Today’s Senate hearings will not just present parallel histories of the teenage years of Brett Kavanaugh — his, of being a basically upright young man who occasionally drank to excess, vs. Christine Blasey Ford’s, of him being a guy who, “stumbling drunk,” forced himself upon her.
It will present two visions of what this #MeToo moment should mean in a country and culture that continue to get pulled apart at the seams.
The most immediate question is whether, under questioning by Rachel Mitchell, the ringer sex-crimes prosecutor that male Republican elected officials have tapped to shield them from having to ask tough questions of a female accuser, either Kavanaugh or Ford slips. And I’m not just talking about a dramatic screwup.
We don’t know how Ford will come across; she’s new to such a pressure cooker. If she seems not just nervous, which would be fully understandable, but shaky in her recollection, that’s a big problem.
Nor do we know how Kavanaugh will handle specific questions about the precise extent of his drinking or the possibility that he doesn’t remember just how trashed he got on any given occasion.
Remember: He hasn’t just said the specific allegation in question is false (as are two other allegations that have since surfaced from other women); he’s categorically denied even being at this party with Ford. If any piece of that story unravels, he’s in deep trouble.
But the odds are, just like in the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill showdown, both Kavanaugh and Ford will emerge having told their versions of reality, with nothing dispositive either way, leaving the legions of supporters to return to their corners, sharpen their weapons and resume, in fact escalate, their larger culture war.
This is between a #MeToo movement that thinks women should be believed, in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, because accusers have so much to lose and nothing to gain, and an undefined #HoldOnaSecond contingent in the Senate and the culture that believes all claims of misconduct demand tough scrutiny and independent evidence.
It’s between those who say that decades-old claims of abuse that suddenly surface are credible, especially when multiple stories seem to paint a similar picture, and those who say accepting such charges as legitimate risks opening up floodgates to rampant character assassination.
It’s between those who say a young man throwing himself on top of a woman at a drunken high school party, and then lying about it, ought to disqualify a judge from a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court, and others who might say they consider that act unacceptable but who, deep in their gut, are uneasy about reaching back that far to use an act of this nature to rule someone out.
It’s between those who think the process of holding men accountable for transgressions has only just begun, and should progress from holding them accountable for crimes into policing grayer zones, and those who are already uneasy about goalposts being moved, and think we’re thisclose to shaming men for improper use of their eyes.
It’s between those who think that one of the biggest threats to America is the norm that young men are conditioned to have their way with women, and those who think that a bigger threat is the demolition of the norm that men are innocent until proven guilty. This group, I think, believes in its gut that teenage carousing is itself on trial.
It’s between those who think a country still dominated by male power is only beginning to fumble its way toward fairness, and those who think the pendulum of supposed female empowerment has already swung too far.