We're sending the wrong message

U.S. Senator Doug Jones — the centrist Alabama Democrat who defeated Republican Roy Jones in the race to replace Jeff Sessions — said Friday morning that he will vote “no” on confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, because: “Dr. Ford was credible and courageous and I am concerned about the message our vote will be sending to our sons and daughters, as well as victims of sexual assault.”

Jones’ statement follows a day of testimony on Capital Hill, one that saw both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testify under oath regarding alleged events from the Summer of 1982, when both were high school students at ritzy private schools in The Beltway.

Jones is right to be concerned about the message that his vote will send, but he’s completely off-base.

For the past two weeks, we’ve seen a man’s reputation besmirched by allegations of sexual assault without any corroborating evidence. Ford’s opportunity to tell her story completely and thoroughly before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday did not cement her claim; it cast even more doubt on a story that seemed shaky at best as more contradictions and holes were exposed.

Ford did appear credible. It has been noted by right-leaning pundits that appearing credible isn’t hard to do when you’re facing primarily friendly fire. The 11 Republicans on the panel refrained from what would’ve been the equivalent to cross-examination from defense attorneys at trial, heeding the sensitive optics of the situation by appointing a special counsel whose genteel approach provided a far different setting from what is the norm at such hearings. Still, Ford handled herself as well as could have been expected.

But there’s a fundamental difference between Ford’s credibility and the credibility of her story, and voting a certain way because she appeared “courageous” is to just continue down the same rabbit hole we’ve been headed down for the past two weeks.

With CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post serving as mouthpieces, we’ve heard aplenty in the past two weeks that sexual assault victims should not be doubted because for too long too many men have gotten away with crimes against women because of their money or power or positions of influence. And if the downfall of TV and film moguls like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby have told us anything, it is that the narrative of the #MeToo movement is true.

That doesn’t mean, however, that an innocent man should have his career derailed and his reputation destroyed without any examination of the evidence, which is exactly what has been happening to Kavanaugh.

None of us know what happened in 1982. It remains distinctly possible that Ford was sexually assaulted — perhaps even by Kavanaugh. But in a case in which the only thing we have to go by are the words of the accused and the accuser, the burden of proof is simply non-existent . . . and, as the details have come into focus, no, Ford’s story does not appear especially credible.

The only substantive proof that has been offered by either side is Kavanaugh’s engagement calendar from that summer, showing that he was out of town most of the time. That’s hardly definitive proof of his innocence, of course, but it’s more than Ford has been able to offer. Every witness placed inside the house where the alleged attack occurred has either denied that such a party took place or has said they do not remember it — including one of Ford’s lifelong friends. Ford cannot recall exactly when or where the attack took place.

There were several nuggets that stood out during Thursday’s testimony, but perhaps none more than this: In an effort to pin guilt on Mark Judge — the alleged second perpetrator in the room, along with Kavanaugh — Ford testified that she bumped into him a few weeks later. She initiated conversation with him, she said, and his face was white as a sheet.

But doesn’t it defy logic to think that the victim of an attempted rape who has been left traumatized by the attack would initiate conversation with one of the perpetrators if she bumped into him in a public place? Of all the details about this alleged attack that simply don’t add up, this one may be near the top of the list.

As I wrote last week, no prosecutor would seek an indictment or take this case to court based on the evidence. No employer would deny someone a job based on the evidence. I’ve heard the argument that this position is different because Kavanaugh is seeking appointment to the nation’s highest court, and I still don’t buy it. This is the pinnacle moment of a career that has been otherwise unblemished, and Kavanaugh is still a human being with a family and children. He deserves the same protection from baseless claims of wrongdoing that the rest of us are guaranteed. He does not forfeit those because he has moved into the public eye with his nomination to the court, and he does not forfeit those because he was nominated by President Donald Trump.

Nor does he forfeit those because Republicans handled the nomination of Merrick Garland unethically in 2016. It has been speculated that the Democrats’ primary motive in denying the Kavanaugh appointment — or any other by Trump — is retaliation because the GOP-led Senate refused to confirm Garland in 2016. I suspect that is secondary to Democrats’ fear that the Kavanaugh appointment will tilt the balance of the court to the right, but that’s only possible because of what happened with Garland in 2016.

The Republicans acted shamefully in 2016, using the lame excuse that it was an election year and the voters should get to decide who makes the appointment. Their tactic paid off; Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and subsequently appointed Neil Gorsuch to the court. But that doesn’t make it right.

The Democrats have acted far more shamefully, however. For however wrong they may have been, Republicans did not besmirch Garland’s reputation. They did not enable incendiary accusations against him. Garland walked away from that shameful fight with his reputation and his career intact. Regardless of whether his appointment is confirmed, Kavanaugh certainly will not.

There have been three women who have lodged allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, each story more ludicrous than the one before. Deborah Ramirez’s claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party was so full of holes and inconsistencies that even the New York Times refused to print it. Julie Swetnick’s accusations that Kavanaugh participated in gang rape speak for themselves. It has become a classic case of piling on. No wonder Kavanaugh was so angry during his testimony on Thursday.

If Doug Jones were truly concerned about the message he’s sending his sons and daughters, perhaps he should consider them a message that a man should not be destroyed by a single, uncorroborated accusation from 36 years ago — not in this nation and not in any nation, but especially not in this one, where we have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to¬†presumed innocence.

Instead, Jones plays straight into the narrative that has been heaped upon us by the Washington Post and the NYT these past two weeks, which is that you shouldn’t need proof to destroy a man.

Of course, Jones’ words are just that: words. He was never going to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. The Democratic caucus will be united, and there will be at least 49 “no” votes. Still, propagating the idea that because Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was courageous enough to appear before the committee there’s reason enough to topple Kavanaugh’s nomination is despicable, a continuation of the same despicable politics we’ve seen in Washington for the past two weeks. Alabama voters should remember that in 2020.

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