Morris: The Kavanaugh Treatment
by Leo Morris
I write these columns a week ahead of time. There is a selfish reason for that practice – always having a column in the bank means I don’t have deadline panic every time I sit down at the keyboard.
But there is also a beneficial effect, I think. The delay forces me to look beyond the unfolding updates of developing stories and at least try to find something more meaningful to say. It doesn’t have to be a universal truth that will inform the ages, but it should be relevant enough to give a moderately thoughtful person pause for longer than a day or two.
Consider the epic confrontation between Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school in the 1980s.
The drama has become such a big part of the national conversation that I feel compelled to weigh in. But as I write, the U.S. Senate is in negotiations over who will testify at what kind of hearings and when there might be a vote on confirmation. By the time this piece is distributed, the saga might still be limping along unresolved with Kavanaugh slinking off in disgrace or Kavanaugh confirmed and Ford already fading into obscurity.
So I’m considering the lessons (not to sound too pretentious about it) we might still wish to ponder no matter what happens. Two occur to me:
First, this the epitome of the tribalism to which we have succumbed. What’s amazing about the controversy is not what we are thinking about it but that so few of us actually seem to be thinking about it at all. We know which side of the aisle we sit on, and that tells us all we need to know.
And what cheerleaders we have.
“Poor Republicans,” said the New York Times editorial page. “They’ve tried so hard to be subtle, to seem respectful of Christine Blasey Ford, even as they’ve maneuvered to undermine her . . . They wanted Americans to think they had evolved in the 27 years since Anita Hill accused another Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, of sexual misconduct.” The woman is always to be believed, so the evil Republicans should just shut up.
“This is not he said-she said,” advised the Wall Street Journal editorial page. “This is a case of an alleged teenage encounter, partially recalled 30 years later without corroboration, and brought forward to ruin Mr. Kavanaugh’s reputation for partisan purposes.” The woman is just a pawn being used by nefarious Democrats trying to destroy a decent man.
The battle is engaged and the war goes on. Kavanaugh and Ford become almost beside the point.
Second, using the standards now being applied, how many of us could survive scrutiny of our youthful decisions?
I know I couldn’t. I was, I must admit, kind of a reserved, keep-to-myself kind of guy in high school. Stood in the corner at parties. Got tongue-tied around girls. Worked on the yearbook instead of joining a big, messy group like band or, heaven forbid, a sports team.
But I said plenty of stupid things and did a few dumb ones. I caused some hurt feelings and broke a few promises. I was a kid, in other words. Making mistakes is part of the growing process.
We might regret the mistakes, but we learn from them. They are a part of the whole. Looking back on them, we accept them as an integral piece of the mosaic of our lives.
But take any one of them, isolate it and put a spotlight on it, and it becomes something else. And it’s more than just judging a life based on the worst thing we ever did. It’s judging the tiniest sliver of our immaturity and using it to damn everything that went after it.
I know that makes it seem like I’m completely in the “Support Kavanaugh” camp, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m quite sure that there are dossiers out there with the intimate, embarrassing details of most prominent Americans’ lives, Democrat and Republican alike, ready to be cracked open against anyone daring to enter the political arena.
What sane person will want to seek office if this keeps up?
In fact, the only ones likely to consider running are those who are such paragons of virtue that nothing in their lives can be questioned.
And to tell you the truth, those are the last people I would trust in public office. They’ve never felt the need to examine their weaknesses, confront their failures, question their moral judgments, learn from their mistakes. When they finally have to – not if, when – their fall will truly be epic, and they will take a lot of people with them.
Tribes might offer comfort then, but nothing close to salvation.
Update: Since I wrote the above, there have been other complaints of sexual impropriety in Judge Kavanaugh’s youth, each more bizarre and unverifiable than the last, and the U.S. Senate has put on a clown show that should be a national embarrassment. Nothing in the week’s news has dissuaded me from the two observations I originally made. But I would add a third. Washington. D.C. is not a swamp. The Everglades is a swap. Okefenokee is a swamp. Washington, D.C., is an open sewer.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.