Nobody liked the way Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation was handled. But if we can get past the partisan toxicity, there were salient observations and lessons to be learned that matter far outside politics.
Alcohol can disrupt memory, behavior, friendships and more
If you watched any of the emotional testimonies, strangely one of the most prevalent themes both in Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s statements was the use and possible abuse of alcohol. I’d be surprised if any hearing before or since discusses alcohol as much as that one did (hopefully not).
It will never be clear exactly what role alcohol played in the lives of Ford and Kavanaugh, but it didn’t exactly help either of them, affecting their behavior, memory, and who knows what else. Both Ford and Kavanaugh’s stories during the hearing conflicted as it was, but both admitted to drinking alcohol to the extent that it’s unclear whether it was the excessive use of alcohol or merely the passage of so many decades (or both) that contributed to their hazy recollections. One of Kavanaugh’s friends, Mark Judge, wrote a memoir immortalizing their alcohol use, titled Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk. Judge then struggled with alcoholism later in life.
Of course, while the legal drinking age is 21, Kavanaugh, Judge, and Ford were not alone in their underage drinking and the havoc it can wreak in terms of reputation and recollection. The CDC reports "people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.”
Underage drinking can set habits for a lifetime. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives … [n]ew research shows that the serious drinking problems (including what is called alcoholism) typically associated with middle age actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence.”
While making declarations about a lifetime sobriety may not be the answer here, it’s worthwhile to note that underage drinking — a crime in America — is not only common but was the elephant in the room in one of the most controversial confirmation hearings of the century. Take from that what you will, kids.
We were stupid as kids — which is why we need grace as adults
Another strange highlight (if you can call it that) of Kavanaugh’s confirmation was the incessant need to analyze his high school years. There is no evidence Kavanaugh committed any sexual assault or rape while in high school — or ever. However, as everyone witnessed during the hearing, it was clear Kavanaugh was just as silly and stupid as every other high schooler anywhere. That may likely have been the same for Ford — and if we’re honest, all of us — but her high school years were not questioned with the same scrutiny.
During his Q & A time, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., produced a bevy of questions about Kavanaugh’s yearbook that included references to puking, beer, and farting.
There are actually reasons for the idiotic behavior in which many young people engage. The University of Rochester Medical Center says, “The rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until age 25 or so. ... In teen's brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing — and not necessarily at the same rate.” Of course, this isn’t an excuse to commit heinous behaviors like rape or murder, but it does explain why boys joke about farting in their yearbooks — or why girls write in secret code about the guys they liked.
None of Whitehouse’s questions proved Kavanaugh is a serial rapist or even a man who attempted assault, but it clarifies two things — things any young person in any environment can bear in mind as they age and any adult can recall when they feel guilty or stupid about their younger years:
1) Everyone does and says some stupid things in high school.
2) This does not preclude a person from developing into a competent adult.
This is why everyone, young people and adults alike, need grace. Not because of who we can become but because of what we were.
I do not understand why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge. By God’s grace (literally), I am not the same person I was at 17. This is a terrible standard to establish in public life.— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) September 17, 2018
The quest for justice, fairness, and absolute truth is universal and innate in every soul
The Kavanaugh hearings were a game of political power and a ploy of manipulations and machinations from start to end. However, beyond that, something more innate was actually at work and at stake if you looked at it from a bird's eye view. From Ford’s accusations to Kavanaugh’s calendar, everyone seemed to want to know what happened, when it happened, where it happened, if something bad happened, and whether it should preclude a man from becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Many on both sides of the political aisle wanted to know the absolute truth of the events that occurred decades ago. In this quest, they acknowledged by default that absolute truth exists.
The very assertion of absolute truth however, is contradictory to society at large and particularly higher education, which often boasts that truth is relative according to a person’s experience and beliefs.
Francis A. Schaeffer noted, “In passing we should note this curious mark of our age: The only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.” There was much talk that Ford was prepared to “tell her truth” and was always only telling “her truth.” Yet of course “her truth” was offensive to Kavanaugh and his family and friends who insisted that “her truth” was in fact wrong. The parties fought about this, because of course, even though moral relativism sounds good and feels good, there is one truth, not many truths — regardless of feelings and emotions. The quest for that was fierce, if of course flawed.
Likewise, another theme in the hearings, beyond the political muck, was the heart-breaking quest for fairness and justice. Ford wanted justice for what she believes was done to her. Kavanaugh wanted justice for how he believes his good name was maligned. Both parties believed they had been treated unjustly or unfairly by another party at the hearing and both wanted to fight to make it right. This seemed so obviously innate and intense within both Kavanaugh and Ford that indeed, watching them both cry, squirm, struggle, and at times scream seemed gut-wrenching.
How can two parties, of such political beliefs, want the same exact thing? The same reason we all do. The same reason kids cry when they aren’t treated fairly at a playground in Arkansas and Africans shook their fists when they were enslaved in the 1700s and mothers cry when their sons are falsely accused or a father attacks the man who raped his daughters and adults bemoan when justice skirts them. The desire for a person to be treated fairly and with respect, and to pursue absolute truth at all costs, is innate in our souls and endowed by our creator.
As human beings, we are created in his likeness and because he cannot sin, He possesses a perfect barometer for ideals we can only strive to emulate.
It’s a relief that the Kavanaugh hearings are over. But beyond the political game that was played, there are lessons for a lifetime many of us will not soon forget.
Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.