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The Fundamental Incoherence of the Anti-Anti-Kavanaugh Position

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 27: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shouts while questioning Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Since Paul has already dealt with Sully, let’s look at the argument dressed up in a slightly nicer suit by Bret Stephens. He starts out with the obligatory “Blasey Ford was credible” throat-clearing:Do you believe Blasey?

I watched her — vulnerable, obliging, guileless (precisely the opposite of what her skeptics suspected) — and found her wholly believable. If she’s lying, she will face social and professional ruin.

But then…

Do you believe Kavanaugh? I watched him — meticulous, wounded, furious (wouldn’t you be, too, if you were innocent of such an accusation?) — and found him wholly believable. If he’s lying, he will face ruin as well.

I’ll return to the “wouldn’t you be angry too?” point in a subsequent post. What I want to focus on here is the description of Kavanaugh’s testimony as “meticulous.” Um…what? The guy constantly said things that weren’t true. He repeatedly dodged questions, sometimes literally with a “I know you are but what am I?” routine. His having kept his calendars from 1982 might appear meticulous, only the information in them was more consistent with Blasey Ford’s story than his. If you see these testimonies is equally “believable,” it’s because you decided ex ante to find them equally believable. Which, of course, he effectively did. And his testimony was as “meticulous” as his bathroom at Yale.

Let me pause with a brief counterfactual. What if, at the Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton has just started ranting and raving about Republican conspiracies (which would, in that case, actually be accurate!) and then told a whole bunch of obvious lies on various subjects while repeatedly insulting the members? My radical thesis is that people like Bret Stephens and Andrew Sullivan would not have found this very convincing, and “but wouldn’t you be angry?” would not come to their minds.

Here’s the core of the argument:

What happened Thursday should not prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senators are within their rights to vote against the nomination out of philosophical differences. But to vote on the basis of a belief in things unseen and unproved is a road to national ruin.

This is just…completely incoherent. Senators can vote against someone because they disagree with them, but not because they think it’s more likely than not that they committed sexual assault? Based on what? Why is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” being implicitly smuggled into the standards used to give someone a life-tenured job promotion?

He favors the FBI investigation, decides in advance it can’t prove anything, and…he knows who to blame!

What’s the alternative? Democrats demanded an F.B.I. investigation at Thursday’s hearing and now, thanks to Jeff Flake, they’ve been joined by Senate Republicans. I’m all for it, though I doubt it will uncover anything definitive. It could have been completed, with much greater thoroughness, weeks ago if Dianne Feinstein hadn’t concealed Blasey’s allegation from the Judiciary Committee for much of the summer — a remarkably cynical ploy suggesting motives other than honest truth-seeking.

These claims against Feinstein’s motives are wholly baseless. But remember when you see the talking points of Republican hacks in Glenn Greenwald’s twitter feed he is still most definitely still leftier than thou! (And, whoa, did those standards of evidence just shift.)

But, ultimately, the assertions that Blasey Ford is credible are plainly in bad faith:

But that’s not likely to happen. And if suspicion based on allegation — even or especially “believable” allegations — becomes a sufficient basis for disqualification, it will create overpowering political incentives to discover, produce or manufacture allegations in the hopes that something sticks. Americans have a longstanding credulity problem — 9/11 trutherism; Obama birtherism; J.F.K. assassination theories; the “deep state” — so the ground is already fertile.

1)So Blasey Ford is credible and also comparable (or the start of an inevitable slippery slope) to 9/11 trooferisn and birtherism.

2)Note he doesn’t mention “climate change denialism.” I wonder why!

But, anyway, this is where the argument collapses. To argue that “if we find Blasey Ford credible then we have to believe any accusation made by anybody” is either an argument that you don’t really find her credible, or a particularly dumb slippery slope fallacy. And, more to the point, finding Kavanaugh’s testimony equally “believable” is the biggest tell imaginable that this about the maintenance of hierarchy, not the preservation of “fairness.”


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