward — in the past few days — about the yearbook phrase. “The insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue,” she said in a statement to The Times. “I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”
She knew one Kavanaugh in high school, or thought she did. She’s getting to know another in retrospect. She’s sifting through conflicting signals. That’s the task before all of us now.
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