The sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are serious and worth consideration. But, even more consequential is the politicization of these allegations that reflects a desperation undermining the nomination process.
In recent days, politicians on both sides of the aisle have thrown Christine Blasey Ford’s name through the political shredder — Republicans, because her allegations of sexual assault threaten Kavanaugh’s confirmation; Democrats, because revealing her story despite a request for confidentiality was politically expedient.
Ford, a once anonymous California professor, publicly accused Kavanaugh this week of attempted sexual assault, as reported by the Washington Post. Ford said that at a high school party, Kavanaugh allegedly pushed her onto a bed and groped her over her clothes, pinning his body against hers. Kavanaugh has strongly denied the accusations and Ford has yet to provide substantive, corroborating evidence to support her claim. She did recount the traumatizing incident to a counselor during a session with her husband, many years later. But she did not specifically name Kavanaugh as the attacker and admitted her memory of the event was less than perfect. She should not, however, be discredited.
Sexual assault is a deeply disturbing crime, and Republicans and Democrats alike would be wise to err on the side of caution when weighing Ford’s story. As the counseling session indicates, Ford most likely did suffer such a trauma. This should draw a response of sympathy and understanding rather than anger and attack. Ford fully expected the public’s response (which is why she refused to go on the record until a few days ago), but still willingly sacrificed her reputation. Perhaps it’s presumptive of Ford’s motives, but I struggle to understand why a woman would do that strictly for political gain.
Senate Democrats undermined Ford’s story by disclosing her allegations at the last minute, on the eve of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) knew about Ford’s allegations since late July, but chose to keep this information to herself until last week, when she revealed knowledge of Ford’s story on the Senate floor. In doing so, Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues have undermined Ford’s story and the entire nomination process. Feinstein claimed her office leaked the information, prompting a response. But it’s no secret Senate Democrats have been desperately trying to disqualify Kavanaugh, so how credible can Feinstein’s account be?
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) summarized the Democrats’ mishandling well: “If they believed Professor Ford, why didn’t they surface this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it?” she told the New York Times. “And if they didn’t believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it? It is really not fair to either of them the way it is was handled.”
Oddly enough, self-proclaimed conservatives have exhibited the worst reactions, comparing the allegations to “McCarthyism,” calling it a “hit job,” and nothing more than a Democratic ploy. Some conservatives have even said the allegations should be ignored completely. Dennis Prager, in a column for National Review, asked “Why is this claim taken seriously?” He then suggested morally weighing Ford’s allegations would be foolish, because it would set the precedent that “what a middle-age adult did in high school is all we need to know to evaluate an individual’s character.”
This is wrong on many levels. Whatever the verdict, Ford’s allegations are not irrelevant. If Kavanaugh did indeed commit the alleged attack, it doesn’t matter when the alleged attack occurred or how old Kavanaugh was when it happened. If conservatives argue that character matters, then character must matter — even for judges. If a strict, originalist interpretation of the Constitution is the only requirement a conservative justice must satisfy, conservatism has forgotten the very thing it’s meant to preserve.
Hundreds of women have defended him in various letters submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and thus far, this is the only stain on Kavanaugh’s reputation — if the #MeToo movement has proven anything, it’s that sexual assault isn’t an isolated event, it’s a pattern of behavior. So is it possible Ford is misremembering that night and wrongly assigning Kavanaugh the blame? This is the question that deserves attention, and Ford and Kavanaugh both agreed to testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in an attempt to answer it. Ford, however, backed out of testifying Tuesday night, saying she would like a complete FBI investigation before she answers the senators’ questions. This is a mistake, and for her sake, I hope she reconsiders.
Regardless, a woman chose to place before the world a painful memory that, to this day, deeply affects her, and Republicans and Democrats skewered her, each seeking the political advantage. Ford deserves to be heard, not mocked. And she should have come forward willingly instead of being drawn into the limelight by a cheap, political maneuver. The truth will come out one way or another, but now, no one walks away unscathed.
Kaylee McGhee is a senior studying politics.