Last week, Susan Collins displayed a courage that even a 9-year-old boy could understand. Sitting next to me, he watched her televised speech on Friday afternoon and wondered aloud, “Why is everything she is saying so important?”
“Because she is doing something that a lot of people don’t want her to do, and she might lose her job because of it,” I told him. “Then why is she doing it?” he asked. And, with my eyes surprisingly tearing up, I said, “Because she believes that it is the right thing to do, as an American.” He paused, and looked at me and said, “That’s really brave.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
Collins probably ended her political career Friday afternoon when she announced that she would vote for Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed as our next Supreme Court justice. It’s hard to see how she will be able to overcome the wave of political animus directed at her from women who oppose Kavanaugh and their male allies. Take, for example, Bill Palmer, owner of liberal political website The Palmer Report, who tweeted out to his 216,000 Twitter followers that Collins “just threw away her career, her reputation and her ability to ever set foot in public again,” and who ended his screed with a suggestion that she do something anatomically impossible.
The tweet has since been deleted, but I can’t imagine Collins will ever be able to find a way to reach Palmer and his ilk. It is hard to see how she will be able to communicate with her illusory base, those so-called moderate women who used to love her resilience and integrity and who, overnight, morphed into a brigade of shrieking, vengeful constituents.
Joan of Arc must have known when she led her troops into battle that she would likely die on the battlefield or be captured by the enemy. I’m thinking that Collins must have had similar thoughts, only that her death would be political and symbolic. As that 9-year-old boy said, she was really brave.
Many people disagree, because they view this whole debacle through partisan eyes and, unfortunately, it seems that Kavanaugh’s confirmation has only put another nail in the coffin of bipartisanship. The left is outraged that an accused sex offender will be on the high court. On Saturday, protesters gathered in Washington to voice their horror. They have, of course, skipped over the part where no one has even come close to proving that he did what he was accused of doing.
The right is equally outraged that a good man has become the latest target of the #MeToo movement, a beast that has consumed men who have been accused of bad behavior on even the most flimsy and insubstantial grounds. Even when the right agrees that abuse happens, and that women have been victims, it is not enough for the supporters of #MeToo. They scream that we must “believe women.” Their anger exists in a vacuum, and it seems to need no context — or, in the case of Kavanaugh, no proof.
I want to be optimistic that America will overcome this chasm between right and left, but it feels especially dismal right now. It’s hard to believe that our country can overcome the hostility between the two sides of the political spectrum. But Collins’ courage should inspire us all. Collins’ act of independence, explained through an eloquent and extremely well-thought-out speech, should remind us of our better angels and our obligation to fairness and due process.
She knew that she was risking the continuation of a life of dedicated to public service, as well as her good name and her tranquility. She is not a young woman. Hers is not a life at the beginning where these historic acts of rebellion can be forgotten, or that will dim with time. She will always be the senator, the female senator, the pro-choice, moderate female senator who allowed Brett Kavanaugh on the court. This will be her badge of honor, and her Scarlet Letter.
In all of this madness and mayhem, all of this crying and screaming, belief and disbelief, the one truly authentic and spine-chilling moment was when Susan Collins said she would not betray her values. We should all be forever grateful to her for that inherent, unexpected bravery.
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