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OPED: The Republicans put on quite a show

Leonard Pitts Jr.
Miami Herald
Rachel Mitchell, counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, questions Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as Senators, from left, Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, listen during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s.(Tom Williams/Pool Photo via AP)

Give the Republicans credit: They worked hard to create the appearance of enlightened compassion.

Meaning, of course, Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into claims by psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that, 36 years ago, when she was 15 and he 17, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly tried to rape her. With the ghost of Anita Hill staring over their shoulders, GOP lawmakers were desperate to stage-manage the optics.

To avoid repeating the ugly spectacle of a group of men questioning a lone woman on matters of sexual misconduct, they had a woman specially imported for that purpose — Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. Later in the day, when Kavanaugh testified in rebuttal, they elbowed Mitchell aside and took over the questioning themselves, competing with one another to offer ever more fulsome acknowledgments of his suffering. They were careful to extend equally effusive words to Ford.

Which made no sense. Both these people cannot be deserving of deference. One of them has, indeed, been wronged — but the other has lied his or her face off. Those are the only available options here — nutty theories about mistaken identity notwithstanding — and no amount of false equivalence can mitigate that.

You can’t find them both credible. You can’t believe them both. For the record, I believe her.

As these words are written Friday morning, the committee has yet to vote, though a recommendation of confirmation seems a foregone conclusion. Indeed, as Thursday wore on, it was ever more obvious that beneath the veneer of enlightened compassion lay a visceral and volcanic fury at the temerity of this challenge. That was particularly obvious in the nominee and in one of his chief defenders, Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The former issued an opening statement seething with resentment and testified with unseemly snappishness and contemptuous scorn for Democrats on the panel. The latter threw a hissy fit so epic you fully expected him to drop an accidental F-bomb. A finger-pointing Graham scolded Democrats for supposedly politicizing the process of choosing a Supreme Court justice, calling it, “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”

One could only marvel at the self-control of Democrats who did not scream Merrick Garland’s name as a retort to this hypocritical and amnesiac attack.

And so it goes.

Twenty-seven years after Sen. Howell Heflin, R-Alabama, asked Anita Hill if she were not in fact “a scorned woman” by the hunk of burning love that is Clarence Thomas, a credibly accused attempted rapist may soon join Thomas on the Supreme Court. In the era of #MeToo, in the week that convicted rapist Bill Cosby was hauled to prison in shackles, this is a jarringly discordant note, a pointed reminder of how much hasn’t changed.

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We live in an era where an allegation of sexual misconduct makes you unfit for the “Today” show — but probably not the Supreme Court. To the contrary, some rank and file Republicans have explicitly said they’d support Kavanaugh even if the allegations were proven true. Others cling to the notion of Ford as the tool of an orchestrated political smear, even though Dr. Ford first named Kavanaugh as her attacker six years ago, long before there could have been any political value in doing it.

So the fact that Republicans managed to get through this without pulling a Heflin does not impress. They put on a show, gave the appearance of enlightened compassion for a victim of sexual misconduct.

But even after 27 years, the real thing lies beyond them, still.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.