SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement

Image result for kavanaugh #metoo protest

Innocent until proven guilty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell floated a lot of arguments to defend Brett Kavanaugh, but that’s the one that carried the day: “We owe it to the American people to underscore that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

The Kavanaugh confirmation battle was a grenade wrapped in an onion covered with more poisonous sexual politics than “The World According to Garp.” Yet in the end it was simple. Presumption of innocence was the argument that SWINO (SWing vote In Name Only) Senator Susan Collins used to justify treason to her gender.

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Collins said, announcing her crucial support for the controversial Supreme Court nominee. “Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

Once again Democrats asked themselves: what the hell happened? Why did we lose a fight we should have won?

Trump’s defeat of Clinton, Bush v. Gore, the 1940 Fall of France — those were perfect storms with numerous contributing factors. Not this one. Kavanaugh made it to the Supreme Court because his allies framed #MeToo as an out-of-control mob of man-haters.

Remember when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school first hit the news? Republicans were on their heels at first. Polls showed that a plurality of voters didn’t want him confirmed, the worst showing of any high court nominee since they began asking the question. Then came the one-two punch: Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself and tried to force her to give him oral sex. Even with a Republican Senate, Kavanaugh was in real trouble.

Anti-Kavanaugh sentiment peaked after the marathon nine-hour hearing in which Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified about her allegations. A PBS/NPR/Marist poll found that 45% of Americans believed her. Only 33% believed him. If that’s where things had remained nine days later when the Senate voted, Collins and other wobbly GOP senators might have voted nay.

#MeToo came to their rescue.

Nothing unites a party like a common enemy. That goes double when the adversary allows itself to be framed as scary and unreasonable.

As the Kavanaugh vote drew nearer #MeToo activists became increasingly aggressive. They chased senators down hallways, cornered them in elevators, doxxed them and picketed their homes. Ted Cruz was confronted at a restaurant. “We Believe Survivors!” activists shouted as he fled.

Direct tactics hold politicians accountable for their sins. Confronting right-wing senators, none of whom gave a damn about the possibility that they were about to put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court, going after them one-on-one was empowering for victims of rape and sexual assault and the millions of victims they represented. It was more than fair; it was justified.

But it didn’t turn out to be smart.

The optics and audio of all that yelling were ugly, particularly to Republican-leaning voters. Shouting incoherently — you couldn’t hear what they were saying on TV — during hearings looked rude and hostile. Screaming at elderly senators as they ran down capitol corridors exuded chaos.

They shouted and carried signs bearing the mottos of #MeToo:

Believe survivors.

Believe women.

Such powerful words. Also sloppy. “We are worried as mobs chant, ‘We believe survivors!’ (What if Ford is not truly a ‘survivor’? Don’t we have to establish whether she’s a survivor first?),” Stephanie Gutmann, a Republican, wrote in USA Today.

#MeToo is a kind of revolution. Because revolutions follow years of resentment piled upon eons of abuse, their imperative to destroy what’s broken and evil necessarily leads to intemperance. Nowhere is the revolutionary impulse toward careless imprecision more evident than in rhetoric. So it is with #MeToo — what began with an uprising no reasonable person could oppose, against bonafide monsters like Harvey Weinstein, inevitably cast its net wider into the gray area of Aziz Ansari.

As the targets of #MeToo expanded from the undeniably disgusting to garden-variety piggishness, the slogans of the movement became more militant, more thoughtless, further out on a limb.

Official policy at HR and the local PD had always been “ignore women.” A rational corrective to “ignore women” would be “listen to women.” Accusers deserve respect, to be taken seriously. So do the accused. But revolutions don’t reform the old order. They destroy it.

“Believe women” doesn’t make sense to a society whose core judicial fiction is the presumption of innocence. In America no one, neither men nor women, neither accusers nor the accused, earns the right to be believed by virtue of their gender. Being believed is a zero-sum right, one that inherently comes at the expense of another person and so must be earned by a combination of corroborating evidence, witnesses and the intangible social currency of credibility.

Sensing that #MeToo had overreached, yelling too loudly and deploying slogans that reeked of overcorrection, McConnell and his fellow Republican leaders rallied their party’s base in two steps.

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing usually feels like a job interview. Despite Susan Collins’ denials the Republicans did everything they could to frame Kavanaugh’s as a trial instead, complete with a hired-gun prosecutor from Arizona to provide a veneer of legalishness.

After they’d made the spectacle look and feel like a trial it was easy to convince fence-sitting moderate Republican viewers that to be denied his seat Dr. Ford and her Democratic allies would have to follow the familiar rules of a criminal proceeding: establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, adhering to sharing of evidence (which is why they attacked Dianne Feinstein for withholding Ford’s letter), the burden of proof on her, not him.

Of course, the fix was in. Ford was the one really on trial; she fended off the questions of the rent-a-DA whereas Kavanaugh didn’t have to. It was all so clever. Once Democrats allowed Republicans to set the bar at beyond-a-reasonable-doubt guilt — something the he-said-she-said nature of the 36-year-old allegation made impossible — Kavanaugh was in like Flynn.

Shaunna Thomas of the women’s group UltraViolet Action, said: “This doesn’t end [on Saturday],” she said. “It ends in November.” But not, perhaps, the way she would like. Polls show that Republicans are so energized by their win on Kavanaugh that the Dems’ chance of recapturing the Senate are dropping in part because they’re buying the argument that the #MeToo movement is dangerous. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” President Trump said in his memorably illiterate way.

Fair or not, right or wrong, the perception of many men is that #MeToo is willing to sacrifice 100 innocent men in order to end the career of one guilty one. In the same way that the civil rights movement needed white allies in order to succeed, #MeToo needs men not to fear them but to support them.

Whatever happens in the midterm elections, the #MeToo movement has arrived at a tactical crossroads. Should we Believe Women? Or Listen to Everyone?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

33 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement

  1. A comment from someone with experience in these matters on one aspect of the Kavanaugh hearings. (Not to say that everything published in the Lancet should be taken at face value ; it was, for example, in that journal back in 1998 that gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield et al published the article which gave the anti-vaccination movement its big – and to my mind, unfortunate – push forward.But I think Dr Venters’ brief article well worth a read….)

    Henri

  2. Another reminder – if one were needed – why simplistic calls to «believe the woman», rather than assessing the available evidence, is not an adequate basis for jurisprudence can be found here. The slogan should rather be : «Consider evidence presented by women in the same way that evidence presented by men is considered». (The problem with this formulation is, of course, that it omits such distorting elements as ethnic background, and perhaps most importantly, class….)

    Henri

  3. Looks to me as if Ted’s been dipping into the Nicomachean Ethics again :

    Any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy.

    Guess that wily old Greek got it pegged….

    Henri

    • (Attempted to cite the original Greek above, but for some odd reason, my post was not published ; i did however, when trying a second time, get one of thise lovely messages to the effect that it looks like I had already said that. Wonder what Ted’s site has against ancient Greek ?…)

      Henri

  4. Re article’s title: “How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement”

    As explained by Jason Stanley***:
    “When you see the dominant group made to feel like they’re the victims in the face of all the facts that’s when you know that fascist politics is taking grip.”

    Link 05Oct18

    *** author of the newly released “American is on the Road to Becoming a Fascist State.”
    (On the road all right … heading back, at top speed, to a past that never was.)

  5. Ted, Thanks for your piece on Kavanaugh and overreach and blowback. It seems about right to me. But what if we take it further? Say there had not been overreach, he had not been appointed and….they got someone a little less noxious. We still have the court that installed Bush leaning even further right. So the question that leaves me with is: Is there not a time when you just have to accept you’re in a war and fight as hard as you can? Are we there? (Of course, if we are there, that doesn’t mean we should only listen to women or always assume they’re right. But sometimes eggs get broken.)

    Except then, if you look at the electoral college and the Senate with regard to the power of rural states…man, it gets scary. Which leads me to: well, living in western Massachusetts, as I do, we can hook up with Vermont and seccede. (sp?) But guess what? The Civil War has never been over. They wouldn’t allow it, and they’ve got the guns.

    And such things always take me back to Bernie. Hardly perfect, but he could reach a lot of people on the other side, and I really think he would have won if not shot in the back by the DNC et al. So maybe it really does come down to dropping all the bullshit and the posturing and sticking to your convictions. Or having some in the first place. Maybe that’s what wins in a fair fight.

    Except the guys who do that get snowed under or shot. Every time. Henry Wallace. JFK. RFK. Bernie.

    Now I’ve really depressed myself. What a frickin’ mess.

    • There’s nothing wrong with fighting as hard as you can. Anyone who reads my work knows I feel that way. All I’m saying here is that the #MeToo Movement went too far and ended up running into backlash territory.

      If I had been invited to plant tactics with them, I’m not sure I would’ve argued against their tactics. It’s always easier to see these things after-the-fact.

      But it’s important to learn the lesson for next time. The real audience isn’t in the U.S. Senate elevator. It’s on national television.

    • Danielsomers,

      1. Sanders didn’t get snowed under. Sure, he didn’t win the first time around. But even if he doesn’t announce in 2018, he pulled enough of the lid back for people to get a good long undeniable look: the DNC is crooked as a ball of baby snakes, HRC isn’t interested in anything other than herself and her immediate family, and the whole system is starting to shake apart.

      2. Identity politics is starting to implode due to social media’s ability to allow everyone to Baskin-Robbins their lives. I’m apparently the only person who orders vanilla at B-R. Who orders vanilla? I’m asked. Why come to a place that has rhubarb-arugula-maple and order vanilla? I’m asked. Everyone’s exhausted from running around to attend all their double- and triple-hyphenate support groups (redheaded-Belgian-Americans-who-think-Oswald-acted-alone, liberal-crossingguards-against-Brexit, cauliflower-enthusiasts-of-Keshogan, etc.) and the pendulum is swinging back (in part thanks to Sanders refocusing the national discussion on 99% issues: no health insurance, stagnant wages, nothing to show for decades of work while others become millionaires thanks to an accident of birth).

      3. If you’re in western Massachusetts, go to the Leverett Peace Pagoda before the weather turns. Just stand on the top of the hill and breathe in. Every time I go through, I come up with an excuse to detour to Leverett. Almost broke my damn fool head a couple winters back trying to climb a gentle path that was slicker than the road to hell.

      I realize it’s a terrifying world right now. I’m out of work, and am truly, truly, astonished by both the quantity and quality of nonresponses I am getting to my resume. I’m one irritated conversation with my landlord away from being out on my ass (being given the opportunity to pull myself up by my bootstraps as the Republicans would say), so I’m not trying to give unasked for Pollyanna advice.

      I volunteered with a political campaign this last election cycle (we lost), and we all knew it was pretty much almost impossible from the start. But I’ll still show up at the next one. Despair is fine as a dessert, but make anger the main course. Get angry, be angry, stay angry. Anger will get you up and out the door in the morning and anger will motivate you to fight (IF FOR NO OTHER REASON) than to at least inconvenience the other side. Those assholes.

      End of rant. Ted, you can have the soapbox back. I’ve gotta go scream out a window.

      • Thanks, Alex. I actually agree with almost all you say, and can identify with a lot, too. That depression I mentioned was momentary–and as I think of it, actually somewhat performative. Mostly, this stuff angers and fascinates me. (I used to be an academic doing radical political ecology research.) Maybe similar to you being tired? Clearly you’re a lot more than that.

        Maybe snowed under is too strong–I totally agree on what Bernie accomplished, and still think he’s probably our best bet. But I do think he got rather screwed by the DNC, media et al. And I think it may cost us more dearly than we know. Especially with the court, elections are looking like a harder and harder way to solve this–although still the best way, and the Democratic Socialists give me hope. (Check out their website, remarkable for 1) explicitly speaking to alienation and anomie, which I think can really help bring diverse political groups together and be a great entry to capitalist critique, and 2) very strong community building, really caring for and helping in concrete ways people who need it, which is a really nice alternative to the Republican slimy-thinktanks for long-term movement building.) Still, I think we may be in for terribly hard times, and I think if Bernie 1.0 had won he might possibly have averted all this.

        As for hard personal times, I hear you, and have been to the Pagoda, and am considering Zen chaplaincy training, combined with systems theory and activism. I shoulda’ (!) had a brilliant academic career, but that treadmill turned out to be more than I wanted to or could take. So I’m 56 with elite degrees up the wazoo and (thank you for helping give a nudge on this) am finally letting go (somewhat) of the “I fucked up, failed, threw it away” narrative and getting it through my thick skull that I’m actually ONE OF the hard working people who’s been pretty screwed by the system. So I too am in a tough way, going into debt, and getting those same awful non-responses, and etc. for jobs I could do with my eyes closed.

        But I will work it the fuck out. It is after all one hell of an adventure, and I really think, despite the awfulness, or because of it, a great honor to be alive and able to accept some of the responsibiity the world is asking of us. Fact is we’re all dead before long, so maybe (mabye?) from a certain angle we are very fortunate to have an interesting hand to play. Then again, of course, it just sucks. But either way, as you say, the assholes will not go unopposed and they will, like that little shit O’Kavanaugh, have to get good and mad and show their stripes. And eventually people will get it and they will go down.

        Thanks for responding, much appreciated, in solidarity,

        Daniel

      • p.s. Part of what did seem grim was the guns (300 million in hands of a minority) and the unendingness of the ever-morphing civil war. I think we need to take that really seriously, in that this thing may go in a direction none of us are accustomed to or prepared for. So we really gotta be smart. And why I like Ted’s writing so much. Thanks Ted!

      • @alex, ” I’m out of work, and am truly, truly, astonished by both the quantity and quality of nonresponses I am getting to my resume. ”

        Sing it brother, hallelujah amen!

        I’ve been ‘under employed’ for over two years. I’m an older high-tech guy in a young man’s world. The employers want guys who will work sixteen hour days for less money than I make. Who cares if they make the same mistakes I learned from twenty years ago; who cares if they put out shitty products because of it; they have the illusion of saving money – ain’t capitalism grand?

  6. The problem was, and will continue to be, the exceptionally feckless Dems.

    Why did those Dems on the Senate Judiciary Committee not simply say: “as per the precedent set by Mr McConnell there is NO justification for consideration of a SCOTUS nominee in the few days before a general election in which the control of the senate could change,” … and then walk out of the hearing, denying the committee a quorum?

    On a separate but related note, presumably the notion of a “moderate Republican” was the “inspiration” (or is that hallucination?) that spawned the Obumma era fiction of “moderate Jihadist.” Dems have been relying on Ms Collins, and various others for quite awhile now, to no avail. (See recurrent “Charlie-Lucy-football” ritual in comments under comic, above, “Report From On High.”)

    Anyone remember when Collins, her erstwhile Maine colleague, forget her name and/or Murkowski have EVER come through to save the Dems, as frequently hoped (in the painfully evident absence of Dem political spine)?

    • “as per the precedent set by Mr McConnell there is NO justification for consideration of a SCOTUS nominee in the few days before a general election in which the control of the senate could change,”

      This is what someone who cared more about the direction of the law impacting the people would have done. Democrats have lost one reason people have to vote for them.

      I don’t see how they could raise “because Supreme Court” and Garland after their abandonment of this issue and their unwillingness to take a hit for the cause that they use to bring so much support to their election campaigns.

      I think the Democrats are more interested in doing nothing and waiting to see if more seats will fall into their hands.

      • To Glenn:

        Re your comment: “I think the Democrats are more interested in doing nothing and waiting to see if more seats will fall into their hands.”

        I agree that Dems employ many truly clever strategies to do nothing for their constituents.

        But for some time now congressional Dems couldn’t care any less about new seats being won by other Dems but ONLY in holding on to their own seats. (Recall, e.g., the highest-level version: HRCs campaign crippling claim that she would “work with Republicans.”)

        The Dems couldn’t care less because when they hold majorities in either/both houses it make it much more difficult to do nothing … although they clearly deserve a LOT of “praise” in that regard for their impeccable anti-performance in the 2009-2011 congress!

      • “The Dems couldn’t care less because when they hold majorities in either/both houses it make it much more difficult to do nothing.”

        Most troubling for Obama were his first two years: how to have the Presidency and the Congress and still do nothing with nobody to blame.

  7. Women can either roll over or hit the streets – but without being in control of whose faces and banners the camera latches onto. Conversely, Establishment Democrats will instinctively focus-group and strategize long enough to (conveniently) miss their moment and not having to do anything.

    Ted is prescribing sound strategizing in the sweet spot in between inaction and tactical overreach.

    However, in the short term we may lose any which way. How fear plays itself could be seen in the first round of the elections in Brazil.

    There are many opportunities for the long term:

    The spectacle put a face on the good-old-boys network, long overdue. No matter how close radical anarcho-lesbians reportedly are from castrating their sons, few people will like to have a beer with the guy. He is no George W. passing himself off as a regular fellow. No matter how often and how loudly he likes beer. Nor can he be passed off as somehow an outsider like Trump. This will come back to bite them.

    A supreme making an absolute fool of himself – “What?!!?” to quote Matt Damon – goes a long way towards losing respect for the old ways and may end up making actual change a lot more attractive.

    Perhaps Sanders had a point to stick to a particular, positive change (Health care – including full reproductive health, education, minimum wage, job security) – pushing back against the corporate ruling class always with an eye to showcase a visible and self-explanatory ability to actually shape our environment and ourselves. And to go after the guy on perjury even if it is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.

    • “Women can either roll over or hit the streets – but without being in control of whose faces and banners the camera latches onto.”

      The media will control the message.

      Maybe the Media is the Message, and all efforts to control one’s own message on their home turf is futile.

      To use a sports analogy, the media has home field advantage.

      I’ve heard old SDSers blame the election of Nixon on anti-war protesters.

      As if there was a way to get the anti-war message out that wouldn’t rankle the right.

  8. And it’s a symptom of our dysfunctional political system, that Kavanaugh’s right wing judicial views were not enough to sink the nomination. that’s how it should have been, not this ritualistic agonizing process we have been subjected to.
    PS I am the same age as Kav, so I know the party scene all too well, in all its confusing sexual politics.

      • Democrats should lose seats to a left party for that failure.

        Their ability to suppress left-ish parties and candidates is the only trick they really have left in their bag.

      • Obama’s administration continued torture and other activities of the Bush administration. Many future stars of the democratic party served under Obama. Kavanaugh ‘s legal work is protecting them too, so the Dems could not afford to attack it.

      • Glenn,

        Don’t forget Nancy Pelosi pretending she’s smart and competent. She’s been tricking a lot of people with that one for years now. And don’t get me started on whatshername, the one who probably doesn’t remember her own name, judging by her wandering-down-the-street performance at the hearings. I’ll tell you, when your politicians remind you of the people who don’t quite know how to use their DVD player … (click. Is that it? No? How about this? click. No? Well there’s only the one button. What? This is the garage door opener? Well I’m not going to the garage to watch Jeopardy!)

  9. Yes, I am one of those women who want to scream. Then Ted points out that confronting the Republican dudes is not going to work. It was the rise of women’s rage, but tactically I am afraid to agree it backfired. But then again, I really don’t think these guys really cared about Dr. Ford’s testimony, they only pretended to care. When the white male power structure is confronted, they go on full attack mode(see Graham being fired up by Kavanaugh, who was coached by Don McGahn to tap into his male rage). The difference between Thomas hearing and now is that they pretend to appear compassionate instead of directly attacking(like Anita Hill) yet they go right ahead and welcome the new right wing corporate Justice into the fold. At all costs, male hegemony must be maintained. Come on guys, it’s OK to share power! I hope that the younger men out there are open to sharing power, instead of hearkening back to the good days when women took care of their needs, stayed home and bore their babies.

    • The Dr. Ford situation was an ugly situation for the Democrats. She is accusing him of committing misdemeanor level crimes as a minor. The leadership of either party doesn’t want to set a precedent of disqualifying people based upon misdemeanors committed as teenagers. They know that it would bite them in the butt at a future date. They can’t risk it.

      So the Republics ignored Dr Ford, and the Dems play lip service to the #Metoo crowd to gather donations and future votes.

      • Sounds about right. Which is really why they should have gone after Brett Kavanaugh based on his views of torture and the doctrine of the unitary executive.

      • And, as per commentator, Rakle2: are we really to think that HRC, and other prospective Dem presidents, do NOT want strengthening of the unitary president?

        See, for example, the current Kaine(HRC’s VP)/Corker AUMF senate bill that would essentially enable unilateral presidential war declaration.

  10. “SWINO ”

    Love it. New term on me, I intend to use it – but this is what the internetz sez it is.

    Anyhoo, Ted’s right on both sides of this fence. One the one side, if feminists talk nice and play nice they won’t make anything happen. On the other, if they push too hard they risk becoming parodies of themselves.

    Ergo, it’s up to us men to push hard. (Or punch, as the case may be …)

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