Today, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the sixth sitting Republican U.S. supreme court justice and the second to be confirmed amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. The reactions from the right and from the left are as one would expect (gloating and disillusionment, respectively). The sorrow expressed by those on the left seems tied almost entirely to the notion that the powerful can get away with whatever they want, and the rejoicing on the right seems tied, oddly enough, almost entirely to the very same notion.
Many people opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination because he advocates ideologies that are incompatible with their own ideals. That’s to be expected of any nominee. But, I think, Kavanaugh’s nomination will be remembered most for its effect on the few (seeming) swing-vote senators who agreed with Kavanaugh’s political positions, but found his character so contemptible that they struggled to justify advancing him to confirmation. What interests me, then, is how Kavanaugh might have appeared less contemptible than he did. How could he have responded to the accusations of his teenage sexual assault if he had been a good person and a worthy candidate? Since we can not be sure if he is guilty (though, I imagine, few people remain without opinion on the matter), I think the answer to this speculation would require three different scenarios.
In the first scanario, suppose Kavanaugh is innocent. How should he have responded? Calmly. He could have sympathized with his accuser and then simply pointed out that he didn’t do it (he got that second part right) and left it at that. Done.
Second scenario, suppose Kavanaugh might be innocent. He drank a lot in school and might have gotten rowdy when he drank. Maybe he liked to fight and make unwanted passes at girls when he was drunk. He may have assaulted Ford and forgotten, either because he did that sort of thing a lot and so that instance wouldn’t have stood out or because he blacked out after the incident, or both. In any event, he may simply not remember the incident. He may even honestly believe he didn’t assault Ford. How should he have responded? By acknowledging that he acted badly in his youth. He did some bad things then. He’s sorry for the people he hurt, whoever they are. He’s a different person now that he’s grown up, but he takes responsibility for what he’s done. If he assaulted Ford, he’s truly sorry, but he has no memory of the incident. He’s a better person now and hasn’t behaved badly since then.
Third, suppose Kavanaugh is guilty. Suppose he did it. Then what? Does that disqualify him from serving as a supreme court justice? Not necessarily. He can’t be convicted of a crime (having past the statute of limitations). Youthful indiscretion, even crimes, may not reflect the type of person he is today. Perhaps what he did was not really viewed as heinous in the culture in which he was raised. Furthermore, he may be a genuinely changed person. How should he have responded? He should have sought out Ford privately and sought forgiveness. He should have preemptively reached out the the senate committee to explain that he has just learned of the effects of this thing he had done as a youth that he never realized had caused any harm and that he wanted to answer any questions they had about the matter (this would have been, not just the ethically right thing to do, but strategic as well). He could have even become an advocate for women to step forward and confront their attackers, showing that they can do so safely without fear of retribution and humiliation.
However, instead of any of these responses, he chose to lie and throw a tantrum. And now we know the type of people Republicans send to the highest court of the land. Evidently, this is just the best they can do.