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Paul Janensch Political theater: Ford vs. Kavanaugh

October 3, 2018

Did you watch Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh provide separate, emotional and irreconcilable narratives to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week?

I did. It made for riveting political theater.

Cable channels and broadcast networks are to be commended for giving us gavel-to-gavel coverage of the showdown.

More than 20 million people watched the hearing on TV sets. Millions more watched on computer monitors, smart phones or other digital devices.

Kavanaugh, 53, is the federal appeals court judge nominated by President Donald Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ford, 51, is the California psychology professor who has alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago when they were high-school students in the affluent Maryland suburbs outside Washington.

Kavanaugh has vigorously denied the accusation.

Ford went first, her voice breaking as she read her opening statement.

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” she said.

When the committee questioned Ford, Republican members, all men, usually yielded their time to Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, because they did not want to look like bullies picking on a woman.

The Democratic side, which includes four women, had no surrogate.

How certain was Ford that Kavanaugh assaulted her?

“100 percent,” she said.

What does she remember most?

“The uproarious laughter” between Kavanaugh and his friend who was in the room, she responded. Both were drunk, she has said.

“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” Ford told the committee. “For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details.”

When Kavanaugh testified, he was confident, often combative, sometimes pausing with tears in his eyes.

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy,” he said in his opening statement.

Addressing committee Democrats, Kavanaugh said, “You’ll never get me to quit. Never.”

He choked up when he recalled that his 10-year-old daughter told her mother, “We should pray for the woman” — meaning Ford.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked him if he ever blacked out while drinking.

“Have you?” he responded. He later apologized to her.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois asked Kavanaugh repeatedly if he supported a new FBI check of his background.

Kavanaugh said, “The FBI doesn’t reach conclusions.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina lashed out at his Democratic colleagues, calling the hearing “the most unethical sham” he’s seen during his time in politics.

Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana asked Kavanaugh whether he had any doubts that the accusations were untrue.

“Zero,” Kavanaugh answered. “100 percent certain, Senator.”

In the 1991 televised confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill testified he had sexually harassed her. Thomas called the proceedings “a high-tech lynching.”

What response will we remember from the recent televised hearing? I think it will be “100 percent.”

Paul Janensch, of Bridgeport, was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University. Email: paul.janensch@quinnipiac.edu.

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