An Ugly Time

The process surrounding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court is one of the ugliest proceedings that I can remember.  On Thursday much of the nation was watching as first Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then Judge Kavanaugh did so.  I was able to watch it all and it was very difficult to see.  I feel badly for both witnesses, and their families.  In these divided times both have suffered indignities that should not happen.  After listening to the testimony, I do not know what happened on that night so many years ago.  It may be impossible to know for sure what did or did not happen then.  Dr. Ford was a credible and compelling witness.  I believe her.  At the same time, Judge Kavanaugh was adamant in his denial and we do have a system of assuming innocence until proven guilty.  There are a number of scenarios that could have occurred where they are both correct — either in the actual facts or in the way that their minds have shaped events.  We probably will never know exactly what happened.

Having watched, I will say right up front that I do not think that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The reasons are many and varied, but foremost among them is my belief that his confirmation will solidify and institutionalize the blatant politicization of the Supreme Court, both in substance and in the process of selecting future Justices.  This was solidified in my mind while watching the hearings on Thursday, but I have felt this way about Judge Kavanaugh from the moment I first saw him speak at the White House while accepting the president’s nomination.  The more I have learned about him the more I am convinced that he was and is a political operative with questions about his ability to maintain neutrality in cases that may come before him.  This excerpt from his opening statement to the committee says it all:

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July, there has been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation.  This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.

“The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country and as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.”

Keep in mind that the “you” he is talking to are Democrats. His demeanor and body language in response to the Democrats on the committee was contemptuous, sneering, and purposely disrespectful.  I understand his anger and his revulsion at the way the process unfolded.  That said, we expect a member of the Supreme Court to be even-tempered, respectful and willing to listen to all sides of an issue.  His display of raw emotion on Thursday was none of those things.  It was possible to passionately defend himself and his family in a mature, earnest way without publicly losing respect for the gravity of the situation and those with whom he disagrees.  Dr. Ford was able to do so in her testimony, shouldn’t we expect the same of a Supreme Court Justice?

Take another look at his words above.  “Fueled by pent-up anger at President Trump and the 2016 election.”  “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”  “What goes around comes around.”  How can the American public possibly think that he will be even-handed when on the bench if he is looking to get back at those he thinks unfairly attacked him?  His temperament should be disqualifying and his words should be disqualifying.  Here’s the essence of what transpired.  He went berserk at the hearing not only supposedly to clear his name (he evaded way too many questions in my mind to convince me that he was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), but it was a performance to shore up the Conservative base and Republican support.  He channeled their anger to rally them behind him.  In the process he purposely “fueled the pent-up anger” of his right-wing supporters, further dividing the nation he purports to want to bring together, to fulfill his own ambition.

There was another element to his testimony as well.  His sense of entitlement to the job — that somehow he was owed this appointment — was overwhelmingly apparent and very disquieting.

The hearings are in essence a job interview.  It is not a trial and therefore there is no burden of proof for guilt or innocence. That said, I do not think he was clear in his thinking and he was not straight forward in his answers.  This was true in his first hearing before the committee, and he did an even worse job of clearly answering questions in the second.

I disagree with his political philosophy and his stance on many issues.  That happens in the course of history, and as the result of elections one party or way of thinking gets their way.  While I may disagree with that party or ideology, I am willing to accept that they get to put forward a nominee that supports their way of thinking in these important positions.  However, I hope that whatever the party or ideology of a Supreme Court nominee might be, that the individual is straight forward, tries to be neutral, and is seemingly of outstanding character.  I get none of that vibe about Judge Kavanaugh.  My concerns about him transcend his conservatism.

Thankfully, a modicum of decency in the process was restored when Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del) were able to work out a compromise on the committee to allow the FBI to reopen the Background Investigation of Judge Kavanaugh for a week.  I was concerned that his appointment would be jammed through the Senate in a rush and that possibly damaging information would surface about him after he was installed on the bench.  Had that happened (or should it still happen) another bitter fight with Constitutional overtones would have ensued.  My view is that the Republicans pushing to get him on the Supreme Court (I’m looking at you Senator McConnell) don’t care to get to the truth.  They just want their guy on the bench.  I think that Senator McConnell is/was betting that an effort to impeach a Justice Kavanaugh would fail under the weight of accusations that it was a political gambit to remove an unpopular judge rather than on the ethical grounds that would precipitate it.  He is on for life.  Period.

It is doubtful that the expanded FBI investigation will change anyone’s mind.  It is however, a chance for all sides to take a time out, pull back the rhetoric, and think through all of the pros and cons about the nominee and not just who is “winning” or “losing.”

I worry that in the long run we as a nation are losing our principles.  We have been through contentious, bitter political battles in our long national history.  We have survived.  Unfortunately, the recovery was often long and unbalanced.  We may be headed for the political cliff again.  I trust that our resiliency as a nation will keep us from going over the edge, but there are no guarantees.

I agree with Judge Kavanaugh on one thing, however.  He is correct when he calls his nomination process a “circus.”  There is plenty of blame to go around on Capital Hill on the way the entire process was handled.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any leaders stepping up to clean up behind the elephants and zebras and get us back on track.  It will probably get uglier and messier before it gets better.  And Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh.

 



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