Michelle Goldberg brings a justly coruscating fury to bear on the sham hearings held on Thursday:
The hearing, by contrast, was profoundly dispiriting. If I were allowed to curse in The New York Times, this column would be one word repeated over and over. There is no reason Republicans had to put Blasey through that cruel, wrenching process. It made sense for her to testify, but not like that, as if she were on trial, or imposing on the committee’s precious time. It’s inexcusable that Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, who Blasey identifies as a witness to the alleged assault, hasn’t been questioned, and that there are no plans to do so. Perhaps if senators had heard sworn testimony from Judge — who wrote books detailing his youthful binge drinking — they might have decided to call the whole degrading spectacle off.
Blasey asked the Republicans on the panel — all of them men — to engage with her directly, one human being to another. Instead, they had her interrogated about minutia by a female prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, brought in to give them cover. The prosecutor’s questions seemed like setups for gotcha moments that never came. Mitchell largely ignored the alleged crime itself, instead trying to catch Blasey on extraneous matters, like the fact that she’s traveled on airplanes despite her stated fear of flying.
Nevertheless, Blasey maintained her composure. She responded without guile, as if the whole ordeal really were a collaborative fact-finding endeavor. She was widely seen as credible, and not just by feminists inclined to sympathize with her. “This is a disaster for the Republicans,” said Fox News’s Chris Wallace.
Perhaps, but the day was also a disaster for the rest of us. Watching Blasey was excruciating, like seeing someone without circus training forced to walk a tightrope between skyscrapers. When her testimony was done, I felt relief, but also redoubled rage. To be treated as remotely credible, she had to be nearly perfect. She is a well-educated, blond, heterosexual mother; Republican Senator Orrin Hatch described her as “attractive” and “pleasing.” Her Ph.D. in psychology allowed her to speak fluently about the neurobiology of her own trauma. Because of her expertise, she wasn’t confused or defensive about why she remembered some details of the night in question but not others. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” she said, recalling the way Kavanaugh and Judge allegedly enjoyed themselves at her expense.
Yet even near perfection, in this case, is probably not enough.
In contrast to Blasey, Kavanaugh was all snide, self-pitying fury. His testimony was needlessly misleading. He downplayed his youthful drinking, despite plenty of evidence that he was a sloppy drunk. (One former Yale roommate described him, in a statement, as a “notably heavy drinker” who became “belligerent and aggressive” when intoxicated.) Either he was dishonest about the common meaning of slang terms that he used in his yearbook, or his crowd had an extremely unique vernacular. His claim that there was nothing sexist or malicious in the phrase “Renate Alumnius” — a boast, in his yearbook, about a girl he and his friends all knew — strains credulity.
I can’t decide whether the single vilest moment in the hearing was Kavanaugh repeating his ridiculous lie about what the “Renate Alumnius” phrase meant and then engaging in a performative rage in which he fantastically asserted that he was defending Renate Dolphin’s honor, or Kavanaugh’s contemptuous answering-a-question-with-a-question routine in response to Amy Klobuchar’s perfectly appropriate questions. But the sheer comprehensiveness of his mendacity is remarkable, as well as his cynicism in repeatedly using women a shield.
Hatch’s locutions, along with those of his Republican colleagues on the judiciary committee and in the White House, made explicitly clear the dynamic that we saw today: that the right wing in this country—the Republican party that has lined up behind Donald Trump and is now trying to push through his evidently unfit Supreme Court pick—does not believe that it should have to “put up” with the assertion of the full humanity of women.
To these Republicans, women don’t deserve to be treated as full civic participants, with rights and voices of their own. As Majority leader Mitch McConnell put it, the goal for his party was to “plow through” the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh—and by extension, the women making them—and confirm the guy already.
Of course, the policies to which Trump’s party has clung—the restriction of abortion rights and attempts to limit access to birth control; the refusal to raise the minimum wage or support equal pay protections; the disinclination, even, to get behind the Violence Against Women Act, not to mention the fealty to a multiply accused and self-confessed sexual predator—have betrayed where Republicans stand on women’s full equality. But at least until recently, the party had engaged in wan, low-bar attempts to dress up their antipathy in a female-friendly package: Mama Grizzlies and Nikki Haley and pit bull hockey-moms.
That façade has been exploded, I hope forever, by events of the past weeks and days. Hatch, Chuck Grassley, and Lindsey Graham couldn’t hide their annoyance and impatience at having to listen to all these “misses,” as Grassley apparently likes to call women, who’d come forward with stories of assault and trauma. At the same time, women have been used as props (the girls basketball team, for one, which Kavanaugh raised yet again today, bemoaning that he may “never be able to coach again”) to advertise the judicial nominee’s friendliness to women, no matter his determination to curtail their ability to determine whether and when to have children. And then there was the hiring of Rachel Martin, the Arizona sex crimes prosecutor, or, as McConnell referred to her, “a female assistant,” whose job was to “assist” the all-white, all male members of the Republican judiciary committee in hiding their disdain for women from a rapt nation watching on their TVs, their computers, their cell phones.
Kavinaugh’s decision to go with belligerent Trumpian dishonesty was probably a brilliant ploy in terms of rallying the party around him to get him confirmed. How this will work out for Republicans at the ballot box is another story.