The Great Kavanaugh Freakout

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Christine Blasey Ford: Gaps and contradictions

Democrats have spent the last two years blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s defeat.  Now they’re blaming Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine for the Kavanaugh debacle.  But it’s not going to work.  Once again, the only people Democrats have to blame are themselves.

Admittedly, they faced an uphill battle thanks to a confirmation process heavily weighted in favor of the executive branch.   Citing Alexander Hamilton in her epic speech last Friday, Collins laid out the conventional thinking concerning the constitutional phrase “advice and consent”: since “the president has broad discretion to consider a nominee’s philosophy … my duty as a senator is to focus on the nominee’s qualifications as long as that nominee’s philosophy is within the mainstream of judicial though.”  Assuming that his or her politics are not too outré, the only question is whether the nominee is morally and professionally fit.

This left Democrats with precious little to hold on to.  They tried to prove that Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy was indeed beyond the mainstream by arguing that he’d strike down Obamacare and Roe v. Wade if given the chance.  But how could they be sure when, like every Supreme Court nominee before him, he refused to say how he’d vote one way or the other for fear of being “Borked”?  What evidence could they come up with to the contrary?  How could they respond to all those legal eminences arguing that he was the best candidate in years?  In a Times op-ed that he’ll no doubt regret for the rest of his life, a very liberal and very smart Yale law professor named Akhil Reed Amar described the nominee as nothing less than stellar:

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Supreme Court justice is President Trump’s finest hour, his classiest move.  Last week the president promised to select “someone with impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment, and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution of the United States.”  In picking Judge Kavanaugh, he has done just that.

Conceivably, Democrats could have held Kavanaugh’s feet to the fire by exploring his role in approving the use of torture as a member of George W. Bush’s White House staff.  But since they’ve never shown the moral courage on that score before, how could they do so now?

That left the question of moral competence.  This is where liberals took a bad situation and made it worse.  In bringing in Christine Blasey Ford, they didn’t understand that it would not be enough for her to be good witness.  Since it was bound to be a matter of “he said, she said,” rather, she’d have to be a great one whose story would be so convincing as to reduce Kavanaugh to a mass of Queeg-like twitches and tics.

She didn’t.  Kavanaugh’s rebuttal turned out to be unexpectedly strong, while, as one would expect with a 36-year-old account, Ford’s version turned out to be riddled with gaps and contradictions.  How could she be “a hundred percent certain” that Kavanaugh had attacked her when she was just fifteen but uncertain about so much else: where the attack occurred, how she had gotten there, who had driven her the half-dozen miles home, and so on?  Why didn’t a good friend who was also at the party telephone to ask why she had left so suddenly?  Why didn’t any of the four people who were allegedly present corroborate her account?  A sworn statement by an ex-boyfriend with whom she lived for a half-dozen years was especially damaging.  Ford said she had taken a polygraph to substantiate her charges.  But where she testified that she had never advised anyone else on how to take such a test, her ex said that she had coached a roommate who was applying for jobs with the FBI and the US Attorney’s office.  “Dr. Ford explained in detail what to expect, how polygraphs worked and helped [her] become familiar and less nervous about the exam,” he said.  “Dr. Ford was able to help because of her background in psychology.”

Where Ford said she suffers from claustrophobia and a fear of flying, the boyfriend also said she lived in a 500-square-foot home in California and that the two of them had flown around Hawaii, “including one time in a propeller plane.”  As University of California psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who got her start exploring “recovered memory” in child-abuse cases, explains in an excellent TED talk:

If I’ve learned anything from these decades of working on these problems, it’s this: just because somebody tells you something and they say it with confidence, just because they say it with lots of detail, just because they express emotion when they say it, it doesn’t mean that it really happened.  We can’t reliably distinguish true memories from false memories – we need independent corroboration.

But then something strange happened.  The Democratic Party’s #MeToo wing stepped in and announced that such evidence was irrelevant because an accusation of sexual assault was enough in and of itself.  Protesters invaded Capitol Hill with signs reading, “We believe all survivors.”  They wrote “Believe Women” on their hands and chanted, “We believe women,” while pumping their fists.  “If their stories are credible, as Dr. Ford’s story is,” said Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, “they need to be believed.”  According to Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, sexual assault victims were shocked that anyone would question Ford at all.  Watching her testify, Gillibrand said, “they saw men in power who were believing other men in power over women who suffered gravely.  They saw that disbelief and dismissiveness of women and they felt disbelieved and dismissed themselves.”  To doubt was to be part of the patriarchy.

This is not just nonsense, but undemocratic nonsense.  Democracy is not some faith-based doctrine, but one resting on reason and evidence.  As anyone who has taken part in a union-organizing drive can attest, you can’t just ask a worker to sign up and then call him fascist if he balks. To the contrary, you’ve got to argue and explain why a union is important, listen very carefully to his counter-arguments, and then respond accordingly.  Not only doesn’t emotional blackmail work in such instances, it’s invariably counterproductive.  Ford supporters who stamped their feet, crying believe, believe, believe, were thus counterproductive as well.  By implying that corroboration is irrelevant and that questioning is immoral, they insulted the intelligence of those wavering in between and fairly pushed them into the arms of the GOP.

“I have been alarmed and disturbed … by some who have suggested that unless Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is rejected, the senate is somehow condoning sexual assault,” Collins declared on Oct. 5.  Democrats hate and despise her for saying this, but she was right: that’s just what Hirono and Gillibrand implied.

The desperation of the Democrats is understandable.  They’ve won the popular vote in six out of the last presidential elections and hence can argue that they’re more popular, or at least less despised, than the GOP.  Yet they’re victims of a super-antiquated Constitution that locks them into a minoritarian ghetto.  With an Electoral College that triples the clout of rural white states like Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, a senate that allows the 54 percent of the country that lives in just ten states to be outvoted four to one by the remainder, and an increasingly unrepresentative House due to rampant gerrymandering, they’re victims of a political structure that more and more favors the GOP.  They were therefore frantic to prevent the sole remaining semi-liberal institution in Washington to come under the Republican dictatorship.  But as members of an outrageously undemocratic senate, they couldn’t help stoking a liberal-feminist #MeToo movement that is just as authoritarian as anything produced by the GOP.

They made fools of themselves in the process while doing nothing to stop the general rush to the right.  If anything, they added to it.  The Kavanaugh debacle proves yet again that the  crisis of American democracy is nothing if not bipartisan.

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