If the Kavanaugh nomination were a movie, critics would say the plot was way too predictable. A seemingly square and honorable Catholic husband and “basketball dad,” much beloved in his upscale community, is a shoo-in for a top job he’s been aiming at all his life… when a woman comes up out of nowhere to accuse him of a serious crime. We have watched this plot unfold so many times—priests, pastors, doctors, coaches, professors, writers, artists, entertainers, chefs—it’s getting hard to summon up the necessary sense of surprise. It’s almost as if the more upright a man appears, the more likely he is to be hiding a creep within.
Brett Kavanaugh has fiercely denied there is any truth to Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that he and another boy violently sexually assaulted her at a party when she was 15 and he was 17. The second boy, conservative writer Mark Judge, left himself some wiggle room, claiming he had no recollection of the event while defending his friend (“It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way”).
This slight prevarication was lucky for him, because it didn’t take long for someone to notice that his 1997 memoir, Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk, describes a youth spent in blackout drunkenness in the company of high-school buddy “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who “passed out on his way back from a party” and was seen puking “in someone’s car the other night.”
Kavanaugh insists on his innocence, saying in a statement today that “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.” Some of his defenders seem to be saying that even if the allegations are true, it shouldn’t really matter. After all, he was only 17, boys will be boys, it was a long time ago. (“It was drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven,” tweeted Fox commentator Stephen Miller.) Still others seem to be circling the wagons around Kavanaugh—and around men. As a lawyer close to the White House told Politico, the nomination won’t be withdrawn. “No way, not even a hint of it. If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.” It’s not surprisingly, really, that a man associated with the pussy grabber in chief has such a low opinion of his sex. Hmm. The same people who claim feminists grossly exaggerate the incidence of sexual assault now seem to be arguing it’s ubiquitous. Maybe a lot of men should be worried.
What about forgiveness? I’m all for forgiveness, especially of the young. But I have two things to say about that. How many now calling for Kavanaugh’s bygones to be bygones feel the same empathy for other young people accused of crimes? In many states, an underage sex offender goes on the sex-offender registry for years, possibly even for life. How many people now minimizing Kavanaugh’s behavior as youthful folly oppose that? It’s true that these juvenile sex offenders have been convicted, unlike Kavanaugh, but plenty of young people are languishing in jail awaiting trial for minor crimes for lack of money for bail. Kalief Browder was locked up in Rikers Island for three years—nearly two of them in solitary confinement—awaiting trial for the theft of a backpack. Two years after being released, he killed himself. How many Kavanaugh defenders oppose pretrial detention for kids? How many of them think Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were wrongly portrayed in the media as dangerous thugs?
Forgiveness cannot be a one-way street. First, the person has to admit he did wrong, apologize and do what he can to make it up to the victim. After all, by her own account, Christine Ford suffered quite a bit as a result of that night. “I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years,” she told The Washington Post, saying she was unable to have healthy relationships with men after the incident, which she believes also contributed to her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. (Ford, who is now prepared to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is about to suffer all over again, as every bit of her private life is exposed to public scrutiny, not known for its kindness to women who accuse men of sex crimes). Again, Kavanaugh insists nothing happened. But if he did do it and wanted to make amends, it’s not difficult to imagine the words that could make this whole thing go away: “When I was young, I was spoiled and heedless and saw women as less than full people and my rightful prey. Over the years, I have thought so often of contacting Ms. Ford to apologize, but I never did, and that was cowardly of me. I am so sorry for the pain I caused her.”
It isn’t at all clear what will happen now. Right-wing websites are already throwing dirt at Ford, but it may not work. She is a married, middle-aged, respectable professor of psychology. She told her story to a therapist in 2012, so it will be hard to say she fabricated it to derail his nomination. But even if Kavanaugh’s name is withdrawn tomorrow, everyone who vetted him is also culpable if it can be shown that they knew about a credible allegation and withheld the information to protect him. On Friday, just as the story was breaking across multiple media outlets, Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley released a letter signed by 65 women who had known Kavanaugh since high school saying that he had always “behaved honorably and treated women with respect.” Some of the women told Buzzfeed that the letter came about through word of mouth, and Grassley’s office denies having organized it. Maybe that’s true, but the quick turnaround does prompt the question: What did Grassley know and when did he know it? Now, after Ford has come forward, journalists at Politico are reaching out to the signers, and so far only five say they still stand behind Kavanaugh. (Two former girlfriends who signed the letter have released their own statements reaffirming their support.)
One more point. In a recent dissent, Judge Kavanaugh raised absurd objections intended to delay, if not prevent, a 17-year-old girl being held in immigrant detention from having the abortion she repeatedly said she wanted. If he is confirmed, how many girls will be forced to bear children against their will? While we are thinking of how much responsibility men should bear for the deeds of their youth, let’s not forget the women who don’t get to put their past behind them—even when they are the victim of rape.