Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse announced he would vote against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh two and a half weeks ago, on Sept. 10. So when Whitehouse questioned Kavanaugh Thursday, there was no pretense that the senator was looking for information to help him make a tough decision. Instead, Whitehouse chose, somewhat inexplicably, to take a deep dive into Kavanaugh's 1983 high school yearbook.
It did not turn out well.
Whitehouse's purpose was to uncover evidence to support the Democrats' pet theory that the adolescent Kavanaugh often got so drunk that he could not remember what he did while under the influence — and therefore, could have sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford and not recall it. By looking at Kavanaugh's high school yearbook, Whitehouse hoped to find clues to shed light on the mind of a young, and drunken, sexual predator.
Whitehouse appeared fixated on the yearbook page's youthful slang. "One of the reasons, Mr. Kavanaugh, that we are looking at the yearbook is that it is relatively consistent in time with the events at issue here and because it appears to be your words," Whitehouse said. Those words, Whitehouse suggested, might be very revealing. "You know, lawyers should be working off of common terms and understand the words that we're using. I think that's a pretty basic principle among lawyers, wouldn't you agree?"
"It is," a bemused Kavanaugh answered. "If you're worried about my yearbook, have at it, senator."
And Whitehouse did have at it, starting with a mysterious phrase related to "beach week," from the summer of 1982.
"Let's look at, 'Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor,'" said Whitehouse, noting a line in Kavanaugh's self-description. "What does the word 'Ralph' mean in that?"
"That probably refers to throwing up," Kavanaugh answered. "Anyone who's known me ... I've got a weak stomach, whether it's with beer or with spicy food or anything."
"So the vomiting that you reference in the 'Ralph Club' reference is related to the consumption of alcohol?"
Kavanaugh didn't answer, instead repeating, as he had several times before, that he was at the top of his class academically and attended an Ivy League college. Whitehouse was not deterred.
"And did the word 'Ralph' you used in your yearbook relate to alcohol?"
"I like beer," Kavanaugh answered. "I like beer ... do you like beer, senator?"
Whitehouse did not answer. He then moved on to another possibly sinister phrase, a line in Kavanaugh's yearbook page that said, "Have you boofed yet?"
"Judge, have you — I don't know if it's 'boufed' or 'boofed' — how do you pronounce that?"
"That refers to flatulence," Kavanaugh said. "We were 16."
The audience laughed, but Whitehouse plowed on. "OK, and so when your friend Mark Judge said the same — put the same thing in his yearbook page back to you, he had the same meaning? It was flatulence?"
"I don't know what he did, but that's my recollection," Kavanaugh said. "We want to talk about flatulence at age 16 on a yearbook page, I'm game."
Another senator might have sensed that his line of questioning was not working. But Whitehouse persisted, noting the yearbook page also had a reference to something called "Devil's Triangle."
"How's it played?"
"Three glasses in a triangle."
"Have you ever played quarters?"
"OK. It's a quarters game."
Whitehouse moved on. "Anne Daugherty's?" he asked, referring to a name on Kavanaugh's page.
"As you can tell from my calendar, she had a party on the Fourth of July in the beach in Delaware," Kavanaugh answered.
"And there are, like, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven F's in front of the Fourth of July," Whitehouse noted. "What does that signify, if anything?"
"One of our friends, Squi, when he said the F word starting at a young age, had kind of a wind-up to the F word. Kind of a 'FFFF,'" Kavanaugh explained.
The audience laughed.
"And then the word would come out," Kavanaugh continued. "And when we were 15, we thought that was funny. And it became an inside joke for the — how he would say, 'FFFF' — and I won't repeat it here. For the F word."
Whitehouse started to change the subject, but Kavanaugh asked, with a touch of taunting, "You want any more on the Fs?"
"No," Whitehouse said.
Finally, Whitehouse noted two yearbook references, one to "Georgetown vs. Louisville, Who Won That Game Anyway?" and to "Orioles vs. Red Sox, Who Won, Anyway?" Surely they referred to Kavanaugh being blackout drunk.
"Should we draw any conclusion that a loss of recollection associated with alcohol was involved in you not knowing who won the games that you attended?" Whitehouse asked.
"No," said Kavanaugh "First of all, the Georgetown-Louisville was watching it on TV, a party. And the—"
"That's not inconsistent with drinking and not remembering what happened," Whitehouse said.
"I'm aware," Kavanaugh responded. "And the point of both was, we in essence were having a party and didn't pay attention to the game even though the game was the excuse we had for getting together."
"I think that's very common," Kavanaugh explained. "I don't know if you've been to a Super Bowl party for example, senator, and not paid attention to the game and just hung out with your friends. I don't know if you've done that or not. But that's what we were referring to on those two occasions."
And with that, Whitehouse's questioning time was mercifully up.
Several other Democrats referred to the theoretical possibility that Kavanaugh might have assaulted Ford, as Ford testified, but was so drunk that he did not remember doing it. Of all his colleagues, Whitehouse made the most valiant effort to corner Kavanaugh with his own words in the yearbook. But all the senator got was a high-school mix of throwing up, flatulence, game-watching parties and a funny variation of the F word.
In a normal world, that is not the stuff of bringing down a Supreme Court nomination. But this, as if anyone needs reminding, is not a normal world.