September 28, 2018
After watching Christine Blasey Ford’s wrenching appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Thursday morning, I made the mistake of thinking that this thing was done—that nobody who watched Ford’s testimony would be able to dismiss it, and that it would halt the ascension to the Supreme Court of the man Ford said she was a-hundred-per-cent certain sexually assaulted her in high school.
The Senate Republicans’ Less-Than-Human Treatment of Christine Blasey Ford
The error was a categorical one. I was thinking in human terms, rather than political terms. I was stuck on the details, such as how Ford looked into the eyes of Mark Judge, thinking that he might rescue her, and how, decades later, stricken by the fear of getting trapped again, she insisted on the construction of a second front door during a renovation of her home. (“Our house does not look aesthetically pleasing from the curb,” she allowed.)
Most of the players in the Washington political wars, particularly those on the Republican side, long ago erased this type of thinking from their list of mental frailties. Like battle-hardened soldiers, their only thought is of defeating the enemy and pushing forward with their agenda. And so, early on Friday afternoon, barely twenty-four hours after Ford left the witness stand, the eleven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—all white men, of course—will vote to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and pass it to the full Senate, which will probably make a final decision on Monday or Tuesday.
The Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, including its leader, Chuck Grassley, willfully disregarded the many evasions in Kavanaugh’s testimony, including his almost comical effort to reinterpret the meaning of the crude sexual language he used in his high-school yearbook. The G.O.P. senators refused to allow even a week’s pause for further investigation of Ford’s claims, and the taking of testimony from other important witnesses, such as Judge.
But, in one sense, they cannot be faulted for dishonesty. For the past week, they have been saying that they intended to give Ford a hearing and then vote through Kavanaugh. That is what they have now done. “I found Dr. Ford’s testimony credible,” Grassley said, before scheduling the vote to advance Kavanaugh. Then he added, “There is simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a place on the Supreme Court.”
In seeking to plumb this Republican mindset, recognizing the enduring influence of sexism, misogyny, and privilege certainly helps. So does history. To many Republicans, Kavanaugh’s elevation is the culmination of a fifty-year effort, which began in 1973, with the activist turn of the conservative Olin Foundation, to reverse the course of the American judicial system and roll back many of the decisions of the Warren and Burger Courts. Although Donald Trump was President when this counter-revolutionary effort reached its climax, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, it’s not primarily Trump’s fight. It’s the crusade of the Republican Party, which he conquered and made peace with, agreeing, as a key part of that peace, to abide by the Party’s list of preferred judicial nominees.
When someone leaked Ford’s name to the media, a couple of weeks ago, and she decided to come forward publicly, her emergence threatened to block the G.O.P.’s victorious march. If Kavanaugh went down and the Democrats took control of the Senate in the midterms, Republicans might be frustrated for another two years. Regardless of what Ford had to say, such a possibility couldn’t be countenanced.
“It’s unbelievable. It feels like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ around here,” Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, said on Friday morning, after several other Democratic senators had walked out of the Judiciary Committee’s meeting. Leahy, who was elected to the Senate in 1974, was on the committee during the Clarence Thomas–Anita Hill hearing, in 1991. This proceeding, he suggested, would prove even more consequential: “Voting to advance and ultimately confirm Judge Kavanaugh while he is under this dark cloud of suspicion will forever change the Senate and our nation’s highest court.”
Before becoming a senator, Leahy was a public prosecutor. He reminded his fellow committee members that they were about to vote through “a nominee who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, and the committee hasn’t even conducted a meaningful investigation.” Leahy asked what message this would send to other victims of sexual assault. Then he brought up Ford’s description of the attack on her, and repeated one of the phrases she used: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”
“Dr. Ford deserves to be heard, and that must mean more than just checking a box,” Leahy declared. For Grassley and his colleagues, however, Thursday’s historic hearing was always just that.
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