Dealing with #MeToo: Pretend to care before ignoring the woman

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Sen. Lindsey Graham says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “drive-by shooting” and that he wants to “listen to the lady” — an accomplished research psychologist who says the future judge sexually assaulted her when they were in high school — and then “bring this to a close.”

Sen. John Cornyn is already attacking Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility, complaining about “gaps” in her recollection of an event she says has traumatized her for decades. As Ford’s lawyer revealed that she has been subject to threats serious enough that she and her family have had to leave their home, President Donald Trump expressed great sympathy for Judge Kavanaugh, lamenting that “this is a man who does not deserve this.”

So, yeah, we can understand why Ford is reluctant to show up at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday designed to produce a he-said-she-said spectacle controlled by Republicans who have already made abundantly clear that they believe Kavanaugh, not her.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says he doesn’t see what difference it would make if the FBI conducted an investigation before Ford’s testimony, as she has insisted is necessary. What she would tell the committee would be the same, regardless, he says. You would almost think he had never attended a congressional hearing before.

Ford has produced what documentation she realistically could — notes from a therapist she told about the alleged attack in 2012, a polygraph test she took testifying to the truth of her account — but absent any other attempt to determine the facts, she would be just as painfully alone in such a hearing as she says she was the night she locked herself in a bathroom to protect herself from a drunken 17-year-old Kavanaugh and his friend.

In the immediate aftermath of Ford’s decision to tell her story on the record to the Washington Post, a handful of Republican senators insisted that the rush to confirm Kavanaugh be halted so the Senate could hear from Ford.

But it’s now obvious that they weren’t actually concerned with determining the truth but merely wanted to pretend they were taking the matter seriously in order to appease women voters before the midterms. Sen. Jeff Flake, he of the post-retirement-announcement pleas for honor and civility on the Senate floor, initially insisted that he would not vote yes on Kavanaugh before hearing from Ford. Now we learn that his principled stand only goes so far as offering her the chance for a show hearing, and if she doesn’t like it, tough.

It may never be possible to prove whether Ford’s accusations are true or whether Kavanaugh is right that nothing of the sort ever happened. But we can’t know that if we don’t try. We know the identity of the other person Ford says was in the room during the alleged assault, Mark Judge. He has said he does not recall the party in question or have any memory of Kavanaugh acting in the manner Ford describes, but he has resisted speaking publicly about it or answering questions — much less testifying under oath. Why does this not diminish his credibility? And if he is telling the truth, would it not be fairer to Kavanaugh to have the benefit of his full, public testimony on the matter? Ford says there were two other people at the party. It might be difficult to identify them so many years after the fact, but it’s only impossible if no one tries.

After Judge Kavanaugh’s Potemkin confirmation hearings in which Republican senators made the minimum possible display of vetting his record without risking the possibility that the public might find out anything of substance about how he would exercise the great power that comes with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, we perhaps should not have even dared to hope that the Judiciary Committee would conduct any serious investigation of Ford’s accusations. But the brazenness of the Republicans’ cynicism is still startling.

We do not envy the choice Ford faces — testify Monday in a hearing she knows is a sham or refuse and face even greater opprobrium than she has already endured. But the focus here should not be on whether she does the “right” thing, whatever that may be. It should be on the members of the United States Senate who have once again put their political interests before the nation’s.

This editorial first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.