The internal dialogue of the last (and fictional) undecided Republican senator:
The FBI was never going to decide this for us. Unless someone changed his or her story, there would be no certainty. That is a part of the job no one tells you about: Decisions for the highest stakes based on partial and disputed information.
I was slowly making my way to “yes” on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. But then President Trump mocked Christine Blasey Ford, making every “yes” look like another sneer. The GOP is being rallied to an important public purpose by a total creep. The president has written misogyny into the Republican platform. It is impossible to take his side without the slime rubbing off.
I know how I felt during her testimony. It was credible, both in what she did and didn’t recall. Ford was, after all, 15 at the time of the alleged assault. There is no way she would have remembered details like an adult giving court testimony. And there is no way she was inventing the vivid details she did recount.
But I’m just not sure the burden has been met to disqualify Kavanaugh. A life of integrity and service has to count for something. In order to destroy it, doesn’t there have to be some hard evidence? Even if the accused has no presumption of innocence, the accuser must bear some burden of proof.
I understand how survivors would view Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a symbol of how they have been treated for, well, forever. If he is voted in, a large number of Americans will believe there is an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court. And they’ll be encouraged to believe, even more than before, that the people like me who put him there are not only mistaken but evil.
But how can you reject a man known for his humility and decency on the basis of a charge no district attorney would consider bringing? There is no pattern of sexual assault accusations. No contemporaneous corroboration for Ford’s claim. Wrecking a life needs to be harder than this.
Here is my challenge. If the charge is true, Kavanaugh should not be on the court. And I think it could be true. So I guess my position is that the charge may be true, but the precedent of public conviction based on this level of evidence is too damaging.
This is an argument about outcomes. But on the topic of social costs, shouldn’t we also be concerned about the precedent set when a credible woman’s courageous testimony counts for nothing? Somehow we need to create a society in which women feel that coming forward can matter. The elevation of Kavanaugh to the court would be a demonstration that sometimes it doesn’t. And it would send the message that false accusation is a major social problem when it is actually rare.
Yet Kavanaugh reacted in his testimony like many of us might have if falsely accused. I’d be enraged. I’d be choking back tears. I’d be defensive and probably overstate my case in the heat of the moment.
At what point, however, does overstatement become false testimony? “Renate Alumnius” as a term of endearment? Not likely.
It is tempting to say this is just too much of a mess. That Kavanaugh’s nomination should be withdrawn. But would that really end anything? Whoever is nominated next will be defamed — maybe as a racist, or a religious extremist or a murderer of women by opposing abortion. There is no charge that won’t be made against the fifth vote that might reconsider Roe v. Wade. Process means nothing. Truth means nothing. Proof means nothing. Only the outcome. It is the end that will justify any means.
But then there are all those women who have been inspired by Ford to tell their stories. In a million years, I would not have thought my cousin had been sexually assaulted. What about this moment inspired her to call and tell me? Maybe there is something good that could come out of this miserable debacle. It could be a culturally important moment. A historically important moment. The voices of abused women have been suppressed for hundreds and thousands of years. Do I really want to discount one of those voices?
God I need a stiff drink. Maybe not a beer. Maybe we should all stay away from beer for a while.
Given all the evidence, I don’t really have much choice. I’m going to vote ...
Michael Gerson’s email address is email@example.com.