Over the past week, the phrase “Kavanaugh’s accuser” has multiplied like a virus in a sci-fi story: “Second Kavanaugh accuser in standoff … .” “Third Kavanaugh accuser steps forward.” The persistence of that headline convention is perplexing, and it’s dangerous. “Accuser” is the wrong word to begin with.
Try substituting that language in discussion of any category of crime other than sexual assault: “Fred, the accuser in a recent burglary case ….” or “Miriam, the accuser in a bank robbery case … .” It just doesn’t roll off the tongue.
American law has never had special terms for victims of crimes other than rape: We have only the generic terms “victim” or “witness.” But victims of rape have had an entire lexicon of specialness foisted upon them. That vocabulary sets sexual-assault victims apart from victims of other crimes and supports the long history of patriarchal insistence on control of women. It insinuates that the person who was assaulted is unreliable. “Accuser” implies uncertainty that any incident occurred at all, a doubt that we don’t extend to other crimes.
Media makers and consumers should be aware of how language creates culture. A superficially neutral term such as “accuser” comes freighted with an entire patriarchal history.
Michele Sharpe, Washington Post
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There’s a familiar, disturbing, thread running through the allegations facing Kavanaugh, who has strongly denied committing assault. In each alleged incident, the woman at the center was not just a victim but the butt of a joke between men.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter, between the two, and their having fun at my expense,” Christine Blasey Ford testified Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, recounting what she says was an attack by Kavanaugh when she was 15 years old and he was 17.
What she and Kavanaugh’s other accusers describe feels deeply familiar to many women — the notion that good, clean teen-boy fun isn’t just about objectifying women. It’s also about laughing at them in a sacrifice to the larger cause of male bonding and group identity.
A male classmate dared another to loudly snap your bra strap in front of the whole social-studies class? Just a joke, calm down. A casual soccer game became a competition for boys to chase female players and pull down their shorts? Boys will be boys, so don’t take it personally.
So many of us either knew that girl, or were that girl, which makes me consider that perhaps Kavanaugh is telling the truth when he professes not to recall these alleged incidents. In the rarefied milieu that nurtured him, jokes like these wouldn’t have been shocking or even particularly remarkable.
A Supreme Court nominee can arrogantly believe that his past won’t surface because he’s confident in the structure that supports him — built on and by men who believe that women’s bodies and freedoms are just throwaway pawns in a game that’s rigged in their favor.
Andi Zeisler, Washington Post
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Thursday’s hearing did not add an iota of corroboration to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation. None of the people Ford named has confirmed that the gathering in question took place. Ford was too young to drive but cannot recall how she got there or how she left — a big deal for those of us who remember the days before cellphones or Uber. She cannot recall whose house it was; she cannot recall the date.
The burden is not on Kavanaugh to prove he didn’t do it. He cannot prove a negative. In the United States of America, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But apparently not in the U.S. Senate.
Taken aback by Kavanaugh’s decision to call them out, and without any actual evidence to discuss, Democrats were reduced to asking Kavanaugh about references to vomiting and flatulence in his high school year book. Seriously? The world’s greatest deliberative body has been reduced to this?
Kavanaugh said, “My life is permanently and totally altered.” Whether our democracy is permanently altered depends on whether the Senate rejects this campaign of character assassination and confirms Kavanaugh.
Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post
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Either Kavanaugh’s nomination goes down or he will take the entire Republican Party with him.
Every strategic decision the Senate Judiciary Republicans made accentuated the power of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Normally, a she-said-he-said confrontation leaves everyone with an open mind having doubts about the truth. That obviously was the GOP theory in refusing to allow any other witnesses other than Ford and Kavanaugh.
But it backfired when Ford seemed so compellingly honest, so desperate to be helpful, so certain of the core of her accusations. Any other witness — even Kavanaugh’s accused wingman Mark Judge — would have distracted from the clarity of Ford’s words.
What also backfired was the decision by the timorous all-male committee Republicans to farm out the questioning to Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. The problem with Mitchell’s fact-based questions, which avoided provoking emotional responses from Ford, was that they buttressed a series of lawyerly points that are primarily of interest to Fox News conspiracy theorists.
Kavanaugh decided to throw any judicial restraint aside — and live up to President Donald Trump’s image of a high-energy Supreme Court justice. Shouting, fighting back tears, proclaiming his innocence and resorting to pathos — claiming that because of the Democrats, “I may never be able to coach [basketball] again” — he came across as a desperate man.
But it was impossible to tell if this was the desperation of an innocent man on the way to the guillotine or the desperation of a lifelong Washington careerist seeing his Supreme Court ambitions wither.
Displaying a volcanic temperament, Kavanaugh denounced “a frenzy on the left” and portrayed himself as the blameless victim of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” Just for good measure, Kavanaugh also wailed about those working for “revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
Forget the sexual allegations for a moment. Kavanaugh’s own words would make him incapable of offering a fair judgment — either on the Supreme Court or if he returns to the D.C. Court of Appeals — in any case where a Democrat or a left-of-center outside group is challenging a Republican.
Walter Shapiro, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
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Thursday’s endless, grueling, moving, infuriating hearings mostly provided an exhibit in the case for the dissolution of our Senate. But after eight hours in purgatory, I still really want to know the truth.
And surprisingly, I left the long day of testimony convinced the truth might actually be accessible. There are obvious avenues of inquiry, unpursued by both parties, that could bring us closer to understanding who is telling the real truth.
The cross-examiner the Republicans deputized was my heroine for the day, the only person in the room who seemed interested in investigating. All the possible areas of inquiry — Christine Blasey Ford’s female friend and family’s recollections, the probable locations for the party, the boy who connected her with her alleged attacker — were unmentioned by Senate Democrats as they went about praising Blasey and cross-examining Kavanaugh. The only person that liberals insist absolutely needs to be questioned more rigorously is Mark Judge, the alleged other participant in the assault.
But if the liberal interest in Judge is too partial, it’s still entirely reasonable. The sworn statements from him and from the other boy named, P.J. Smyth, are obviously insufficient. They should be asked under oath if they knew Blasey, if they ever attended parties with her — a whole litany of obvious questions. And the fact that both of their names appeared on the calendar that Kavanaugh offered up in his defense, listed as attendees at precisely the kind of weeknight drinking party that he suggested was vanishingly rare, seems like another useful area of inquiry — one, again, that the cross-examiner (God bless her!) pursued a little before Senate Republicans decided that the time for grandstanding had arrived.
Speaking as the last person in the American political-journalistic apparatus (or so it feels) who’s still agnostic about Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence, I am more convinced than ever that somebody knows something that could prevent this from metastasizing into our era’s Dreyfus Affair — a source of unresolved hatreds for years and decades yet to come.
Ross Douthat, New York Times
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Kavanaugh is not suited to a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because of his self-pity and rage.
Because of the way he shredded the idea that he can be an impartial arbiter on the high court when he accused Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee of seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and “left-wing opposition groups.”
Because of the insulting way he spoke to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar when she asked whether he ever drank so much he could not remember what happened. (“You’re talking about a blackout,” he said in a nasty tone. “I don’t know. Have you?”)
Kavanaugh’s anger may be understandable in a man who claims — hyperbolically — that his life and family have been “destroyed” by what he says are false allegations. But they are hardly what we deserve in a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has so much control over Americans’ lives.
Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
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Plenty of people have tried to compare Christine Blasey Ford to Anita Hill. But a far more useful comparison would have been the two U.S. Supreme Court nominees they accused of sexual misconduct — Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.
It’s not every day that I can point to a black man, put on a national stage, who can do a better job of getting the benefit of the doubt and looking more like a victim than a white man.
But 27 years ago, Thomas capitalized on the rocky state of race relations in the U.S. in a miraculous bid to look like a victim. He boiled down Hill’s credible allegations of sexual harassment, given under the clumsy and cruel questions of an all-white male Senate Judiciary Committee, as the “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks” who think for themselves. It worked.
Kavanaugh, on Thursday, tried to do what Thomas did but largely failed. Facing credible accusations of sexual assault by Ford and at least two other women, he launched into an angry opening statement in which he ridiculously painted himself as the target of “character assassination” stemming from a political “conspiracy” led by Democrats and the Clintons.
To the loyal, populist supporters of President Trump, Kavanaugh succeeded in looking like a victim of elitist politicians. But to the rest of us, he just looked like a privileged white male, whining because he’s unaccustomed to losing anything.
Erika D. Smith, Sacramento Bee (TNS)
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As Ford and Kavanaugh testified Thursday, there was enough raw emotion to satisfy every TV news exec in America. You’d need a crew with mops to wipe it all up off the committee floor.
He cried when he mentioned his little girls, who he said had prayed for Ford. She looked terrified when describing him at a high school party, on top of her, covering her mouth.
He seemed believable when he said it was a lie. She seemed believable when she said it was all true. It was tragic. It was depressing. But it was also ridiculous. We’re so very tribal now, and our tribal leaders use emotion to herd us.
Oh, the ringmasters talked about “corroboration” or the “lack of corroboration.” But what they really wanted was opera. And they got it.
So, what do we do when witnesses tell diametrically opposed, compelling and emotional stories? There was something we referred to once, called “the rule of law.”
The rule of law would have us consider corroborating evidence, or the lack of any corroborating statements, like the witnesses who say there was no party.
The rule of law is not about emotion and passion. It is about logic and reason.
But when did logic and reason make for great TV or passionate politics?
John Kass, Chicago Tribune