Politics & Policy

The Kavanaugh Allegations Should Be Confronted, Not Ignored

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Kavanaugh’s supporters can best defend his character by seeking the truth, not by diminishing the significance of sexual assault.

Conservatives can never advocate ignoring allegations of sexual assault or diminish the importance of protecting women from abuse.

Yet Dennis Prager does both of those things, writing in his column that it would undermine the “foundational moral principles of any decent society” if we attempt to discover whether Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual-assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh has any basis in reality.

As should be patently obvious, the exact opposite formulation is correct. No moral society can overlook, downplay, or otherwise dismiss behavior as grave as what Ford alleges Kavanaugh did in the 1980s. To suggest otherwise is deeply perverse.

Of course, we mustn’t assume that Ford is telling the truth, as many on the left have demanded. Automatically believing the alleged victim of assault, without further investigation and regardless of whether she can offer corroborating evidence, is a dangerous standard indeed.

But to be wholly uninterested in the truth — simply for the sake of political expedience and, worse yet, based on a twisted definition of morality — is just as wrong. Real justice requires finding as much of the truth as we can; the middle ground between always believing the alleged victim and immediately exonerating the accused is to seek the full truth with clear-eyed persistence.

Prager insists that such an effort is not only unnecessary but unacceptable in a moral society.

“I am not interested in whether Mrs. Ford, an anti-Trump activist, is telling the truth,” Prager writes. “Because even if true, what happened to her was clearly wrong, but it tells us nothing about Brett Kavanaugh since the age of 17.”

For one thing, 17-year-olds often are tried as adults when they commit serious crimes, and surely Prager knows this. More important, though, this argument — far from being a principle that undergirds a moral society — is a recipe for complete anarchy. How old does a man have to be before he can be held responsible for his actions? And even if some mistakes could rightly be categorized as youthful indiscretions, making that determination requires that we first know the truth about what occurred.

It’s worth noting that Kavanaugh himself isn’t asserting in his defense that “boys will be boys.” He has categorically denied ever committing the assault of which he’s been accused. If he did do it, he’s now lied publicly several times, including under oath, and if that’s the case, we ought to know that, too.

Instead, Prager asserts that, regardless of whether Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, he has stored up credit with his stellar record since his teenage years and thus shouldn’t be bothered with defending himself against Ford’s charge — his “moral bank account” is full of capital. This is an utterly bankrupt way of assessing character, and it’s tantamount to arguing that virtue matters not at all.

Never mind that there is inherent value in clearing the name of a good man. No upright society evaluates its citizens based on the crudely calculated “net value” of their actions. We don’t invest good deeds in a social bank to be tallied up as a get-out-of-jail-free card on the day we commit a horrific crime. Under this ridiculous framework, if I commit a murder, I can be exonerated simply by having spent my life up to that point visiting the sick in hospitals and mowing lawns for the elderly, or promising to do so for the rest of my life. A just society doesn’t ascertain whether a criminal is a good or bad person on the whole; it imposes consequences for wrongdoing and obtains justice for victims.

Even more appalling is the fact that Prager cites Judeo-Christian values as a valid basis for refusing to investigate Ford’s charges. It’s one thing to argue that she has yet to provide sufficiently convincing evidence; it’s another to assert that Christian values dictate instinctively ignoring charges of sexual assault depending on the identity of the accused and the accuser.

Worst of all, Prager uses the example of his wife’s response to her own sexual assault as a defense of his argument: “When my wife was a waitress in her mid teens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone, and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.”

Prager argues that his wife overcame this harassment in her workplace and was empowered as a result. But the situation he describes wasn’t a victory at all. A girl in her mid teens being forced to work in an environment where she had to hide from an adult man in order to prevent being violated, and spending all of her time at work afraid of being sexually objectified, isn’t empowering. Her abuser had all the power and faced no consequences for his actions.

Given the facts on the table, Kavanaugh’s supporters can best defend his character and exonerate him not by diminishing the significance of sexual assault but by acknowledging it as evil and working to show that he did not commit the actions Ford describes — exactly as Kavanaugh himself has already begun to do.

Conservatives can and should emphasize the importance of seeking the truth rather than taking the testimony of every accuser at face value. But we can never make the heinous case that because women are frequently subject to sexual harassment and abuse, such despicable treatment can be ignored, minimized, or written off.

Prager’s argument in defense of Kavanaugh is destructive to the conservative movement. It is uniquely wounding to conservative women. It does a disservice both to Ford and to Kavanaugh himself. And, worst of all, it makes a mockery of the truth and of justice.

 

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