Brett Kavanaugh Thinks His Confirmation Hearings Will Discourage Public Service. That’s Nonsense

Judge Brett Kavanaugh grossly underestimated the passion people have for public service in his opening statement last Thursday.

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By Mickey Desruisseaux, Columnist

(P)optics is an irreverent take on the political and pop culture news of the day from a nerdy, left-of-center, black-ish perspective. A play on words, the title hinges on the word “optics” to communicate insight on both pop culture and politics.

There was something depressingly predictable about how the partisan spin cycle would treat last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Christine Blasey Ford was either an exemplar of courage putting herself and her family in the firing line by coming forward with the details of her sexual assault, or a leftist operative trying to sink a Republican nominee with false accusations at the eleventh hour. Judge Brett Kavanaugh was either an eminently qualified legal mind justifiably angry in defending his reputation, or a reflection of the president who nominated him: a powerful and privileged man using his status to push through his past crimes for the ultimate job promotion. There was nothing that I thought could surprise me about the entire proceeding or its aftermath — which, in hindsight, was probably the surest sign that something would.

That moment came early on in Kavanaugh’s opening statement, when he described the elevation of Blasey Ford’s testimony as a “grotesque and obvious character assassination [that] — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.” On a dispiriting day that repeatedly reinforced the worst of contemporary American politics, it was a refreshingly amusing moment, if only for its absurdity. Because setting aside, just for a moment, Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct, the particulars of his judicial philosophy, or his nakedly partisan invective in pursuit of confirmation to a nominally nonpartisan body, the idea that a presumptive justice of the Supreme Court honestly believes that to be true should be disqualifying all on its own.

Much has been made of the prestige of Judge Kavanaugh’s education, from an elite East Coast prep school to graduating from Yale twice over; heaven knows it’s much more prestigious than mine. So it’s surprising to think that someone with a degree in history, and a decades-long career in Washington, could still be so blissfully unaware of the central truth of politics. It’s always been nasty since the very beginning: maybe someone should buy the judge Hamilton tickets to remind him. In America, Supreme Court justices snipe at each other in their opinions. Senators have physically attacked each other in the chambers of Congress. Presidents have been shot. In the grand scheme of the grotesqueries of American politics, having the opportunity to defend yourself from an assault accusation in front of an openly sympathetic body is comparatively tame.

And if Kavanaugh is concerned with character assassinations, you’d think he might have thought twice before accepting a nomination from a president who has turned such behavior into an art form. The president accused his predecessor and chief political rival of founding the terrorist organization ISIS, routinely singles out journalists as “the enemy of the people”, insinuated that an Indiana judge of Mexican heritage couldn’t do the job impartially and described the women accusing him of own sexual assault as being too ugly for him to have bothered while gleefully accusing undocumented immigrants of being rapists. For Kavanaugh to bemoan personal attacks as some newfound obstacle to representative democracy is ahistorical hypocrisy. It is also, among other comments Kavanaugh made, a lie.

We can even refer to Donald Trump’s presidency — an ongoing reaffirmation of the efficacy of, in Kavanaugh’s own words, “grotesque and obvious” character assassinations in American politics — to refute Kavanaugh’s claim. Trump’s election into office has spurred a record number of women running for public office this cycle. It also correlates with a veritable boom in the number of law school applicants — your humble columnist included. And considering how hundreds of female law students across the country protested Kavanaugh’s pending confirmation with mass walkouts, from the halls of his alma mater to my new classmates here in Washington Square, it’s safe to say that their commitment to practicing the law has not been dulled by Kavanaugh’s travails in the Senate.

More importantly, what the men living in the #MeToo era understand — at least those of us who are trying to finally hear what women have been telling us for decades — and what the legions of Kavanaugh’s defenders seem not to, is that being held to a higher standard of behavior or held to account for misdeeds isn’t something to be avoided, talked around or dismissed as third-wave feminism run amok. It’s something to be leaned into and embraced, however uncomfortable it may be. It’s how we move away from the idea of boys being boys and spur ourselves into becoming men worthy of the name.

Kavanaugh, like any innocent or guilty person, has every right to defend himself and I don’t begrudge him for exercising it. But on behalf of all men taking stock of their past misbehavior toward women while gunning for a slot in the arena of American politics, I’d rather that he focused more on the facts and less on the nebulous fear that his hearing marks some turning point for our future democratic participation. Perhaps the men who would still be afraid have very good reason to be; the rest of us will be just fine.

So while the cynic in me would still put money on Judge Kavanaugh eventually becoming Justice Kavanaugh, even with an FBI investigation in the works, the optimist in me is equally sure that his warnings will ultimately ring hollow. Kavanaugh’s hearings will not dampen people’s calling to public service.

They will fuel it.

Mickey Desruisseaux is a 1L at the School of Law. A Political Science major and Creative Writing minor, most of his work in and out of school has been at the crossroads of the two disciplines. Email Mickey at [email protected]

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