For anybody who wasn’t totally committed to the proposition that Christine Blasey Ford spoke only the literal truth about Brett Kavanaugh during her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, there were long stretches during Kavanaugh’s testimony that felt like a show trial. For hours we watched as the Supreme Court nominee was forced to listen to lengthy descriptions of his supposed lechery in a nationally televised broadcast. If he reacted placidly, he was a sociopath; if intemperately, unfit to be a judge.
Even supposing there is some truth in Blasey Ford’s murky and self-contradictory claims, the other stories were pretty obviously manufactured. But that didn’t stop ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein from slowly, deliberately reading the accusations and phrasing them in ways that seemed to presuppose their truth. “Yesterday,” Feinstein intoned,
[Julie] Swetnick came forward to say that she had experiences of being at house parties with Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. She recounted seeing Kavanaugh engage, and I quote, “in abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls,” end quote, including attempts to, quote, “remove or shift girls’ clothing,” end quote. Not taking, quote, “no for an answer,” grabbing girls, quote, “without their consent,” end quote, and targeting, quote, “particular girls so that they could be taken advantage of,” end quote.
It’s true that innocent suspects listen to false charges made about them in courtrooms on a fairly routine basis, but for those charges to get into a courtroom, they must exhibit some level of plausibility to a prosecutor. The Swetnick allegations had none.
During the time allotted to Lindsey Graham for questioning Kavanaugh, the South Carolina senator took about a minute to fulminate against his Democratic colleagues. “If you wanted an FBI investigation,” Graham said to them, “you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this [Supreme Court] seat open, and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that, not me.”
“I would never do to [Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor] what you’ve done to this guy,” Graham went on, his voice quivering. “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth [about Blasey Ford’s allegations], you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”
“Are you a gang rapist?” Graham asked Kavanaugh.
“No,” the nominee replied.
Graham went on:
I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through. Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham. That you knew about [Blasey Ford’s letter alleging assault] and you held it. You had no intention of protecting Dr. Ford—none. She’s as much of a victim as you are. God, I hate to say it because these have been my friends. But let me tell you, when it comes to this, you’re looking for a fair process? You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.
Graham’s outburst was not eloquent, but he expressed what I regarded at the time, and still regard, as the searingly obvious truth that the Democrats on the committee were happy to destroy a decent and accomplished man in order to prevent a 5-4 conservative majority on the Court.
I thought of a passage in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, when some of Eugene Gant’s pals surround a poor wretch in an alleyway and taunt him. One of them points at the boy and says, “His mother takes in washin’.” That gets a laugh, so the accuser says it again and adds a racial slur, and the boys all laugh except Eugene.
Eugene turned away indefinitely, craned his neck convulsively, lifted one foot sharply from the ground.
“She don’t!” he screamed suddenly into their astounded faces. “She don’t!”
A few hours after Graham’s outburst I received an email from an editor at a major news publication asking if I would be willing to write a short piece on what the senator was “really” up to. The editor knew I was from South Carolina and thought I might have some insight into this mystery. Is Graham angling for another presidential run in 2020? he wanted to know. Does he want an appointed position in the administration—perhaps attorney general? I turned down this opportunity to plumb Senator Graham’s psyche, but plenty of others took up the subject. Over the next day or two there were pieces in McClatchy papers, on CNBC, on NPR, and in Politico.
What struck me about the query was this: Throughout the Kavanaugh-Ford ordeal, this editor and the great majority of his fellow journalistic practition-ers treated every calculated utterance by Senate Democrats as a sincere effort to discover the truth of Blasey Ford’s claims, though any lamebrain could see their motives were almost entirely political. It was only Graham’s inarticulate, unscripted rant that moved them to a state of cynical incredulity.
It’s perhaps worth remembering that Graham reacted in a similar way 12 years ago, though with a little less heat. In 2006, during Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Edward Kennedy—famed for smearing Robert Bork on the floor—queried the judge about his onetime membership in a traditionalist organization called Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Alito had put the name of the group on a résumé in 1985, though he said he had no memory of what it was. The organization existed from 1972 to 1986 and published a magazine called Prospect. Kennedy’s staffers had discovered passages in the magazine of a decidedly reactionary tone. Kennedy read these passages deliberately, as if Alito must have relished reading them at the time and probably agreed with them now.
“People nowadays just don’t seem to know their place,” Kennedy said, reading aloud. “Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they’re black and Hispanic,” and so on. After each passage Kennedy would ask the nominee if he remembered reading it, and Alito would say, again, that he had no memory of the magazine or the organization.
This and several other lines of questioning were manifestly intended to suggest that Alito was some variety of racist. Kennedy’s badgering became so intense at one point that Alito’s wife, Martha, left the hearing room in tears.
A few minutes later, it was Lindsey Graham’s turn to ask questions of
“Are you really a closet bigot?” Graham asked.
“I’m not any kind of bigot,” was the nominee’s careful answer.
Graham went on:
No, sir, you’re not. And you know why I believe that? Not because you just said it, but that’s a good enough reason. Because you seem to be a decent, honorable man. Judge Alito, I am sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this.
In my experience it is usually folly to assign uncalculating motives to highly successful and ambitious politicians. But maybe it’s not saying all that much about such a politician to say he doesn’t care to see a guy called a creep and a reprobate with no more evidence than a single accusation. Graham reacted as I guess many readers of these words would react.
How strange that tough-minded, skeptical journalists can interpret the obvious grandstanding of one faction as if its words are self-evidently sincere, while the hot-tempered defense of a man accused of crimes without evidence appears to them Machiavellian.
For myself, I cannot know what happened to Christine Blasey Ford in 1982 or whenever it was. But when I see a posse of arrogant powerbrokers surround a decent man and say he rapes girls and drinks too much and lies about it, all I know to say is, “He don’t. He don’t.”