On Kavanaugh, belief, disbelief


After Brett Kavanaugh’s main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified to a Senate panel last week about her allegation that the U.S. Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers, President Donald Trump pronounced her to be a “credible witness.”

Yet, the same president said he believed Kavanaugh, who was unequivocal in his denial before that same panel that the alleged incident ever happened.

Hold on a minute.

Ford and Kavanaugh can’t both be credible – that is, according to Webster’s definition, “offering reasonable grounds for being believed.”

One of the two is credible. The other is a very good actor. This week’s FBI investigation will maybe ferret out which is which.

Listening to both Ford and Kavanaugh in their dramatic back-to-back appearances on Capitol Hill, it was easy to believe them both and disbelieve them both. That’s why, when it was all said and done, few minds were changed from what they had already decided about the accused and the accuser before they held up their right hand and swore to tell the truth.

Ford looked and sounded very much like a woman who has been tormented for decades by the memory of what she believed to be an attempted rape. Yet, it is hard to square her 100 percent certainty that her attacker was Kavanaugh with her inability to remember the house where this supposedly traumatic, life-altering assault took place, how she got there or how she got home afterward. Maybe those gaps in memory are the effects of age or post-traumatic stress disorder, but they also conveniently make it very hard to check out her story.

As for Kavanaugh, his righteous anger at the Democrats for what is certainly their shameless efforts to do whatever it takes to keep him off the high court, including damaging his family, seemed to come straight from the spleen. His personal and professional record with women, at least as an adult, seems unimpeachable. Yet, there was a ring of untruth to his denials that in high school and college he rarely drank to excess and never blacked out. Indeed, several of his classmates have publicly said that he was a heavy and sometimes belligerent drinker, and they know that because they binged with him. Also dubious was his claim that some sexually suggestive jottings in his high school yearbook by him and others were not that at all.

Now the judge could argue that such questions about his behavior as an adolescent and young adult are irrelevant to the person he is now, or to his qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court. That is a perfectly reasonable case to make.

Yet, the judge also knows that a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence is that a person must tell the truth under oath, even when the questions seem unreasonable, overly personal or silly. Failing to do so, as Kavanaugh well knows, got Bill Clinton impeached.

If Kavanaugh knowingly lied after pledging to do no such thing, that should be a disqualifier for the Supreme Court, even if the lies had nothing to do with why he was hauled back to the Senate in the first place.  

His fate will come down to a handful of votes. Chances are, unless the FBI drops a bombshell, it will be politics and the pursuit of power, not principles and the pursuit of truth that determine which way the scales tilt.