For those who don’t remember or are too young, the latest charge against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh isn’t unique. We have been down this road before. It ended differently, but the country was also a very different place back then.
Clarence Thomas and Sexual Harassment
In 1991, 27 years ago, Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush to succeed retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall. Judge Thomas had supervised attorney Anita F. Hill at the U.S. Dept. of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. During the hearings on Judge Thomas, Ms. Hill was interviewed by the FBI and accused Judge Thomas of sexual harassment.
Back then, before the #MeToo movement, before Harvey Weinstein, before Bill Cosby and a passel of other male predators, before Lean In, before women held many positions of power or authority, the country was run unapologetically by men for men. Shaming and disgracing the woman was a tried-and-true method of protecting powerful men accused of sexual harassment and rape. A form of psychological terrorism, it happened all the time. The example of one woman humiliated and reviled prevented other women from speaking up. No one would believe them and their lives would be ruined for nothing.
Judge Thomas’s Republican supporters pulled out all the stops to discredit Ms. Hill and they did such a good job of it that he has occupied a seat on the Supreme Court for nearly three decades and many people in the country still believe she made up the accusation.
David Brock and His Book of Lies
A GOP operative named David Brock led the charge. He wrote a book filled with lies and slander called, “The Real Anita Hill.” Mr. Brock also invented a scurrilous and disgusting tagline (which I will not repeat here) that made it sound like Ms. Hill was crazy and invited any harassment that might come her way.
After years of experience with Republican dirty tricks and a great deal more maturity, Mr. Brock wrote “Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative,” a book in which he admits that he made up the so-called facts in “The Real Anita Hill” because it was all a game to him. Not until much later did he realize that he had contributed significantly to ruining a real human being’s name and reputation. He called his own work “character assassination” and apologized to Ms. Hill.
(If you lean to the right and are sputtering to contradict this paragraph, please read “Blinded by the Right” before commenting. I dare you.)
A Pig-Pile of Misogyny
The televised hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee turned into a bi-partisan pig-pile of misogyny in which:
- Four female witnesses waited in vain for Committed Chairman Joe Biden to call them to testify in support of Ms. Hill. That made it look like she was the only woman to charge him with sexual impropriety.
- The country saw a black woman being brutally grilled by a panel comprised completely of powerful white men. Most women, myself included, were disgusted by this blatant attempt to humiliate, disbelieve, and dismiss anything negative a woman had to say about a man.
- Committee Chairman Joe Biden actually asked Ms. Hill to relate the most humiliating comment Judge Thomas said to her.
- Another senator accused her of using The Exorcist as source material for lies that she made up and waved the book in the air to make his point.
- Ms. Hill’s treatment caused many victims of harassment to keep quiet and stay private rather than risk being maligned in public as had been done to Ms. Hill.
- So prejudicial and brutal was the panel’s treatment of Ms. Hill that it generated outrage among women voters. The spectacle set back the cause of preventing sexual harassment until, probably, Bill Cosby’s abuses were revealed.
Senator Biden has said he owes Ms. Hill an apology for his treatment of her during the hearings. Which is not the same as actually apologizing, is it?
Has the Atmosphere Changed?
Has the decade of #MeToo and women finally being believed changed this shame-the-woman strategy ?
Today, Donald Trump Jr. predictably came out with a fake note purporting to be from Mr. Kavanaugh to his accuser, Christine Ford, asking if she would be his girlfriend.
Right-wing web sites have begun accusing Ms. Blasey Ford of accusing Judge Kavanaugh as revenge for a 10-year-old case in which the nominee’s mother ruled against the accuser’s family. Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are already saying they believe Judge Kavanaugh before Ms. Blasey Ford has a chance to speak.
Today’s Pressing Questions
These first blows in a campaign to discredit Ms. Blasey Ford lead me to a few questions:
- Will other Republicans now pile on with attempts to tar Ms. Blasey Ford’s character?
- Has the GOP learned anything about alienating women voters?
- Have the men on the panel learned anything about believing women?
- Will the same strategy actually work in such a partisan atmosphere?
We will find out—eventually. Chairman Chuck Grassley has postponed this week’s vote and hearings will resume next week. Two of the same senators who badgered Anita Hill will be questioning Ms. Blasey Ford: Chairman Grassley, and Orrin Hatch. The Senate Judiciary Committee is still all male on the Republican side.
Can Anything Stop the Kavanaugh Train?
In the meantime, I have to wonder whether anything can stop the Kavanaugh train from barreling its way into the Supreme Court, even the charges of perjury and attempted rape laid against a man who is supposed to rule on the laws of the land.
The stain of what Joe Biden did and what he said in the Anita Hill hearings still tars him to this day. Will another powerful Senator leave this experience with the same stain? If so, who will it be?