How to Argue the Kavanaugh Scandal – and How Not To

Last week, Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court seemed all but certain. Then Sen. Feinstein threw a grenade into the mix by releasing a letter from Christine Blasey Ford accusing Kavanaugh of attempted rape some 30 odd years ago. This has led to a flurry of accusations, denials, defenses, and counter-accusations.

Instead of confirming Kavanaugh this week as planned, the Senate will reopen the hearing next week to investigate the accusation. If your social media feed is like mine, you have engaged in or seen numerous arguments about the scandal. Here are some helpful do’s and don’t’s for debating the accusation against Kavanaugh.

DON’T brush off this accusation by saying “boys will be boys,” saying he was just a stupid teenager, or that it happened so long ago it doesn’t matter. Attempted rape is a serious crime. If Kavanaugh is guilty, he should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court. In fact, if guilty he should lose his current seat on the D.C. circuit court.

DO remind everyone that the most important word in the last paragraph is “if.” Kavanaugh has firmly denied the accusation and we still live in a country that provides due process and a presumption of innocence. It is up to his accuser to prove Kavanaugh is guilty, not for him to prove his innocence.

DO be clear that the question is what Kavanaugh did or did not do. It is true that men have gotten away with abusing women for a long time. It is true that if Ford is proven to have fabricated her claim it could set back the #metoo movement to expose sexual predators. It is true that some women have lied about sexual attacks. It is also true that any justice system worthy of the name examines cases individually and not as a class representative. That other men have gotten away with sexual assault has no bearing on the guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh. Nor does that some women have lied tell us anything about Ford’s honesty. This is about the people involved and no one else.

DO question the lack of important details. Ford claims the sexual assault occurred sometime in the summer of 1982 somewhere in suburban Maryland. That is not nearly enough to go on. Publicly accusing someone of such a heinous crime demands evidence. Hopefully Ford will narrow down the date and location if she testifies before Congress, but as of now there is nothing. There’s an old saying that a decent prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich. Maybe. But with the information we have now, there is no way Kavanaugh would be indicted in a court of law.

DO question the changing story. Ford did mention a sexual assault to a couples therapist in 2012, but the therapist’s notes mention four boys involved, not the two mentioned in her recent letter. Nor do the notes from 2012 mention Kavanaugh. Is it possible the therapist took inaccurate notes? Sure. But when the lone piece of evidence is Ford’s word, this discrepancy casts doubt.

DO question why there is only one accusation. We have seen many high profile figures brought down by sexual scandals during the #metoo era. One thing they all have in common is multiple accusers. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner – they all had several women come forward to claim sexual assault. People with the moral degradation to sexually assault someone usually don’t restrain themselves to just one victim. So where are the other accusers? Maybe more women will accuse Kavanaugh in the next few days and weeks. If so, we should soberly evaluate their claims. But until then, one accusation does not fit the pattern. Of course it is possible Ford was Kavanaugh’s only victim, but without additional accusations it will be nearly impossible to support Ford’s claim.

DON’T believe everything you hear. Kavanaugh’s nomination is an important issue and many people on both sides will be flimsy with the truth if it will benefit their argument. Unprincipled websites passed around a claim that when Kavanaugh’s mother was a judge she foreclosed Ford’s childhood home, thus giving Ford a reason to seek revenge. This is not true. Kavanaugh’s mother was one of many judges involved in the case and signed off on a motion that resulted in Ford’s parents keeping their home.

DON’T claim Ford made up the assault for political or personal reasons. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. We just don’t know. There is a lot we don’t know. Claiming Ford falsely accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape because she is a liberal is no better than Democrats who believe Kavanaugh is guilty simply because he is a Republican.

DO keep an open mind. It is important to know the truth of this matter, as best as we can. If evidence emerges to demonstrate Kavanaugh is likely guilty of attempted rape, he would not be worthy to sit on the highest court in the land. If evidence does not emerge, it is equally important to clear his name. Either way, everyone, Republicans and Democrats, should place the truth above partisanship.

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