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GOP senators were putting women in their place

October 4, 2018

If Brett Kavanaugh is eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court, Republican senators will be sending a clear message to women who accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct: Tell your story if you must, then shut up and go away.

Kavanaugh’s histrionics and the parliamentary drama that followed do not lessen the clarity of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony or weaken her credibility. The limited FBI investigation now underway may provide Republicans with enough uncertainty and unanswered questions to provide political cover. But everyone should remember that Ford was as certain as she could possibly be.

She has not an ounce of doubt, she told the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, that it was a drunken Kavanaugh who pinned her to a bed, put his hand over her mouth and tried to rip her clothes off. Her recounting of that nightmare was vivid, detailed and specific. It was clear that she had not sought the public eye — she was “terrified” facing senators, she said — but felt she had a duty to report what Kavanaugh had done. I haven’t heard anyone claim she was anything but believable.

Which means she should be believed.

Women who make such credible allegations of sexual assault deserve not just to be heard — or patronized, as the committee’s GOP majority did to Ford — but trusted to speak truthfully.

The minute Kavanaugh launched into his rage-filled denial, any hint of belief in Ford’s story that might have crept into Republicans’ thinking was immediately dispelled. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others began acting as Kavanaugh’s defense team rather than as neutral finders of fact.

Make no mistake: Women were being put in their place.

Ford is a successful academic, a Ph.D. psychologist who tried to warn about Kavanaugh anonymously and only reluctantly came forward. But none of that mattered. She received the same treatment she’d have gotten if she had lacked the fancy degrees and the distinguished career, if she were openly seeking the limelight, if she at any point in her life had spoken or dressed or behaved in ways that senators might deem “provocative.”

Ford was an ideal witness — and still the GOP senators believed Kavanaugh. She said it happened, he said it didn’t, and they took his word over hers.

Republican senators lamented that Kavanaugh’s “life is being ruined” by allegations involving something he might have done when he was 17. I failed to hear similar concern about the fact that Ford’s life has been haunted by something done to her when she was 15.

The White House will surely try to hobble the brief FBI investigation that the Senate was forced to request, but I’m not sure if agents could prove anything one way or the other, even if given a free hand. Mark Judge, whom Ford accuses of abetting the assault, can be expected to deny it took place. Others she says were present at the house have told investigators they do not recall such an incident, which is not the same as saying it never happened; one of them says she nevertheless believes Ford.

What the FBI surely will find is that Kavanaugh lied repeatedly during his testimony. Most of the lies were about little things, such as the meaning of various misogynistic references in his prep school yearbook. No, “devil’s triangle” wasn’t the name of a drinking game. No, “Renate Alumnius” did not signify platonic friendship. Those were the puerile boastings of immature, sexually frustrated man-children. The question is why Kavanaugh couldn’t tell the truth about such trivia.

And a much bigger question is why he was so defensive about his drinking. I’d be very surprised if the phrase “I like beer” had ever before been said so often at a Senate hearing. Kavanaugh acknowledges a pattern of frequent binge drinking in high school and college. His categorical denial of ever drinking to the point of blackouts and memory lapses has been refuted by classmates. It has to be considered possible that he assaulted Ford without remembering it.

I believe that the lies Kavanaugh told Thursday and his hyperpartisan attacks against Democratic senators (no, this isn’t “revenge on behalf of the Clintons”) disqualify him from serving on the Supreme Court. But even if he had been respectful and told the truth, it would be wrong not to confront and fully investigate the charges made by Ford and two other accusers, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.

“Believe the women” means nothing if followed by “until red-faced men proclaim their innocence.”

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

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