In the 1976 movie “Network,” Howard Beale is a dyspeptic TV anchorman with a high-decibel mantra: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” If Beale were alive today, he would feel right at home in the Republican Party. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court showed that, among Republicans, rage has triumphed over reason.
As John Harwood of CNBC noted, Republicans don’t care what the science says about climate change. They don’t care what the economic models say about the fiscal impact of tax cuts. And they don’t care what the evidence says about the possibility that Kavanaugh may be guilty of sexual assault charges. All that matters is sticking it to the “libtards.”
Kavanaugh channeled this vibe perfectly in the most acerbic and abusive appearance of any nominee I have ever seen before any Senate committee. His face contorted in anger, he blasted Senate Democrats for replacing “advise and consent with search and destroy,” and turning the confirmation process into “a national disgrace.”
He reflected a conspiratorial mindset — another hallmark of the modern GOP — when he charged that he was the victim of “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election” and even of Democrats seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” If that’s what this was about, why didn’t the previous Trump nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch, face any accusations of sexual assault?
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), showing that he is bereft of the adult supervision once provided by former Senate colleague John McCain, matched Kavanaugh outburst-for-outburst. He snarled that “this is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.” He had a point about the failure of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to investigate the charges promptly. Yet he and the rest of the Republicans showed little interest in investigating them, either. Instead of seriously questioning Kavanaugh, he sarcastically asked, “Are you a gang rapist?” eliciting a perfunctory “No.”
Predictably, Kavanaugh and Graham are now heroes to the Howard Beale Republicans — who, just as predictably, don’t care about all of the flaws in the nominee’s testimony.
There was, for example, the fact, almost forgotten by day’s end, of the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. She was utterly believable in proclaiming that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her and that she was “100 percent” certain it was him. The GOP’s chosen questioner, Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, did not lay a glove on Ford, as even a Fox News talking head acknowledged.
In trying to defend himself, Kavanaugh was evasive and deceptive. He was a nasty bully to mild-mannered Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), parrying her questions about whether he had ever had alcoholic blackouts by demanding, “Have you?” He later apologized for his rudeness, but this was typical of his failure to answer questions forthrightly.
When he was pressed on why his high school yearbook included the words “Renate Alumnius” — clearly macho bragging about having scored with a girl named Renate — he claimed that the term was “clumsily used to show affection.” Talk about a clumsy alibi. He testified, just as unbelievably, that the kind of party described by Ford could only have occurred on a weekend and that his calendar showed that every summer weekend in 1982 was booked — though an entry for July 1, a Thursday, seemingly referred to exactly the sort of gathering Ford had described. He also claimed that Ford’s allegation was “refuted by the very people she says were there,” when those people actually said that they do not remember the incident — a very different assertion. One of them, Leland Keyser, even says she believes Ford.
Most damning of all for Kavanaugh is that he had numerous opportunities to ask for an FBI investigation, as Ford has done, and refused to do so. Why, if Kavanaugh is telling the truth, would he resist involving the nation’s premier investigative agency? Wouldn’t an innocent man want his name cleared?
Instead, Kavanaugh has gone along with the Republicans’ sham investigation, which does not include testimony from his friend Mark Judge, or from the other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct. (They are Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed his genitals to her while in college at Yale; and Julie Swetnick, who claims she was gang-raped at a high school party where Kavanaugh was present.) Kavanaugh may well be wrongly accused, but how, at this rate, will we ever know? He has a massive incentive to lie, and Ford does not.
Kavanaugh’s defenders nevertheless claim vindication, as if his very indignation is proof of his innocence. Have they forgotten that President Bill Clinton said, just as convincingly, “I never had sexual relations with that woman”? Perhaps Kavanaugh is upset that he is accused of doing something he didn’t do or, more likely, can’t remember doing. Or perhaps he is upset because he doesn’t think that anything he did decades ago, no matter how objectionable, should interrupt his inexorable rise to the top.
Instead of seeking the truth, the Howard Beale Republicans prefer to holler and hate. The likely result will be to confirm an injudicious justice, and to further politicize an institution that is supposed to be above politics.