Our Political Circus

Yesterday, I spent ten hours sitting on a sofa in the family room watching the entire Senate confirmation hearing with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. It will rank up there with other momentous political and social events that have happened in my life – the space shuttle destruction, 9/11, the election of Donald Trump. It was traumatic and horrific and personally scarring.

It should have never happened like that. That inquiry should have happened behind closed doors and been buttressed by an independent investigation. Instead, two individuals, and their families, were publicly destroyed and humiliated.

And everybody has their own experiences that sway their interpretation of events. As a woman who grew up in the 1980s, I had bad experiences with the popular, sporty boys, as well as my own stories of beer filled parties. And a guy tweeted me his own story about how he was falsely accused of a crime when he was in college. Also, I’ve talked with a lot of women who aren’t sympathetic with Blasey Ford. They tell me that guys did this stuff all the time back then and it never stuck with them.

But those experiences cannot sway our interpretation of events.  Everybody has their own stories, and it’s coloring our views of events, which is why none of us should have been involved.

There’s a lot at stake beyond these people. There’s the flagging public trust in our institutions. There’s the ability of a government to function effectively separately from partisanship. There’s the hope — a slim hope admittedly — that the justices of our supreme court can make decisions based on an impartiality examination of the constitution, wisdom, and compassion. All that was trashed along with the reputations of the individuals at the center of this circus.

We could have done better. We should have done better.

And this isn’t over. Republicans are now galvanized behind Lindsay Graham and will show up to vote in November, when they were, maybe, going to stay home. And the Democrats are going to never be quiet about Kavanaugh’s questionable past. When they win in 2020, they will vote to increase the number of justices on the court. Instead, they should put term limits on the justices. This lifetime appointment thing should be over.

This was terrible.

That said, I think that Kavanaugh should step down. It’s impossible to believe that he will be an impartial judge after this experience.


47 thoughts on “Our Political Circus

    1. I watched the whole thing yesterday. When he cried and said that he absolutely didn’t molest CBF, I thought he was convincing enough to justify another week with the FBI. That seems fair enough to me and a rather modest solution. That’s what everybody was asking for. And now that’s happening.


  1. Well, why do you think that this didn’t happen behind closed doors? Christine Blasey Ford seemed to want that, but she didn’t have the control.

    I’m less concerned about the way the allegations were presented. To me, that’s is like saying, “It’s not *what* they said—It’s *how* they said it.” Which I find to be the wrong thing to focus on, because the substance is what matters. The important thing here is *what* Ford is claiming, along with other allegations. It’s not *how* the US Senate or the democratic or republican senators and staff handled it. Even though, of course, it wasn’t handled well, and the entire process sould have been handled lightyears better.

    I’m more focused on why the outcome seems to be that Kavanugh will still be confirmed after a very serious and credible assault allegation and the Senate will vote even when there was NO investigation. No subpoena of witnesses. No nothing. I don’t think you can blame those decisions on how the allegations were presented.

    Also, my perception is that Christine Blasey Ford and her family were not humiliated. She was completely credible and persuasive.

    Kavanaugh and his family probably do feel humiliated. And perhaps I should feel more sympathy for the man, but I see Kavanaugh as a lying Irish drunk. Who did illegal things, from (very probably) assault to (completely admitting) underage drinking. (In Maryland, the drinking age was raised to 21 before he ever turned 18). And never faced any legal consequences. And lied it to the Senate. So there’s that.

    I agree that everybody’s experience and stories do “color our views of events”. I don’t understand why you think that’s a reason that “none of us should be involved”.

    Kavanugh was never going to be an impartial judge even before this experience, just because there is nobody on earth that hasn’t been influenced by their stories and experience.


      1. In our family (and I have lost a cousin and an uncle to alcoholism related illness) we call it the ‘Irish Flu’… I am myself, in what is a particularly fortunate phrase today of all days ‘sober as a judge’…


      2. I’m going to be the one to chime in here and say that it is a slur to cast Kavanaugh ast lying irish drunk, not probably of the same order as what Trump did to the boys in Central park, but something I have to speak up about :-). “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are”


    1. Confused. I think we’re in agreement. I wanted a full investigation and now it seems we’re going to get that.

      Except that I honestly don’t think that underage drinking itself should be proof of his guilt. Because glass houses here. Lying about underage drinking is perjury, and that’s different.


      1. Yes to not condemning the man for drinking in high school (excepting the part where it seems to have contributed to his assaulting women) and yes to condemning him for lying through his teeth about it on televised Senate hearings. Under oath.

        FWIW, I think the drinking age for beer should be 16. What I’m against making something illegal and then letting some more-privleged folks get away with it, but arresting other, less-privileged folks for doing the same thing. I would claim such situations have a much (much!) bigger effect on how well a society can effectively function than partisan warfare. I think this crazy double standard is one of the big things that is tearing society apart right now. “One law for the rich and another for the poor” has never ended well.

        Huzzah! A full investigation.


      2. An investigation is what Ford asked for in the first place. If that investigation had occurred a week ago, we wouldn’t be here now.

        I personally don’t know that any investigation can give the nation a sense of the truth, unless we get something dramatic, like a confession by an alternative credible assailant. Otherwise, we will have the memories of two individuals, and personal judgement about who is more believable combined with an opinion of what standard is required to elevate a man to a lifetime appointment on the highest court of the land.


  2. Says Ann Althouse:

    From the hearing transcript:
    “My friends and I sometimes got together and had parties on weekends. The drinking age was 18 in Maryland for most of my time in high school, and was 18 in D.C. for all of my time in high school. I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer..”
    That does suggest he drank beer when he was underage, but I don’t see him claiming that it was legal.


    1. “It’s impossible to believe that he will be an impartial judge after this experience.”

      This is where I am today, ala Liptak in the Times.

      Kavanaugh spoke of being an umpire, calling balls and strikes impartially in the first part of his nomination hearings. Yesterday he said this, reported in Liptak’s article:

      “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit,” he [Kavanagh] said, “fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

      Can an umpire who shouts under oath that he believes the Yankees are out to get him fairly call balls and strikes in the coming games between the Red Sox v Yankees? Even if it were true that the Yankees were out to get him? Can the Yankees be expected to believe his calls?

      What happens when the vast left-wing opposition groups bring cases before the Supreme Court, which they will do?

      I think the grown up behavior would be to nominate a candidate who can get some bipartisan support, even just a little bit (and, it is to be noted that Mccaskill, Manchin, and Heitkamp have not said said they would vote against Kavanaugh, so that candidate could be Kavanaugh)


    2. Here are two quotes from Kavanaugh:

      “Yes, there were parties. And the drinking age was 18. And yes, the seniors were legal.”

      “The drinking age as I noted was 18, so the seniors were legal. Senior year in high school, people were legal to drink.”

      Neither apply to his situation. He was 17 when Maryland changed the minimum legal drinking age from 21 down to 18. So it was never legal for him to drink in high school in Maryland.

      Yes, he was claiming it was legal.


      1. And what is meant by “outside” left-wing groups? Outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court?

        I don’t think anything is to be gained by nitpicking the drinking age statements. What matters is whether he was actually “frequently incoherently drunk,” as one of his college roommates put it. If that was the case in high school, he loses credibility. It still wouldn’t prove the assault, of course, but it undercuts his rage that results from the idea that this couldn’t possibly have happened.


      2. cy: You can fight it out with Prof. Althouse. But she was first in her class at NYU Law, so I am inclined to trust her, unless you are very persuasive.


    1. I’ve been annoyed with him for a long time, and aware that if everything came out, it might go far beyond annoyance. I’m also annoyed with the anti-Clintons who lumped in crazy conspiracy theories about Vince Foster with what might be legitimate assault charges. If Bill ran again, I don’t think I’d vote for him.


    2. I’ve been annoyed at Bill for some time, so from my corner, yes! go at it! And let me put out a hypothesis: what is being referred to in some corners as ‘the whole #MeToo thing’ came into national consciousness like a hydrogen bomb not because it was only suddenly apparent, but because all the parties in our national left-right struggle, both left and right, were aware that valuable guys on ‘our’ side (Clinton, Cosby, Weinstein, Moore, Hastert, Wynn, Jordan, Menendez, whoever your ‘our’ was the list went on) were vulnerable, and too valuable to lose.
      That Trump was able to defuse the ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ problem simply by bringing Broaddrick, Jones, Willey, and Shelton to the debate to glare at Hillary was a signal to the Dems that this wasn’t working for them, and Weinstein went down shortly after despite long-time propitiation of the correctness gods and many dollars spent buying indulgences.


    3. I cannot believe that Kavanaugh directly brought up “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons” in his testimony. If he were confirmed, does he recuse himself when (I’d say if, but I’m thinking when is quite possible) another case personally involving the Clintons comes up before the Supreme court?


  3. (to y81 on whether Kavanaugh lied on whether it was legal for him to drink as a high school senior:)

    Well sure, go ahead and trust a-first-in-their-class-lawyer, but how does Ann Althouse being first in her class at law school change an actual quote from Brett Kavanaugh at a Senate hearing?

    These are his words:

    “And the drinking age was 18, And yes, the seniors were legal.”

    That seems to be what we non-lawyers, who were not-first-in-our-class-at-law-school, call “a lie”. Although perhaps, I am, as a non-lawyer, missing a crucial legal point here.

    Because—Kavanaugh could not legally drink beer when he was 17 in the state of Maryland (the first half of his senior year) and he could not drink beer after he turned 18 (the second part of his senior year) because the drinking age had been raised the year before.

    There was never a time in Brett Kavanaugh’s life that it was legal for him to drink beer in Maryland until he was 21. Whether he was a senior, or not, did not change that.

    He was not being asked if some seniors, at some time in the history of Maryland, could legally drink beer. He was testifying about his own drinking.

    Probably, almost no one in his senior class could drink legally. They couldn’t unless they had turned 18 before July 1, 1982 (when the law went into effect). That means they would have turned 18 the summer before they started high school. and that would have been very unlikely. Seniors in high school are usually 17 at the beginning of the school year.

    You, or Anne, are free to weigh in anytime, to try and persuade me that this is not the case.


    1. True story: I was once on an email list with Althouse and I think I engaged in debate with her (I engaged in debate with a lot of people and can’t remember everything, and I don’t know how to or if can access the digital archive). I wasn’t impressed and had no idea she was “first in her class” in law school. She was no better a debater than anyone here. Other fun fact: Jimmy Wales was also on that list, though he had pretty much left to create Wikipedia by then.
      Sometimes it is fun being old.


  4. I think one of the challenges of the modern age of information is that far more of these stories, of behavior ranging from bad to evil to criminal will be part of the public discourse, rather than being discussed and dealt with in private. And, more of it will be provable — say, opposition to Al Franken depended on a photograph. Photographs will also weigh in evidence on where people were, and when, and who was there. We have a home security camera that monitors entry to our house — we don’t record it, but, some people do, and even now, I can see who has entered and left my house over the course of a day.


      1. That would fit under our facetious family “motto” of “the lazy man’s way”. It’s SO much easier just to work hard, and do what’s needed rather than try to game the system, cheat, lie, etc. Too much work to remember lies and evasions. Get it right the first time, minimize procrastination, etc.


      2. “not to make any life plans which depend on getting away with things”

        Well, that bodes ill for the political careers of the next generation of Kennedys!

        More seriously, I’m okay with idea that an attempted rape in high school would bar someone from a Supreme Court seat, but it would be a shame if high school or college drinking or minor sexual shenanigans or even minor academic dishonesty (a la Joe Biden, not a la Ted Kennedy) operated as a general bar to future successes.


      3. “A troubling report finds that by 2040 every presidential candidate will be unelectable to political office due to their embarrassing Facebook posts.” https://politics.theonion.com/report-every-potential-2040-president-already-unelecta-1819595196

        I kinda think a blameless adult life should inoculate against bad stuff, even pretty bad stuff, done I high school. My wife’s view is that there’s a lot else about Kavanaugh which is nonoptimal for a judge, particularly in these times – his actions as part of the Bush White House definitely included. She’s pretty persuasive! One of her buddies went to Yale with him and told her he was first in line for the keg every Friday and that she would NEVER have seen him as future Supreme material.

        On the claimed attempted rape, it seems to me there are three possibilities – he did it and is lying about it, she is making it up out of whole cloth in service of the take-Trump-down wing of the Dems, and he did it and has no memory of it because black out drunk. I’ll be surprised if we can get certainty between them, so if that were the only problem for the nomination and we had ‘blameless adult life’ I would tend to let it go forward. But it’s not.


      4. Kavanaugh cannot have drunk that much at Yale: getting into Yale Law School from Yale College is very difficult, so his grades must have excellent. Otherwise, he would have ended up at BC, like John Kerry. In any case, heavy drinking in college is the sort of thing that, if it precluded access to future careers, I would find that regrettable. I don’t know why the focus has shifted from attempted rape to heavy drinking.


    1. I’ve tried to raise my kids with a moral compass, which, is much the same thing: “I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right. I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie.” (Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country).

      But, I think there is a certain kind of privileged upbringing, one in groups who hold all the different kinds of capital, financial, social, skills, who seem to be playing by different rules of expediency. I started noting it with the financial excesses of the 80’s and see it continuing into the tech founded arrogance of now. It’s the ugly version of the “What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail.”


    2. The dark part of all of this is that the Kavanaughs of this world do get chances to recover from heavy drinking, sexist comments in yearbook photos, and other people don’t (and that’s not even considering the weight the women carry with them into the world). Part of the anger those of us on the [left that’s out to get Kavanaugh] find so infuriating is that the same people [trump, but lots of others] who are making the argument that boys from Georgetown prep and Yale should be forgiven for their youthful indiscretions are the people who support punitive systems of justice for others: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/9/28/17913708/brett-kavanaugh-hearing-police-race-teens.

      “Studies document that while affluent white youth are just as likely to possess and use drugs as their poorer counterparts, they are much less likely to be locked up. They enjoy not just freedom from police interference of minor transgressions, but what I would term a kind of super freedom — the rational expectation of no adjudication even when they commit serious, violent, assaultive behavior. They live in spaces, attend schools, and play on streets largely walled off from police.”


      1. Hey, you guys are free to chat about all this in the comment section, but I’ve decided to keep out of the fray. I’m a freelancer with ties that can be easily cut by any of the publications that I work for. It’s important to me to keep a low profile and to keep this blog a small dysfunctional family.


    3. And, more of it will be provable — say, opposition to Al Franken depended on a photograph. Photographs will also weigh in evidence on where people were, and when, and who was there.

      Unfortunately, there are even now tools that allow photographs and videos to be manipulated or altered. There are tools that allow voice recordings to be spoofed. https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/25/lyrebird-is-a-voice-mimic-for-the-fake-news-era/

      If you visit the Lyrebird site, they’ve taken down references to fake politician voices. That doesn’t mean that others will be ethical–once something has been show to be possible, one must assume it can be done.


  5. I guess because of the “Georgetown” part of “Georgetown Prep”, the theme from “St. Elmo’s Fire” has been going through my head for days now.

    Related: based on appearances at the hearing, lots of men watched movies in the 80s, saw the villains, and said “I want to dress like him, have that haircut, and mimic those facial expressions.”


    1. I read the link from Slate. Ann’s son wrote to Slate:
      “You say, “He claimed that his beer consumption in high school was legal because the drinking age in Maryland was 18.” But that’s not true. He did not say his beer drinking was legal.” ”

      They answered:
      “These words [“The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink.”] could imply that his beer drinking at age 18 was legal, which would be false, since the drinking age in Maryland was raised to 21 before he turned 18. Alternatively, they could imply that his drinking at age 17 was understandable, if he was with 18-year-old seniors who were legal at the time. In keeping with the standard applied to others, it’s incorrect to report that Kavanaugh “claimed” his beer consumption that summer was legal. Therefore, the sentences have been removed.”

      So Ann wins at getting Slate to say that Kavaunaugh’s high school drinking was “understandable” and that the words: “My beer drinking was legal,” did not actually come out of Kavanaugh’s mouth.

      The point is, when Kavanaugh was asked, (under oath): “Did you consume alcohol during your high school years.? He said, “Yes, we drank beer.”

      –That is a true statement.

      He then said, “The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink.”

      –That is a false statement.

      The drinking age was 21–not 18–for his entire senior class.

      It was not legal for the seniors in his class to drink when he was a senior, because all of them (possibly there were one or two exceptions) had not yet turned 18 when the law went into effect in 1982, the summer before they started their senior year. (Seniors start high school when they are 17.)

      The seniors (including Kavanaugh) could not legally drink beer until they were 21.

      Kavaugh knew this when he was 17 and 18 years old, he was reminded of it every time he wanted beer for a party and had to get one of his older friends to buy it for him. Or use a fake ID. Or get it from his parents. Or whatever way he came up with to get around the law so that he could drink the beer he liked so much. He had to break the law to get beer and drink it.* That is what underage drinking is. He knew it then and he certainly knew it decades later at the hearings. He claimed it was legal and it was not. Not for him, and not for his fellow senior classmates.

      *Once again, I think the drinking age should be much lower. Drinking when you are a teenager is completely normal and it should be treated that way for everybody.


    1. I have no choice. I’m voting for him. The Kavanaugh thing has no impact.

      OK, I think the hell mouth has closed, so I’ll return to blogging tomorrow.


      1. “.. Republicans are now galvanized behind Lindsay Graham and will show up to vote in November, when they were, maybe, going to stay home. And the Democrats are going to never be quiet about Kavanaugh’s questionable past…”
        Yogi Berra maybe said, “It’s hard to predict the future, because it hasn’t happened yet”. This has played out in ways I never expected, and so I’m not confident I can see forward. It does seem that Trump has probably saved the Senate for the red team. Probably Dems are dug in enough on Kavanaugh’s claimed vileness that they will keep picking at that scab and in their friend groups that will seem to them like a good strategy. Cautions I see are that overreach on the risible tales told by Swetnick and Ramirez hurt the Dems (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/05/did-michael-avenatti-help-doom-case-against-brett-kavanaugh/?utm_term=.563e28eb6814) and the Ford story seems to me to get less strong the more carefully it is looked at (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/10/04/victor_davis_hanson_dr_christine_blasey_fords_story_has_collapsed_she_gave_one_too_many_narratives.html).
        So I think it’s at least strongly possible that making lots of noise about Ford will do the Dems some good at running up their majorities in districts in which they were already strong, but hurt them in districts which are marginal.


  6. Your fellow Atlantic writer Jemele Hill has an article up about why many black men are sympathetic to Kavanaugh, followed by an obligatory ‘but of course they are missing the point”.


    David French in National Review says ‘aren’t either!’


    and he closes with “It is true that, as Hill notes, Kavanaugh was more powerful than the young black men who face similarly terrifying accusations that can ruin their lives, but the answer isn’t to convince black Americans that Kavanaugh should face the kind of “justice” that they have faced far too often throughout our nation’s history. It’s to convince America that due process and the presumption of innocence belong to all of us, no matter our social station, even when prison isn’t at stake.”

    Ten minutes of Googling got me the following names: Ruby Bates, Victoria Price, Jacqueline Coakley, Carolyn Donham, Crystal Mangum, Wanetta Gibson, Sherita Dixon-Cole, Nikki Yovino, Tawana Brawley, Elizabeth Coast. Hell of a list! So I like French better than Hill, and I’m going to predict that Trump’s two big themes in coming days are going to be ‘‘Democrat Mobs’ are anti-civility anti-law-and-order’ and, presumption of innocence. And I’m going to further predict that these themes will do the Reeps a lot of good. Next question: HowinnaHell did the son of a bitch DO that???


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