Is the political glass half-full this week, or half-empty? On the plus side, three Republican senators—Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, and Utah’s Mitt Romney—announced that they will vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, the first Black woman ever appointed. On the grim, even ghoulish side, we have Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-QAnon, spewing lies on Twitter in a thread that began: “Any Senator voting to confirm #KJB is pro-pedophile just like she is,” and concluded: “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile. They just voted for #KBJ.”
Most days I try to ignore bullies like Greene. But she says crudely what more polished Republicans use bigger words to express. Senators like Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham made unspeakable charges against Jackson during her Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings and repeated some of them on Monday, during the committee debate (it deadlocked 11-11, but Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer was able to get her confirmation to the Senate floor anyway). They weren’t that different from Greene’s.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank did the numbers: In four days of hearings last week, “the phrase ‘child porn’ (or ‘pornography’ or ‘pornographer’) was mentioned 165 times. There were also, according to transcripts, 142 uses of ‘sex’ (‘sexual abuse,’ ‘sexual assault,’ ‘sexual intercourse,’ ‘sex crimes’), 15 of ‘pedophile,’ 13 of ‘predators,’ 18 of ‘prepubescent’ and nine of general pornography.”
“I’m not suggesting she likes what’s happening in child pornography,” Graham said Monday. But “she ha[d] a chance to impose a sentence that would deter [child pornography], and she chose not to.”
“Her record demonstrates that it is 100 percent certain she will vote…to overturn strict punishments on sex offenders,” Cruz said before his “no” vote. (That’s mildly better than his accusing Jackson of a record of “advocacy as it concerns sexual predators,” in last week’s hearing.)
Hawley likewise defended his vote against Jackson by pointing to her “lenience,” especially in child pornography cases. He struck back at the many critics of the way he treated Jackson last week before Monday’s vote: “Child pornography creates a cycle of trafficking, of exploitation, of abuse. It is the children who are victims, not the criminals.”
Cotton claimed Jackson “habitually sympathizes with criminals over victims” and acted as “more of a defense attorney for criminals from the bench than a judge.”
Oh, and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn said she couldn’t vote for Jackson because the judge refused to give her a definition of “woman” in last week’s hearing—a way to sneak in a little trans panic along with pedophilia fearmongering and “soft on crime” garbage.
Jackson will join the Supreme Court anyway. But over the last month, Republicans used her as target practice to get ready for the November midterms. They turned the esteemed judge into the composite of Democrats everywhere—soft on crime, but particularly on child predators, fond of a crackpot version of allegedly anti-white “critical race theory,” unwilling to uphold “traditional” notions of gender and sexuality. Essentially, the pitch is, Democrats are coming for your children, on almost every front, and we, members of the formerly Grand Old Party, are all that can protect them.
The assault on Jackson came against the backdrop of the notorious Florida law banning schools from teaching about issues of sexual orientation through the third grade. At some level, proponents of the law seem to believe that a Democratic-leaning educational establishment is trying to actively turn kids LGBTQ; Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary resurrected an old slur against gay men, that they “groom” children to be gay, or prey, by saying “it would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.”
She went on to Tweet: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
There it is again: Democrats peddle pedophilia, and maybe practice it. Even “upstanding” people like Jackson—all the Republicans felt obliged to praise her upbringing and erudition—at least go easy on it. Of course, a version of that slur emerged out of the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton, when deranged conspiracy-mongers claimed Clinton and her campaign were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. It got the nonsense label “Pizzagate,” but it wasn’t funny, especially after someone convinced by the claim showed up at the pizza place with a gun. Pizzagate morphed into the kaleidoscopically unhinged QAnon movement, which met up with white supremacy and Donald Trump–worship and fueled the January 6 insurrection.
This is, literally, a deadly approach to politics, which puts people’s lives in danger but even more certainly endangers democracy and the rule of law. But it was mainstreamed at the Jackson hearings. The good news is that the American people didn’t like it: The nominee’s approval ratings, already high, went up after the Republican assault on her. The bad news is, some version of it can work: Look at how Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin rode gender panic and CRT paranoia as well as parental fatigue with Covid restrictions to victory last November.
Sometimes I assume American voters will see how vicious and deranged it all is. In The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg wrote about a panic over so-called “furries”—people, in this case school-aged, who like to dress up as animals. A Nebraska legislator insisted schools were being forced to put out “litter boxes in the schools for the children to use”—there’s the bathroom panic again!—until the whole notion was debunked. But not before it spread in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
At least Cruz didn’t ask Jackson for her thoughts on the bathroom rights of furries.
Still, her experience was searing. The racial dynamics of the Jackson hearing were unbearable, the distortion of her record obscene. Only five or six GOP senators actively and luridly bullied her, but another 40 found reasons to vote against her, and only Romney unequivocally denounced the cruel and perverse campaign against her.
For once, much of the media covered Jackson’s treatment as the travesty it was, and that’s progress. But there’s still insufficient media attention to the way these lurid claims about Democrats have been mainstreamed in the Republican Party, over the years and around the country. If you hated the Jackson hearings, you’re going to have a rough seven months until November. But unlike at the hearings, it will be possible for decent Americans to do something—to organize and to vote.