Kavanaugh, Ford, emotion — and evidence
In contemporary American politics, emotion often trumps rationality. Democrats have long exhibited far more skill deploying sentiment as a political weapon. And so, early on the Thursday, the prospects of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court looked to be in trouble when Senate Judiciary Committee heard Christine Blasey Ford’s moving testimony regarding the alleged sexual assault.
Ford’s amiable disposition was often interrupted with the emotional cracking of her voice as she relayed the jarring specific accusation of an assault at a house party in early ’80s. It was compelling testimony. For the emotionalist, it almost surely cemented the credibility of the witness.
For the rationalist, on the other hand, the same questions remained as were present going into the hearing. Even the most rudimentary notion of due process puts the burden of proof on the accuser. And while Ford claimed to have “100 percent” certitude that Kavanaugh had assaulted her, she also had zero-percent memory of anything that could substantiate that claim. She was still unable to offer a time or place or a single corroborating witness to her story. Every witness Ford maintained had been at the suburban Maryland party where the alleged attack occurred has, under threat of felony, denied knowledge of the assault and stated they have no recollection of the get-together. This includes Mark Judge and Ford’s longtime friend Leland Keyser.
Moreover, Ford, we learned, had never mentioned sexual assault until Kavanaugh’s name began appearing in the media as a prospective Supreme Court justice in 2012, and she never specifically cited the judge’s name until very recently.
None of these realities prove that Ford is lying, of course. In many ways her story rang true. One can’t expect a person to recall all the specifics of an event that transpired over 35 years ago. Yet the fact is that nothing substantively changed about the situation other than the perception of the viewer.
A bigger problem for Democrats, however, was that when Kavanaugh had his turn, he released his own gusher of emotion in the form of fury and exasperation. The tenor of his testimony, one that I can’t recall seeing anything similar to in Washington, was demonstrative.
“You have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy,” Kavanaugh accused Democrats, who had, to varying degrees, accused the judge of being “evil,” of sexually assaulting a woman, of participating in gang-rapes and of being a blackout-prone alcoholic.
On his own emotional terms, Kavanaugh, who was forced to stop reading his statement several times to hold back tears, relayed the costs of those unsubstantiated accusations on his reputation, family and future. This included telling the committee how his daughter had asked the family to pray for Ford’s wellbeing.
In the end, it was more defiance than anything else, as Kavanaugh promised that he would “not be intimidated out of this process.”
In the face of such forceful testimony, the Democrats’ queries about Kavanaugh’s teenage drinking games, jokes about flatulence and nicknames seemed trivial and unfair. Dazed liberals in the media and elsewhere were forced to coalesce around the idea that Kavanaugh’s passion was “not a good look.” After all, they claimed, a person must have the right temperament for the Supreme Court.
Yet, one imagines that millions of Americans found Kavanaugh’s disposition perfect for man who was fighting to defend his name and family from unsubstantiated smears.
In fact, in the end, both testimonies were probably tonally appropriate to the situation. And if a person concedes that Ford was credible witness, why wouldn’t they consider Kavanaugh was just as trustworthy?
Is the determination based on gender? Partisanship? Both appeared to believe their accounts. Both offered similarly passionate depositions. Shouldn’t we now rely on the evidence — or lack of it — to make our determination?
What we do know is that Kavanaugh’s future hinges on the votes of a handful of moderate Republican senators, who are likely terrified of the electoral consequences of this choice. We’re soon going to find out what happens when a sympathetic victim’s account is pitted against the righteous anger of the falsely accused. Perhaps, in a rare display of rationality, these dueling passions will allow politicians to rely on presumption of innocence, process and evidence.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of the forthcoming “First Freedom.”
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