Jeff Flake loves decorum, but it doesn’t look like it was decorous behavior that moved him to reconsider a vote that could change the country’s future. Was it two women in an elevator, yelling at him?
The Arizona Republican had said in a statement that he would vote in favor of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, when on his way to the Judiciary Committee meeting room on Friday, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher put themselves right in front of him, and right in his face.
“Don’t look away from me!” said Gallagher, as Flake glanced at the ground. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.”
Flake couldn’t do that. He couldn’t tell her much of anything. But he could, it seemed, take a tentative step toward showing Gallagher, Archila, Christine Blasey Ford and survivors everywhere that what happened to them does matter. Flake’s call for an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations of assault against Kavanaugh puts a confirmation that was all but certain in peril, and it looked an awful lot like it was those two women’s shouts that got him to change his mind.
There is still a strong chance the bully we saw in the hearing room yesterday gets his bigger pulpit. The FBI has little time – one week, according to Flake’s request – to turn up evidence that would give Flake and other moderates no choice but to sink the nomination. Still, only yesterday it seemed that hours of heart-wrenching testimony from as sympathetic a witness as any Democrat could have dreamed had not moved even the most reasonable of Republicans a single inch. Now, something, and someone, has shifted.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of face-to-face action that strips all abstraction from assault stories and turns them to flesh before a decision-maker’s eyes. But Ford wasn’t abstract, either, and still she wasn’t enough. What Archila and Gallagher brought to Congress on Friday was anger – not the selfish prep school petulance of the man whose ascension they oppose, but righteous indignation, of behalf of their daughters and the other daughters and mothers across the country whose experiences Kavanaugh’s confirmation would invalidate.
Much has been made of the deterioration of decency in America. Worse than McCarthy, Republicans have said, attacking Democratic senators for their willingness to disregard a tradition of confirming judges and justices based on qualification alone. Never mind their hypocrisy after refusing to grant Merrick Garland even a hearing, and never mind that it’s their nominee who injected partisanship directly into his testimony as he blamed his ill fate on “the Clintons” and “the left.” Sometimes decency, or decorum, or civility, or whatever word you want to use for it has to die, at least for a moment, for something more important to survive.
Women are getting hurt, and those men in suits who nodded along with Kavanaugh yesterday aren’t doing anything to stop it any more than their predecessors did 27 years ago. If Democrats and activists nod along in service to an age-old obligation that Republicans have already abandoned, they won’t stop it either. To change things, someone has to get the people in power to listen. And if that takes yelling, we should ready our lungs.