The Kavanaugh Hearings Are Hurting #MeToo
Before the hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, described her approach to the presumption of innocence. “I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases,” said Sen. Hirono. “As I said, his credibility is already very questionable in my mind and in the minds of a lot of my fellow Judiciary Committee members, the Democrats.” Translation: Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy threatens my political agenda, so my evidentiary standard to deem him an attempted rapist has shifted to reflect that.
We talk about two sides in the debate over the sexual allegations against Kavanaugh, but really there are four: those who believe the evidence proves Kavanaugh is likely guilty, those who believe the evidence doesn’t prove Kavanaugh is likely guilty, and two factions on both sides that don’t care about the evidence at all. It’s these two factions, keen on engaging in scorched-earth political bloodsport, that threaten to derail the groundbreaking potential of the #MeToo movement.
Why do our beliefs about whether Ford or Kavanaugh is telling the truth break down so neatly along partisan lines? It’s hard not to believe it’s because—unlike in the cases that took down Al Franken and Eric Schneiderman, who were Democrats who would be replaced by Democrats—the political consequences are so momentous. The left pushes the mantra, “Believe Women,” while simultaneously suggesting that even if Kavanaugh is innocent, his rage over being accused of a crime as heinous as attempted rape is disqualifying. On the right, a small but disturbing chorus has continued to argue that even if Kavanaugh attempted to rape a woman, so what! It was 36 years ago, and boys will be boys. But if the #MeToo movement is going to make lasting change, it’s going to need to cross party lines — and the partisan fight over the Supreme Court threatens to make that even more difficult for conservatives like me.
As women bravely come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing, #MeToo stands on the precipice of a dangerous transition from individual and evidence-backed justice to politically charged revenge. Vast swaths of the left believe Ford not only because her story rings true, but because they dislike what kind of Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh would be. Likewise, the right recoils, not merely because it found Kavanaugh’s indignation believable, but because the timing of Ford’s allegations feels politically targeted, an eleventh-hour attempt to thwart Republicans’ ability to push this nomination through on deadline and take advantage of a decades-in-the-making opportunity to remake the Supreme Court.
Assuming your opponent is debating in good faith, there’s really only one question that matters when evaluating whether or not senators should vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. That is, what standard of evidence should we use when evaluating claims of sexual misconduct outside of a court of law, and does the evidence we have meet that standard? But few operate in good faith when the stakes are this high.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has equivocated around the matter of Kavanaugh’s innocence and declared Ford’s story “credible,” deflected this weekend when Chuck Todd pointedly questioned her about the domestic violence allegations levied against Rep. Keith Ellison, who, like Klobuchar, is a Minnesota Democrat. After pointing to an unspecified New York Times article detailing the allegations, she conceded, “I will campaign with our ticket”—including Ellison’s bid for state attorney general—“when the time comes.”
The evidence against Ellison includes multiple consistent interviews from Ellison’s accuser, Karen Monahan, witnesses to Ellison’s alleged abuse or Monahan’s complaints about it, and physician’s notes from a year ago, documenting her trauma. If Klobuchar deems Kavanaugh guilty despite a total lack of contemporaneous, corroborating witnesses and material evidence, she has no excuse not to believe Monahan, whose claims are backed by far more evidence. In text messages reviewed by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott, Ellison did not even refute Monahan’s claim that he dragged her off a bed while shouting expletives at her. Monahan’s witnesses confirm her version of events; Ford’s do not (even if they don’t refute it, either). Conveniently, Klobuchar seems to believe only Ford. These inconsistent standards represent a microcosm of the political inconsistency that threatens #MeToo.
But conservatives aren’t innocent of double standards. Before journalists successfully scalped Hollywood kingmaker and perennial predator Harvey Weinstein, the conservative conversation around sexual assault revolved around two talking points: first, that women in contemporary American life enjoy the greatest standard of living for the female sex in human history; and second, that outrage on college campuses about rape culture and rape epidemics was a partisan invention of the identity politics-driven left. With cases like the discredited University of Virginia rape allegations and the vindicated Duke lacrosse team, conservatives had plenty of fodder to counteract the narrative that America faces a rape epidemic. If anything, a right-wing backlash asserted that the reverse was true: America’s sons were under verbal assault by vindictive women who, en masse, had decided to wake up one morning and falsely accuse voluntary sexual partners of rape. This context is crucial to understanding how many on the right have responded to the allegations against Kavanaugh.
When the Weinstein allegations broke, they proved the obvious. While women are capable of lying, as in the UVA and Duke cases, the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault have nothing to gain but justice and everything to lose when reporting their stories. As #MeToo escalated from a hashtag to a movement, critics on the right who fretted about #MeToo overstep were drowned out by those rightly horrified by what they learned in daily news reports. In Alabama, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore faced multiple allegations of preying on underage women, backed by a litany of contemporaneous, corroborating witnesses. That charge was heralded by straight reporting, but conservative mainstays like the National Review and Weekly Standard editorial boards also called for his withdrawal from the Senate race.
Moore lost, and women across the country breathed a giant sigh of relief. Still, a fringe of the right simmered.
So when the Kavanaugh allegations broke, many on the right, such as Ben Shapiro and Guy Benson, said that if the allegations were found to be likely true, they would be disqualifying. But others made their purely political calculus clear: “If you claim to be pro-life and you handed abortionists a red-state Senate seat last year over decades-old allegations, but are out there defending Kavanaugh (whom we all know is no vote against Roe) from the same, you have an odd definition of pro-life,” wrote CRTV’s Steve Deace on Twitter.
And after conservative writer Nancy French wrote a piece for the Washington Post arguing that, if the Kavanaugh allegations are true, his judicial record is irrelevant, Julie Kelly, a senior contributor to American Greatness, wrote on Twitter, “Nancy French screwed around with her preacher when she was a teen, so IF Kavanaugh groped a girl 36 years ago, he can’t be on SCOTUS?” What Kelly was referring to was sexual abuse French suffered at the age of 12.
Creating a climate where rape victims feel comfortable in reporting their crimes to the police while material evidence is still abundant should be a bipartisan effort. Already, the bravery of women coming forward with their stories has awakened a population that was, if not willfully minimizing, rather ignorant of the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct.
We ought to engage in thorough debate about the evidentiary standards we hold for public, noncriminally litigated instances of sexual misconduct. I believe that Ford’s testimony alone, unverified by witnesses, does not indict Kavanaugh by the preponderance of evidence. But I welcome debate. Those, on the left and the right, who shift their goalposts to avenge Roy Moore or Merrick Garland are sacrificing the potential for justice their daughters and granddaughters might seek someday.
The right has recently undergone a reckoning on the matter of racially charged police brutality, which might provide a road map for how conservatives should think about #MeToo. After the merciless murder of Botham Shem Jean, David French expertly distilled, “Most cops are good, and too many bad cops go free.” Replace “cops” with “men,” and we nearly have the ethos of #MeToo. It’s not partisan. For every Franken, there’s a Steve Wynn. For every good liberal gentleman, there’s a good conservative. But the shamelessly partisan standards that have been used to evaluate Kavanaugh will hurt the long-term viability of #MeToo.
If a woman’s heartfelt allegation alone is grounds to disavow Kavanaugh, then Democrats should have no problem believing Juanita Broaddrick’s assertion that Bill Clinton raped her. And if Republicans want to preserve the dignity of human life, they must treat sexual abuse and assault allegations like crimes, not boyhood indiscretions.
To galvanize the country to understand that attempted rape at any age is wrong, to make this enormous and obvious leap forward, we cannot let petty politicking impede justice. Leftists may have carried the mantle of victims’ rights for a time, but Republicans are sexual assault victims, too. In the fight about Kavanaugh, we must evaluate the evidence fairly, not through the lens of our political philosophies. I believe the evidence is not strong enough to deny Kavanaugh his Senate confirmation. But if he is guilty, he deserves prison, not a place on the Supreme Court bench.
Tiana Lowe is a host of The Political Pregame podcast and a conservative commentator who has been published in National Review, Heat Street, and the Washington Examiner.