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Drama continues, anger deepens

September 30, 2018

Talk about cliff-hangers. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake suddenly extended the national drama — or is it trauma? — over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court for a week. If you’re hoping that Democrats and Republics will use this extra time to dial down and calmly sift through the facts, be prepared for disappointment. Things are nasty out there — in Congress, online, in the news media — and they’re not getting any better.

The FBI investigation into Kavanaugh’s youthful drinking and behavior is unlikely to produce a smoking gun. Hot metal tends to cool down after 36 years. But if the FBI dredges up a new charge, or puts some meat on the bones of the existing ones, that’s not good for Kavanaugh.

Democrats will be more convinced than they are now that Kavanaugh was a hard-drinking female-abusing jerk who should not sit on the highest court in the land. Republicans will still think that his youthful conduct is being exaggerated and overlooks his impressive adult record.

It’s also possible that one of the existing charges will be undermined by a new witness or some new facts, but that won’t help Kavanaugh as much. Many people, and most women, think he’s the kind of guy they warn their daughters to avoid. Multiple accusations have been raised, and it’s too late to wipe the slate clean even if one or two points go in his favor. The way these things go, it’s more likely that new rumors will pop up — and be just as hazy as the other ones.

Kavanaugh’s fate rests with just a handful of relatively moderate GOP senators. Flake is one of them, and he had said earlier he would vote for Kavanaugh after hearing the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Assuming that the new investigation doesn’t turn up anything major, Flake will probably stick with Kavanaugh.

But that still leaves senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They were leaning to support Kavanaugh, but the charges of sexual abuse have pushed them back to undecided.

If only one of them opposes Kavanaugh, VP Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. If the GOP loses two votes, it’s over for Kavanaugh. He would have picked up a few Democratic votes before Dr. Ford’s charges, but he won’t get any now. If the numbers aren’t there, the final vote probably won’t even be held. Trump or Kavanaugh will be asked to withdraw the nomination to avoid the embarrassing roll call.

The worst thing about all this is that there’s nothing good about it.

We have reaffirmed that sexual harassment and assault are despicable crimes, but that never should have been in doubt. They do happen more than most men realize, and the perpetrators are rarely punished. That’s outrageous.

But any fair-minded person also has to be uneasy about judging people for what they did in high school. Virtually everyone does something stupid as a teenager. If you didn’t, you might be too timid or introverted for a big-time role as an adult. We could be setting a standard for top jobs that almost no one can meet — not just misdeeds as a youth but accusations of misdeeds, not convictions or confessions.

So we wait, presumably for a vote next week. Kavanaugh’s fate will be decided one way or another, but the national mood remains surly and divided. Things will probably get better eventually, but you’d better be patient. Very patient.

Thomas Taschinger is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

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