Credible accusations and dishonest accusers

Blimey, what a circus. I doubt even the Democrats knew that they cared this much about abortion.

There exists a certain point where strategically seeking publicity for political gain crosses a threshold and enters into the realm of total theatre. There is every chance we were already there when Kamala Harris set her manufactured perjury trap for Kavanaugh. Or perhaps it was when Cory Booker laid down his life in kabuki martyrdom. (A courageous sacrifice made all in order to prove to the American people that the Bush White House did in fact discuss its policies via email.)

Even the earliest stages of the hearings were drenched in the odour of prearranged drama. The Democrats objected to the whole affair with tightly scripted coordination. And the Republicans deceptively sought to play the victim to divert from the reality that they intended to ignore any objections from the outset, no matter how legitimate. And let us not forget the well organised protesters who cynically timed their outbursts in order to maximise their disruptive impact.

But none of that compares in scale to the deployment of Christine Blasey Ford. And that is exactly what Ford’s rape attempt accusation was: it was deployed. As I have maintained since her story first broke, her accusation itself is sufficiently credible so as to deserve being taken extraordinarily seriously. However, as is becoming increasingly apparent in recent days, this has not prevented her credibility itself from being weaponised in order to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Kavanaugh’s defenders have concocted an elaborate conspiracy theory where Ford, who is herself a loyal Democrat, invented her story with the explicit intention of destroying Kavanaugh’s reputation and hopes for The Court. While there is as of yet no reason to rule that theory out, it is not even a necessary hypothesis in order to explain the Democrats’ behaviour here. I am sure many of them do not even know or care if Ford is telling the truth. Every element of this story suggests their ulterior motives, from Senator Feinstein’s late and cynical revelation of the accusation, to the absurd demands for a full scale forensic investigation by the FBI into the veracity of nonspecific claims which date back several decades.

These moves are calculated attempts to delay and disrupt Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. They are not, despite what partisans may pretend, authentic manifestations of an enlightened attitude on the rights of women.

The cynical and dishonest attitude of the Democrats, and the complicity of Ford in her story being used for such underhanded purposes, only makes it more frustrating to admit that her story deserves anything but naked cynicism on the part of sceptics.

The much cited ‘discrepancies’ in her story, namely the changing number of assailants is easily explained as a matter of semantics rather than a clue to some nefarious purpose. Indeed, if the entire story was constructed by committee in Senator Feinstein’s office, one would not expect the resulting story to be confusing enough to have such discrepancies.

Although there are legitimate questions to be asked about the confused story Ford has shared (which further highlights the necessity of a hearing on the matter in the Senate), the various incarnations of the story have kept the key facts reasonably consistent: There were two assailants (Kavanaugh and another man named Mark Judge), two other males were present (initially they were said to be in the room, but Ford later clarified that they were not), and potentially there were also some previously unmentioned females present or nearby.

Ford’s previously seemingly functional life, reluctance to share the details of the story with anyone, as well as her original insistence on anonymity all match previous high profile sexual abuse cases. The #MeToo movement has established an all too familiar modus operandi with which to contextualise her claims, which frustrated attempts to dismiss them at the outset. This is not to suggest her story is that believable; at this stage her case is certainly weaker than the regularly equated claims of Anita Hill, let alone the eminently believable Juanita Broaddrick, but dismissing Ford off hand before she even testifies would be an act of naked partisan loyalty.

It is not as though Kavanaugh’s stellar legal record places him above any kind of reasonable imputation of his character. He has certainly been presented as the idealised American family man by his advocates, but there are also some vague hints towards a darker point in his life. In an autobiography by the aforementioned co-accused Mark Judge about his days of severe alcoholism, he mentions Kavanaugh as a fellow participant in his youthful love affair with binge drinking. This is not to say that being a heavy drinker is at all sufficient reason to accuse anyone of rape, but Kavanaugh’s drinking does play a starring role in Ford’s story. If the accusation is a fraud, it is a well researched fraud.

This is all to say that while Ford’s case is not strong enough to justify demands that the Republicans throw Kavanaugh out, it does rise to a sufficient level of credibility to be taken into consideration in the classic ‘he said, she said‘ framework and resultantly investigated by the Senate. (It is still he said, she said even with Mark Judge’s corroborating denial. At best the word of a fellow accused party would rise to the level of they said, she said.)

There is a thread running through the arguments of moderate defenders of Kavanaugh. They argue that while Ford’s accusation is serious, it should not prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed immediately since it is unproven. The concern is chiefly that blocking him would undermine the spirit of the presumption of innocence and that it would set a troubling precedent which licenses the destruction of anyone’s livelihood due to unproven, arbitrary accusations.

It is certainly true that this is important consideration. But it is also self-evident that Kavanaugh’s appointment demands unusually high standards. He is up for a lifetime appointment to a critical democratic institution. One which is deeply tied to the public’s trust in agreed moral norms and its conceptual understanding of justice. The bar of scrutiny for Kavanaugh is simply lower than if he was applying for any other job: He deserves to eventually be confirmed as planned if the charges are not proven, but Ford’s accusation must have some impact on the process in order to properly uphold the values of truth and justice.

All around, this is becoming thoroughly nasty business. Ford has come forward with an accusation that demands serious investigation and a principled reluctance to confirm Kavanaugh too hastily. However, Ford and her Democrat supporters appear more concerned with undermining Republican designs on The Court rather than uncovering the truth for the world to see. And partisans on both sides are intent on using the crisis to further their own side in the coming midterm elections. And as a result I have to ask: How did such a serious and substantial rape accusation become, day by day, less and less about the attempted rape?

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