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Opinion The power of Christine Blasey Ford’s voice

Christine Blasey Ford delivered an opening statement Sept. 27 to the Senate Judiciary Committee weighing the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Melina Mara/Reuters)

Only the cruelest partisans who watched or listened to Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement Thursday could be unmoved. The quiver in her voice, just short of tears, made her statement, which in writing seemed unexceptional, arguably the most gripping testimony most of us have ever heard. Her sincerity, and her pain, cut through weeks of gum-flapping on cable TV news. Here was a woman raw with emotion, visibly scared and utterly without guile.

Granted, the Republicans made a mess of things. Starting off with grumpy chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) grumbling about Democrats’ failure to bring the claim — which Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) felt obligated to keep confidential — was the embodiment of cluelessness. Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell played the sympathetic but ineffective interrogator, meticulously trying to evoke details. She recognized and apologized for Ford’s feeling of terror (“that’s not right”) but in fact made Ford seem more credible, more honest, as Ford corrected a word here or there in her previous letter.

The real damage to the nomination, which now seems entirely beside the point and ludicrous, was done on examination from Democrats. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked how certain she was that it was Brett M. Kavanaugh who attacked her. “One hundred percent,” she said.

How could she be sure it was Kavanaugh? “Just basic memory functions, and also just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain, that, as you know, encodes that neurotransmitter that codes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

Sen. Pat Leahy (I-Vt.) asked what she recalled most vividly. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, referring to Kavanaugh and Mike Judge, who she says was also present in the room when she was attacked.

We should apply a higher standard to Supreme Court nominees. Nobody deserves to be on the bench, says editorial board member Stephen Stromberg. (Video: Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

She provided other details as well. She described running into Judge several weeks later. He looked “white” and “ill,” she reported, as she detailed a trip to the Safeway where he worked. Under questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), she described where the bed was in the room, the location of the bathroom.

The jaw-dropping honesty and emotion with which Ford spoke contrasted with the niggling, petty questions from Mitchell and the periodic outbursts from the grouchy chairman.

It is hard to think how any of this was the least bit helpful to Republicans or to Kavanaugh. During the first break, the media reaction, from Fox to MSNBC, was close to mortification. Chris Wallace at Fox was blunt: “This is a disaster for the Republicans. She is treating this like a deposition, like a court hearing. … Rachel Mitchell has not landed a glove on this witness.”

As the questioning continues, one is left in a state of amazement and even anger that one or more Republicans has not had the nerve to come forward to oppose the nominee and thereby end this cruel, devastating affair. By hanging back, shuffling their feet, they are declining to spare Ford and the country from this ordeal. One wonders what they think is being accomplished.

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