The TV talk would have you believe Brett Kavanaugh saved his nomination on Thursday afternoon. The talk is wrong. Kavanaugh’s nomination, at least before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was never in need of saving. All the Republican majority members of that committee required to pass him along to a full Senate vote was an excuse, no matter how tattered or shameful, to hang their hat on. They weren’t just “saving” Kavanaugh, however. In every way that matters, they were trying pathetically to save themselves.
The nominee gave them that needed reason in the guise of an elongated tantrum, the likes of which one seldom sees outside the candy aisle of a supermarket or the local Chuck E. Cheese. The Honorable Brett Kavanaugh all but threw himself on the floor and screamed “I want it!” like a grasping, red-faced little boy who can’t quite reach the coveted cookies.
The president loved it, to the astonishment of none. For Donald Trump, watching Kavanaugh on Thursday must have been eerily like looking into a mirror.
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Despite the haunting, devastating testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, despite the flood of other women coming forward with their own stories of assault by Brett Kavanaugh, despite the lack of any real investigation of these claims, despite the multiple lies told — screamed, really — to the committee by the nominee on Thursday, despite his many evasions and obvious filibusters, despite a displayed temperament that has no business on the Supreme Court or any other bench for that matter, despite the absolute absence of a ticking clock requiring his immediate confirmation, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for full Senate consideration.
The vote was scheduled for 1:30 pm but was thrown into temporary chaos by Sen. Jeff Flake, who asked for a week to allow the FBI to do a full investigation of the allegations against Kavanaugh, and then voted to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination. In the hallway outside the hearing room, the senators themselves sounded confused by what had just taken place. The short version is straightforward: The committee approved Kavanaugh on a straight party-line vote.
The events of Thursday were made positively surreal by the shattering contrast between the nominee and the woman who stood up to denounce him. Christine Blasey Ford came before the committee to tell her story of sexual assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh and laid waste to the absurd suspicions that she was there on false pretenses.
Blasey Ford was more than merely convincing in her testimony. She shared precise details, including Kavanaugh and his conspicuously absent friend Mark Judge “pinballing off the walls” after the attack. “They seemed to be having,” she said, “a very good time.” Her fear was palpable, the grim new realities of her life further underscored by the bodyguard who hovered nearby. Yet even freighted with all that new dread, she rose and spoke, testifying to the damage done to her by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
In one fell swoop, Blasey Ford took all the shabby talk about “Why didn’t she say something 36 years ago?” and laid plain the reality: She has lived with this for 36 years. Her eloquence, her essential and unguarded honesty in the face of possibly lethal hostility, and her vivid pain even after so many years slashed through the thick shroud of bitter nonsense surrounding her and let in the light. In a room bursting with professional liars, she was the very absence of guile. I believe Christine Blasey Ford.
And then there was Brett Kavanaugh at the top of his voice, splotchy-faced with rage, fear plainly written in his eyes, alternately crying at and then hectoring those senators who dared to question his right to assume Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat. No living person has ever seen a judicial nominee sling so much bile in a public space. It was the very picture of wealthy white male entitlement. Close your eyes and imagine a woman, any woman, getting away with speaking so disdainfully to a roomful of senators. Now wake up, because you’re dreaming.
There were politics on display, of course, both subtle and gross. For Republicans, much depends upon the successful confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. Conservatives want him on the high court for his reliable votes on abortion, gun control, environmental regulations and unfettered corporate power. Donald Trump wants him on the high court to serve as his last line of defense against the implacable approach of the Mueller investigation (See: Gamble v. US).
There are also the November midterms to consider. An already grim electoral forecast for the Republicans would become deservedly dire if a failed Kavanaugh nomination gutted the motivation of conservative voters and activists. A full-bore midterm wipeout would deprive men like Chuck Grassley of their committee chairmanships and open the floodgates to myriad new investigations of the Trump administration. The senators, it seemed, were worried an eruption of brazen misogyny during the hearing might further galvanize non-GOP women to blitz the polls.
This last fear was manifested in the tableau of white male Republican senators who were, to a man, too timid to even yield their time with their own voices to their hand-picked prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell. Mitchell, a registered Republican and career prosecutor from Arizona, served as the patsy for generations of Republican men who have carved out careers by working to deprive women of as many rights as they could reach.
Mitchell asked odd, meandering questions about geography and football and generally wasted everyone’s time. This was deliberate. When she gently attempted to get Kavanaugh to admit that the “skis” notation on his precious alibi calendar meant “brewskis,” which meant “beers,” the Republican men who had been hiding in plain sight abruptly decided she was done. Once the hearing was finally over, Mitchell could not flee the room fast enough. “Excuse me,” she said to journalist Charles P. Pierce as she broke hard for the door. “I have to get out of here now.”
The politics of the moment were likewise showcased in the weapons-grade meltdown of Sen. Lindsey Graham, who delivered a spittle-flecked scolding to Democrats on the committee for daring to tactically outmaneuver their precious nominee. News media commentators all noted Graham’s anger and, amusingly, claimed it was genuine. It was not.
Sens. Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin had just landed some haymakers on Kavanaugh during direct questioning, making him look foolish and deceptive as he dodged around the issue of endorsing an actual investigation into the claims levied against him. Durbin even managed to cow the shouting nominee into 10 full seconds of petulant silence. It was at this point that Graham swooped in, beet-faced, looking to change the subject with all the volume he could muster.
A great deal of wretched political history filled the small physical distance between Lindsey Graham and Brett Kavanaugh in that hearing room. Graham, back in the day, was the infamous manager for the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton, eventually parlaying that role into a seat in the Senate. Kavanaugh, for his part, is a lifelong Republican political activist who served as Ken Starr’s right-hand man for that impeachment before moving on to the George W. Bush administration. Graham and Kavanaugh are blood brothers of old, soldiers in the same cause.
There was more than mere politics at play on Thursday, however. Throughout the hearing, Brett Kavanaugh looked for all the world like some thwarted vampire from a bad horror movie, because how dare they. Here sits a man of pedigree, of heretofore-undisputed white suburban privilege, alumnus of all the right schools who knows all the right people, confronted perhaps for the first time in his life with the possibility that he might not get what he believes is owed him because of something he did to a woman.
That is what happened yesterday, and it was historic. The world witnessed the courage of a woman determined to tell her truth straight to the face of the powerful forces arrayed against her. The world also witnessed the agonized squeal of a son of the patriarchy who might not get a better job than the excellent one he already enjoys, even as he was coddled and protected by the exercise of unfettered power for the sake of flexing that power. We witnessed one man’s fear of a threat to the rich, white men’s club that is our depraved status quo.
To menace a cream cheese lordling like Brett Kavanaugh with the simple justice of actual consequences is to menace the entire latticework of white male power. If you can do this to him, you can do this to all of them. This is what the Republican men in that hearing room truly fear: a genuine reckoning for them and their ilk, generations in the making, when the whole hateful charade comes crashing down at last. By saving Kavanaugh, they believe they are saving themselves.
For now at least, they have succeeded. Kavanaugh has cleared the committee. A nose count for the full Senate vote to come remains close, but only the slimmest hope of defeating this nomination remains. That full Senate vote will happen as soon as the majority can arrange it. Time is the enemy for Republicans now: Brett Kavanaugh’s gruesome display on Thursday will not age well, and Christine Blasey Ford made an impression that will sound through the ages. Brett Kavanaugh probably has the votes, and letting his shameful showing fester for more than a weekend could very well undo the whole thing.
I believe Christine Blasey Ford. I know even a Supreme Court Justice can be impeached and removed if he is proven a liar and a sexual predator. I believe those old white men, their power and their privilege, will not long survive the onslaught that, at long last, broke wide open on Thursday. I believe in tomorrow in defiance of today. I believe in the reckoning to come.
UPDATE 9/28/2018 6:00 pm: Republican leadership in the Senate, at the urging of Sens. Flake and Murkowski, have agreed to delay the full vote on final approval of Brett Kavanaugh for a week. Donald Trump has approved a “limited” FBI investigation into the allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. Mark Judge and his ex-girlfriend have agreed to cooperate with that investigation.
Dedicated to the survivors, who are legion.