Yesterday’s special Senate hearing was almost a clash of civilizations along various divides: the man-woman divide; the Democrat-Republican divide and calm-angry divide.
“This afternoon was tribal,” CNN’s John King said after the hearing was over.
I agree. But it’s strange. The tribe that was angry was the Republican tribe that controls all branches of the federal government and has the power it needs to reinforce its power over the Supreme Court.
And its angriest tribesmen were strange, too: Sen. Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who stands likely to realize his lifelong dream of a seat on the Supreme Court.
Graham, generally one of the jollier and more bipartisan of senators, blew his stack, denounced what he characterized as the “most unethical sham” he had ever seen, a Democratic plot to unfairly destroy Kavanaugh’s reputation.“I feel ambushed,” Graham said at one point, (seriously, “ambushed?”) and later: “If you’re looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong place at the wrong time, my friend. This is not a job interview; this is Hell.” (Hell, really?)
Describing Democrats as “despicable,” accusing them of an elaborate plot rolled out over several months to keep the vacant Supreme Court seat open until after the midterms in hopes they can steal it, he taunted them “You want this seat? I hope you never get it.”
Kavanaugh raged against the fates all day. He may have been sincere, or he may have been following a plan, I don’t claim to know. But he raged and wept angrily, and may have saved his dream by doing so.
The other tribe’s heroine of the day was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor who alleges that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her back when they were teenagers. That might be something to feed some rage. But Blasey Ford charmed the room, the viewing audience, the whole country all morning with her shy, sweet, flustered professor demeanor, which somehow reeked of believability, even though there were serious problems with other corroborating witnesses.
It was perhaps somewhat problematic that she wasn’t sure of many important details about where and when Kavanaugh allegedly cornered her in a locked room and tried to rip her clothes off. But when one of the senators asked her what was the percentage of her certainty that the person who did this was Brett Kavanaugh, she replied “One hundred percent.” That was a big moment, or seemed so at the time.
I don’t claim to know the truth of her version of the story. But we do know that she has been telling it for some years, not just since President Trump nominated Kavanaugh (who, by the way, does not acknowledge ever knowing Blasey Ford).
Blasey Ford was such a hit that by midday, when she finished testifying, some of the future see-ers on cable news were predicting that President Trump would likely have to pull his nomination of Kavanaugh before it could come to a vote.
During the break between the Blasey Ford and the Kavanaugh testimony, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, on CNN said this: “Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Ms. Ford? I don’t think so. But this isn’t a criminal trial. This is a job interview. If someone said to you: ‘We’re looking to hire a babysitter. But he was accused by three different people of sexual assault.’ Would you hire this person to serve for the next 30 years as the baby-sitter for your kids? That, I think is the question here. Not: ‘Should he be put in prison?’”
Then came Kavanaugh’s turn. Since we watched Kavanaugh testify calm-cool-and-collectedly for days during his previous confirmation hearings, and having seen him portrayed as an almost robotic man-on-a-conservative-mission throughout his very successful legal, political and judicial career, it was a bit of a shock to see his raging and weeping and yet hyperpartisan presentation Thursday afternoon.
I was shocked. We were given to understand that Trump was watching it on TV. One found oneself wondering whether Trump could maintain respect for a weepy man. But I was pretty sure he wouldn’t mind the righteous anger. As the hours passed, during the breaks, commentariat began converging around a belief that Kavanaugh might just be saving his nomination.
That feeling grew and grew during the afternoon and was soon the new conventional wisdom among commentators but by Trump’s own tweeted statement that: “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Allow me to close with a perceptive quote from Joan Walsh of the Nation, commenting on CNN after the hearings, comparing the testimony and presentations of Ford and Kavanaugh: “We saw today a portrait of what is acceptable behavior for men and women – and it was devastating. Dr. Ford was restrained; she was earnest; she was polite; she was patient; she didn’t interrupt; she listened. Judge Kavanaugh came out angry and insulted the Democratic senators. He talked about a left-wing conspiracy. He reminded us that he worked for (former Special Prosecutor) Ken Starr. He wove his own partisan origin story.”