Upcoming Kavanaugh hearing: Truth or consequences

Upcoming Kavanaugh hearing: Truth or consequences
© Greg Nash

I’m watching the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court before the committee I worked on, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and for Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Overnight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — GOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing plan | Pfizer to raise prices on 41 drugs next year | Grassley opts for Finance gavel McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year MORE’s personal staff, for 19 years. I was around for the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991 and knew of the committee’s deliberations and Grassley’s views back then. For me, this is déjà vu.

With Christine Blasey Ford now coming forward, I’m viewing this through a lens of expecting to see truth as a goal, and a fair process to find it. That’s what committee members are saying they want. But in analyzing it, I’m getting neither. You can’t defend this process as a committee or a Senate leader for either truth or fairness. You can try, which they’re doing. But that dog ain’t gonna hunt.

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Because it’s obvious to most outside observers that the fix is in, change is inevitable. The old guard of Grassley/Hatch will soon be gone and, given the MeToo movement, the next series of sexual abuse/harassment allegations before that committee will not take 27 years. It probably won’t even take 27 weeks. The remaining white male Republicans on the committee and in leadership will learn the hard way, whether they’re in power by then or not.

This committee deals with confirming judges. No committee in the Senate bickers as much as this one. Each side blames the other for obstructing the process. They’re grown-ups acting like schoolyard kids. Each always thinks they’re right. But both are wrong to an extent and can’t acknowledge or even understand that. You want to slap them all. I can tell you stories about knock-down, drag-out private skirmishes by senators themselves that would make your jaw drop. 

While growing up, I often had cause to employ the proverbial “There are two sides to every story.” My father would correct me: “No, there are three – there are the two sides, and then there’s the truth.” He was referring, I later discovered, to the Hegelian Dialectic. He drove me to learn more about what he meant. I did – so much so that I switched my major in college mid-course from economics to philosophy.

Bear with me for a sentence to explain. Hegel’s dialectic gets you away from the bickering of Plato vs. Aristotle (for 2,000 years) and Democrats vs. Republicans (for 200 years). It renders a way to find truth and escape ideological bias and bickering. I’m using that training now to examine the unfolding Kavanaugh saga, as I did for three-and-a-half decades of my career. 

Republicans and Democrats in the Kavanaugh hearings have had their own agendas: rush v. delay, respectively. Everyone knows that. Both agendas are all about time, not about truth. With Ms. Ford coming forward, time agendas should become irrelevant. The only relevant one now should be Truth and Fairness. Neither side has discarded its original agenda, though they make you think they have.

Instead, what they do is they cover up their original agendas with new optics: Republicans reject more fact-finding because they’re in a rush, so they focus instead on making Ms. Ford “comfortable” in a process rigged for a he said/she said conclusion. That way they can appear fair. Democrats seek an FBI investigation and more witnesses, the more the merrier, because, though it’s the proper course in my view, they’re really looking to delay. I’ve seen this back-and-forth game for 34 years.

In my experience, it is so obvious that truth cannot be ascertained in these hearings without an amended FBI backgrounder specific to the alleged incident, plus interviewing witnesses, at a minimum the alleged third participant. Now there is another case coming forward of Deborah Ramirez, per The New Yorker. The initial Republican response to this new case is that the timing is “suspicious.” There’s that timing issue again.

Additional fact-finding will occur either through the committee or through the press. If it comes via the press, the committee will lose the last scintilla of credibility it has left, especially since it has no real investigators of its own, and apparently biased ones at that.

Comments made last week by cranky white Republican men on the committee and their Senate leaders show their bias before the hearing plays out. They can do that because they have the votes. That doesn’t mean the public, especially women, will buy it.

Democrats, on the other hand, don’t have the votes so they need to seize the moral high ground, which they have. I say that as a Republican. I’m sure both sides are well-meaning and sincere. But the final outcome will be that college-educated suburban women, in my view, will continue to step away from the Republican party in November. 

The Republican party in general, and specifically their Judiciary Committee members, are regarded as lacking empathy in cases like these. That said, perhaps they can find it in them during this week’s hearing to have a John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Cindy McCain takes aim at Trump: We need a strong leader, 'not a negative Nancy' McCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain MORE moment, when he corrected the woman while on the campaign trail who accused Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFDA tobacco crackdown draws fire from right As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House MORE of being a Muslim. 

Republicans should call out the despicable tactics and threats perpetrated by Ms. Ford’s harassers. The committee should call on the Justice Department to investigate criminal witness tampering by those people. And at the very least, before the hearing, they should ask how she prefers to be addressed – I understand it to be “Dr. Blasey,” her professional name – and to get the pronunciation correct. Maybe news outlets could follow suit. That might seem like a small issue, but it’s a demonstration of respect, of which Republicans have shown little thus far.

What you’re watching in these Kavanaugh hearings is your government fulfilling its constitutional role by putting political expediency over truth. The Constitution allows for that. It also allows for the country to correct that through the ballot box. Old school thinking about sexual abuse/harassment needs to be purged from the Senate, and a modern-day process seeking fairness and truth must replace it. Whether that can happen will help decide if the Senate remains the last plantation.

Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.