Politics & Policy

Rebutting Trump’s ‘Pocahontas’ Jab, Elizabeth Warren Releases Ancestry Test

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Capitol Hill (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Elizabeth Warren sort of, kind of, finds her Native American ancestor; why so many American elites fell so hard for the Mohammed bin Salman sales pitch; why you can’t find happiness in a life consumed by politics; and why the media searches so desperately for the next Great Southern Democratic Hope.

Elizabeth Warren: Here’s Proof That I’m 1/32 to 1/256 Native American!

Back in January, the Boston Globe, Elizabeth Warren’s hometown newspaper, wrote a lengthy article about her claims to Native American ancestry, pointing out that beyond the mockery on the right, the Massachusetts senator also faced:

. . . discomfort on the left and among some tribal leaders and activists that Warren has a political blind spot when it comes to the murkiness surrounding her story of her heritage, which blew up as an issue in her victorious 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. In recent months, Daily Show host Trevor Noah mocked her for claiming Native American ancestry and the liberal website ThinkProgress published a scathing criticism of her by a Cherokee activist who said she should apologize.

This morning, Warren revealed results of a DNA test showing that she’s Native American! Technically. She could be anywhere from 1/32 Native American to 1/256 Native American.  That’s anywhere from one-tenth of one percent to three percent.

Is this . . . vindication?

Senator Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that provides “strong evidence’’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations, an unprecedented move by one of the top possible contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor.”

. . . Bustamante calculated that Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” That timing fits Warren’s family lore, passed down during her Oklahoma upbringing, that her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was at least partially Native American.

What Warren’s rollout dodges is the question of whether one ancestor, six to ten generations ago, justifies listing oneself as “Native American” in faculty guides. Warren has long insisted that her self-description as Native never played a role in any academic acceptance, hiring, or promotion decision. But as the Globe noted, earlier in Warren’s career, Harvard sure liked putting the spotlight on her self-proclaimed ethnic identity:

Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.

Put another way, if you thought you were “X,” and then a DNA test proved you were 1/32 to 1/256 X . . . would you still feel comfortable running around claiming to be X?

And the claim of distant Native ancestry doesn’t quite mesh with the stories Warren has been telling for years, that her parents eloped because her paternal grandparents didn’t want her father to marry her mother “because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.” Under the rules of the Cherokee Nation, Warren is unlikely to qualify as Native.

Why So Many American Fell So Hard for the Mohammed bin Salman Sales Pitch

The Turkish government’s claim that the Saudi government killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi during his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is forcing a dramatic, wholesale reevaluation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in U.S media, business, and political circles.

On Friday, I noted that if you want to say the Trump administration’s been too cozy and naively optimistic about Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fine. But let’s not pretend that a lot of prominent U.S. media didn’t buy into the same Saudi spin.

Let’s also remember that way back in 2002, National Review had a cover piece on the Saudi royal family entitled “Desert Rats.” A lot of foreign-policy conservatives spent the last two decades pushing for a tougher line with Saudi Arabia, generally running into a brick wall of opposition from George W. Bush. (Doesn’t anybody remember the action movie The Kingdom? Didn’t anybody read Christopher Buckley’s Florence of Arabia?)

But the House of Saud always had an almost literal killer counterargument, that they were probably better than any regime that would replace them. Often the world of foreign policy gives you no good options, just lots of variously bad ones. Accepting the Saudis’ help where they offered, and trying to gently nudge them into becoming slightly less brutal and slightly less bad on women’s and minority rights, was probably the safest option.

Decades of American foreign-policy leaders accepting an uncomfortable partnership with the Saudis, particularly after 9/11, set the stage for lots of folks to buy the spin about Mohammed bin Salman being a great modernizer and reformer because they wanted to believe good news, and the Saudi government put a lot of effort into getting Americans to believe it.

The M. B. S. spring tour to the United States hit every major institution of elite Establishment respectability:

He talked about the movie business with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Dwayne Johnson over dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s house. He discussed space travel with Richard Branson in the California desert, and philanthropy with Bill Gates and technology with Jeff Bezos in Seattle. He visited Harvard and MIT, brokered arms deals with President Trump and sat down with Wall Street financiers. He even met with Oprah Winfrey.

And people walked away dazzled:

“I think it’s brilliant and I will tell you why,” said Adam Aron, the chief executive of the movie theater chain AMC, who has met with the prince. “The crown prince is aware that Saudi Arabia has had a difficult image in the United States, because it’s been such a conservative country for so many decades. He wants to transform Saudi society in ways that will be very appealing to Americans.”

Back on April 4, Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, wrote on Instagram, “A pleasure to have a private dinner with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, his royal family and distinguished cadre. Fascinating experience to hear his deep rooted, yet modern views on the world and certainly the positive growth he desires for his country.” The point of this is not to point out some sort of flaw in Future-President Johnson’s foreign-policy acumen but to illustrate the wide range of the Saudi public-relations offensive.

Don’t begrudge The Rock or a movie-theater mogul for not being sufficiently attuned to M.B.S’s true character or philosophy of consolidating power; that’s not his job. It is more or less the job of America’s foreign correspondents who specialize in covering the region.

Thomas Friedman:

Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.

CNBC, March 27:

That was just one of many carefully-considered reforms that had taken place at home. The man responsible for them is Mohammed bin Salman, 32, the crown prince in line to be the country’s next sovereign. “MBS,” as he is known everywhere, has been making global headlines for his bold steps to reshape Saudi society. Women driving is but one of them. A dramatic fight against corruption and an ambitious vision for the year 2030 are others.

The New Yorker:

M.B.S. gives the impression of being comfortable with Western mores. In meetings with American women, he shakes their hands and looks them in the eye, which not every Saudi official will do. Once, during a meeting at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, M.B.S. spotted a grand piano, walked over, and began playing the “Moonlight” Sonata. His favorite diversion is Call of Duty, the video game. But his English is halting, and among his brothers—he has nine — he is unusually bound to Saudi Arabia. “M.B.S. is unlike his brothers, several of whom were educated in the West and one of whom has a doctorate from Oxford,” a longtime friend of M.B.S. told me. “If you look at them and you talk to them, they are basically soft. And there is this quality to M.B.S. — the guy’s not soft. He has a lot of charisma. He’s a lot like Bill Clinton. He makes you feel like you’re super important when you’re talking to him. He really puts on a charm that is unmistakable.

Why did everybody swoon for this guy? Because they really wanted somebody to swoon over.

Searching for Personal Meaning in Politics Is a Quick Route to an Unhappy Life

Leave it to Kevin Williamson to more precisely diagnose the phenomena I described a few weeks ago, the sense that a lot of people in politics are projecting their own personal issues onto the realm of politics:

At that level, this is about something other than politics per se. I have spent about 30 years covering political protests of various kinds, and, of course, people rarely show up at a protest because they are happy about something. But many of the people one encounters at such events (from Occupy Wall Street to the tea-party rallies) are categorically unhappy, bereft and adrift in a way that is only tangentially related to politics. They turn to politics to provide a sense of meaning that might once have been provided by family or religion, two anchors from which many of us enlightened moderns have cut ourselves away. But politics provides a sense of meaning only when we convince ourselves that there is a great deal at stake. I do not know how many planning-and-zoning meetings I have been to, how many suburban school-board meetings and small-town municipal board meetings. Rarely does one get the sense that there is much that is urgent going on. They are boring, and, generally, free of drama. (Not always. A visit with the San Bernardino, Calif., city leadership will cause one to despair for democracy.) That isn’t very much compared to communing with God or being a father. The people who fall into politics as a source of personal meaning must believe that what’s at stake is . . . everything . . . or at least something meaningful, otherwise — well, that’s obvious enough. Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul.

The angry partisan cannot believe that life is good, because he must then ask himself: If life is good, then why am I not enjoying it? Why do I feel so alone, so frustrated, and so meaningless?

ADDENDUM: If you’re wondering what exactly made the media fall in love with Beto O’Rourke, my piece from the weekend details the endless media search for the Great Southern Democratic Hope.


The Cable-News Crowd Denounces Kanye

Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and others in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The talking heads choose a revealing moment to start questioning the mental health of Kanye West, the Democratic “blue wave” keeps hitting contrary currents, President Trump and “Cocaine Mitch” get another big win on judges, and some kind praise for The Three Martini Lunch podcast.

The Bold New Era of West-ern Civilization

Kanye West wasn’t my cup of tea back in his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” days, nor his “comparing himself to Jesus” days, nor his “Imma let you finish, but” Taylor Swift–interrupting days. I don’t really see why I should suddenly change my opinion on the guy just because he’s found a Republican president he likes. I have no doubt that the budding friendship between Donald Trump and Kanye West is genuine, though: They’re both egomaniacal narcissists with model wives who play the media like a fiddle, and as the saying goes, “game respects game.”

What is pretty revealing is how quickly West was denounced for this particular shift in his beliefs. Last night the big talking point on cable news was that West was mentally ill.

They make this accusation now? This is a man who voluntarily signed on to the constant drama circus that is life married to a Kardashian. This is a man whose surname is West — and then chose to name his daughter “North.” This is a man who recorded his debut single with his jaw wired shut after a car accident. This is a man who announced plans to run for president in 2020 back in 2015. This is a man who promoted his sneakers with nude models. This is a man who staged a “fashion show” on Roosevelt Island in New York City where most of the models were wearing translucent outfits and some fainted in the stifling heat.

This is a man who stormed out of the American Music Awards after he didn’t win in 2004; declared himself the voice of his generation in 2008; declared, “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live” in 2009; declared, “I would never want a book’s autograph, I am a proud non-reader of books” in 2009; performed for the authoritarian ruler of Kazakhistan in 2013; declared, “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people” in 2013; declared himself “the Steve Jobs of the Internet” in 2013 (wouldn’t the Steve Jobs of the Internet be . . . Steve Jobs?); described himself, “I am Warhol! I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh,” in 2013; followed up on his interrupting stunt with Taylor Swift with an aborted attempt to interrupt Beck in 2015; declared, “Everyone is a fashion insider, because it’s illegal to be naked” in 2016; contended that Jay-Z was threatening to kill him in 2016; depicted naked celebrities in a 2016 video; and declared himself “50 per cent more influential than any other human being” in 2016.

And now the cable-news crowd deems Kanye crazy?

Come on. Hugging Donald Trump as he’s sitting behind the Resolute Desk doesn’t even crack the top 30 craziest things Kanye West has ever done.

Midterm Roundup

The New York Times/Siena poll surveys Tennessee, and finds Republican Marsha Blackburn ahead of Democrat Phil Bredesen, 54 percent to 40 percent. You know what’s going to be epic? When Taylor Swift debuts her song about breaking up with Bredesen.

I think the battle for control of the House of Representatives will be close, which is different from predicting that the GOP will hold the House. But you never know what can go wrong, even in an alleged “blue wave” year:

Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo 51 poll. The independent poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump non-party candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar’s unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by President Donald Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

This was one of those open-seat House races that Democrats thought would be a fairly easy pickup. And then the local voters went and nominated 77-year-old Shalala. (I suppose if there’s any state that would be comfortable with older candidates, it would be Florida.)

Meanwhile, Democrats have donated about $7 million to the challenger to Devin Nunes, arguably the most secure Republican congressman in the state of California, and now Nunes is “only” ahead, 53 percent to 45 percent. Good thing they didn’t use all that money elsewhere!

Here Come the Judges, Here Come the Judges

Cocaine Mitch wins again.

Senate Democrats accepted an offer Thursday from Senate Republicans to confirm 15 lifetime federal judges in exchange for the ability to go into recess through the midterms, allowing endangered Democrats to campaign.

The calculation by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his caucus was simple: That Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be able to confirm roughly 15 judges if he kept the Senate in session for the next few weeks anyway. So Democrats OK’d an offer to confirm three Circuit Court judges and 12 Circuit Court judges as the price to pay to go home for election season.

McConnell and President Donald Trump will now have confirmed 84 judges over the past two years, including two Supreme Court nominees, after the deal.

I’m running out of Scarface gifs to illustrate Cocaine Mitch’s wins.

If Republicans hold the Senate (and it’s looking good right now), one has to wonder if Justice Clarence Thomas will feel comfortable retiring in the next year. He’s 70, he’s had a long and impressive run, and he could be confident that a like-minded judge would replace him. We’ve all heard the speculation about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer . . . which means it’s not all that implausible that President Trump could have the most influence on who sits on the nation’s highest court since Richard Nixon.

Donald Trump is not really much of a conservative personally, but he could well be remembered as one of the most important presidents ever for the advancement of the conservative agenda and philosophy.

ADDENDA: Just three days until the Leadership Institute’s Conservative Podcasting School — today’s the last day to register for half-price!

Speaking of podcasting, thanks to The Gospel Coalition for putting The Three Martini Lunch on their list of ten recommended podcasts!

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombus offer thoughts on the news of the day, generally speaking to serious matters from a Republican perspective with a light-hearted tone and witty banter. We need to keep a sense of humor in a day when political rhetoric has become so heated and has an outsized influence on too many people.

PC Culture

Democrats Encouraged to Go Rogue on Republicans

Former Attorney General Eric Holder (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Eric Holder tries out the Avenatti style and steps on a rake; the sun sets on the Beto O’Rourke hype; and why American society can’t turn on a dime, no matter how much progressives want it to change and want it to change quickly.

No Holder Barred

I suppose it was inevitable that a somewhat more reputable Democrat would attempt to emulate Michael Avenatti’s style, and that it would go badly:

“It is time for us as Democrats to be as tough as they are, to be as dedicated as they are, to be as committed as they are,” [former Attorney General Eric] Holder said. “Michelle always says, Michelle Obama, I love her. She and my wife are really tight. Which always scares me and Barack. Michelle always says, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”

The potential 2020 candidate added:

That’s what this new Democratic party is about. We are proud as hell to be Democrats. We are willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic party. We are proud of our history, we are proud of our present and we are proud of the future that we can create for this country.

He later said:

When I say we kick them, I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate, we don’t do anything illegal, but we have to be tough and we have to fight.

It’s good to see that the man who was once the country’s chief law-enforcement official eventually recognized that he might regret a rallying cry that urges kicking people.

We live in a moment when each political party is utterly convinced that it is a victim of the unfair skullduggery of the other one.

If you ask Democrats, the Senate’s treatment of Merrick Garland in 2016 ranks as one of the modern era’s greatest outrages. They think the media were ludicrously unfair and hostile to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and took it easy on Trump despite glaring scandals. They believe that corporate America is always on the opposition’s side, pointing to fights over taxes and regulations. They feel that the public is misled by the opposition’s well-organized media allies, repeating untruths until the sheep-like public accepts them as truth. As I wrote earlier this week, they deem recent Republican victories illegitimate because of the Electoral College, the population divisions among states, gerrymandering, and voter suppression.

If you ask Republicans, the Senate’s treatment of Merrick Garland in 2016 was constitutional, legal, and in keeping with Senate traditions — and that it was in fact one of the shrewdest and wisest decisions of their party’s leadership in years. They think the media were ludicrously unfair and hostile to Donald Trump in 2016 and took it easy on Clinton despite glaring scandals. They believe that corporate America is always on the opposition’s side, pointing to fights over trade, gay marriage, and most fights involving political correctness. They feel the public is misled by the opposition’s well-organized media allies, repeating untruths until the sheep-like public accepts them as truth. They deem recent Democratic victories illegitimate because of allegations of voter fraud and the belief that large numbers of illegal immigrants are voting in elections.

We don’t run into trouble when American political leaders urge their supporters to go out and beat — er, defeat — the other party. Elections matter. The stakes are real. There’s nothing wrong with firing up your supporters. But we get into trouble when American political leaders tell their supporters that the voters on the other side are the enemy. That’s why Barack Obama expressed regret after using the phrase “punish our enemies” while trying to get out the vote among Latinos.

Bet-Oh, No!

I’ll return to the topic of our societal divisions in a moment, but some quick updates about the midterms. First, Beto O’Rourke is on the verge of accomplishing something extraordinary. He’s about to set a new record for amount of glowing national press coverage for a campaign that never led in a poll. The latest from Quinnipiac doesn’t quite say it’s over . . . but it’s getting close to over.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll:

Is the Beto bubble bursting or just hissing away with a slow leak? With less than four weeks until Election Day, Congressman Beto O’Rourke has hit a wall and remains the same nine points behind Sen. Ted Cruz as he was when Quinnipiac University polled the race last month.

The election is far from over, but Sen. Cruz would have to suffer a major collapse for him to lose. That is even more unlikely since 97 percent of Cruz voters say they are sure they won’t change their minds.

Cruz has a 52 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke has a divided 45 – 47 percent favorability rating.

As I wrote way back in March:

It’s possible, even likely, that Democrats will improve upon their abysmal performance in the 2014 midterms. But it’s difficult to tell if Texas Democrats are really coming back or not, because the national and state media have been so desperate to see a comeback happen that they find the evidence to write this story every single cycle.

American Society Doesn’t Turn on a Dime

The preeminent factor in our intensifying cultural divisions is an effort by the left to redefine what is unacceptable. In 2008, Barack Obama went into Saddleback Church and told Pastor Rick Warren, in a televised event, that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” (Years later, David Axelrod assured readers in his book that Obama never believed that, and that he had merely lied to a pastor in church and the entire country. Rest easier, everyone!) Publicly expressing what was, until 2011, Barack Obama’s position on marriage is now considered something akin to a hate crime. Many have attempted to stretch the definition of xenophobia to go beyond antipathy to immigrants and those who are different to those who believe that immigration laws should be enforced and that the United States should have a secure border. The term “thug” is now racially charged and controversial — nobody tell Tupac, and nobody bother to look up the fact that the term derives from the Thuggee cult in India. (Yes, the bad guys from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

For much of the post–Cold War era, both Democrats and Republicans believed in a system of regulated capitalism and disagreed on how much regulation was ideal; now many Democrats are openly socialist. Significant numbers of young people on college campuses believe that speech that offends them is a form of violence, and that punching them in response is a form of free speech. Most Americans still find the concept of 37 genders absurd and contend that no matter what you feel like you are, you’re either one or the other.

You wake up one morning and suddenly clapping is considered insensitive to people with disabilities.

To me the essence of modern progressivism can be found in two lower-court decisions in the past decade and a half that ruled that saying “One nation under God” was unconstitutional, because it amounted to establishing a state religion. Higher courts overruled those decisions, but the point is that some judge felt comfortable telling people, who had been saying the Pledge of Allegiance every school day for their entire lives since 1954, that they had been violating the Constitution all along. Saying the Pledge is one of the few things that about 99.9 percent of all Americans have done (other than perhaps a few religious objectors). In addition to schools, most government meetings and quite a few private organizations begin their meetings with it. It is as woven into the fabric of American life as any other tradition.

Unsurprisingly, people do not like hearing that something they’ve done every weekday since kindergarten is wrong. Some people say it proudly, some people mumble it out of a sense of obligation, and some just stand. School districts know they cannot make students say the Pledge. No one in their right mind could construe the words “under God” being in the Pledge as being the establishment of a state religion. But these two judges felt completely comfortable telling every school in their jurisdictions that they had to stop what they had been doing for five or six decades and change immediately.

You can’t turn American society on a dime, and Americans really don’t like having changes imposed upon them. Just look at the reaction whenever Gmail changes the way it looks. Aspects of American life can change quickly — look at cell phones! — but it has to be organic and freely adopted.

This “The political opposition is the enemy” line is getting Americans to see each other only through the lens of politics, and people are more than their politics.

Did you ever find out that someone you knew and liked had a really weird belief? (Keep in mind, just about any belief is really weird to somebody. We Catholics believe that bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ, which probably sounds creepy-zombie-cannibalistic to someone unfamiliar with the faith.)

I’m referring to somebody who believes that the moon landing was faked; that they were abducted by aliens, spoke with angels, or saw ghosts; that the apocalypse is imminent; that the mob/Hoover/CIA/Cubans/Russians/Trilateral Commission/Bilderbergs/Hellfire Club killed JFK; that the Kennedys killed Marilyn Monroe; that the Chernobyl disaster was American retaliation for the Soviets secretly blowing up the Challenger space shuttle; that Michael Jordan’s brief, odd baseball career was a secret agreement to avoid a league suspension for gambling . . . wait, that last one makes a lot of sense.

Would you have to reevaluate your friendship or relationship with someone if they had a really bizarre belief? If so, why? How limited a range of viewpoints are you willing to impose upon everyone you know? Will you carry around a lengthy quiz of political topics to make sure everyone stays within the realm of acceptable perspectives? How will you banish those who deviate from your own personal orthodoxy?

If your auto-repair guy was adamant that the United States should go back to the gold standard . . . would it really matter, if he’s the best guy to fix your care? (Presuming, of course, that his repair shop still takes credit cards and he doesn’t expect payment in bullion.) If your dry cleaner believed that the United States should invade Andorra . . . does it matter, if he or she is really good at getting the stains out? When did we as Americans lose the ability to nod, offer a noncommittal “mm-hmm,” and change the subject?

Are there views beyond the pale? Heck yeah. If I found out my local coffee shop was owned and run by neo-Nazis, I’d get my coffee elsewhere. But we ought to have a little faith in each others’ abilities to discern when to express societal disapproval and when to let it go.

Freedom has to include the freedom to have the “wrong” opinion or beliefs.

ADDENDUM: Don’t look now, but the man crowned the most vulnerable Senate incumbent of the 2018 cycle, Nevada’s Dean Heller, has led the past two polls. Small leads, but not the numbers you’d expect to see from a guy who’s supposedly toast.


What to Expect in the Midterm Elections for the GOP

The White House (Wikimedia Commons )

Making the click-through worthwhile: four key takeaways about the state of the GOP as early voting begins in the midterm elections; Hillary Clinton holds civility hostage; the world’s  thuggish regimes start getting cocky; and where you can vote early.

The Big Midterm Election Preview, 27 Days Out

What follows are some cautious assessments about the 2018 midterms, gleaned from looking at recent polling. (Insert all appropriate caveats: Yes, the polls are sometimes wrong; yes, Trump’s victory in 2016 surprised a lot of people even if the final-popular vote split was in line with the polling average; yes, polling response rates are low; yes, everyone should work like they’re ten points down even if they’re ten points up.)

One: Democrats are going to pick up some governorships that slipped away from them for the past few cycles. In Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker is comfortably ahead of incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner. (Some National Review readers may not consider that a significant loss.)

In Michigan, incumbent Republican Rick Snyder is term-limited, and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is consistently leading Republican Bill Schuette. While many Wisconsin Democrats have counted out Scott Walker before and found themselves eating crow on Election Day, Democrat Tony Evers is consistently enjoying a small lead in autumn polling. In Ohio, Mike DeWine is close to Democrat Richard Cordray, but that one’s a coin toss. When the dust settles after Election Day 2018, one of the biggest topics of discussion might be a state-level collapse of the GOP in these Great Lakes states.

In Nevada, three polls in September showed Democrat Steve Sisolak enjoying a lead over Republican state attorney general Adam Laxalt — many conservatives would be deeply disappointed by a Laxalt loss.

And then there are the governor races featuring a tight race and a stark choice between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat. All of the polling in Georgia points to a nail-biter between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, and in Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum has consistently enjoyed a small lead in eight polls taken in September.

Two: The blue wave is skipping some states and races. You can probably put Maryland’s governor’s race to bed; On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post poll put incumbent Republican Larry Hogan ahead of Democrat Ben Jealous by 20 points. Democrats have high hopes for the Tennessee Senate race*, but their candidate for governor, Karl Dean, has failed to make the race competitive against Bill Lee. Up in Alaska, there’s a three-way race, and Republican Mike Dunleavy is likely to win handily against incumbent independent Bill Walker and Democrat Mark Begich. Few people think of New Hampshire or Vermont as Republican strongholds, but incumbent GOP governors Chris Sununu in New Hampshire and Phil Scott in Vermont appear to be comfortably cruising to reelection.

Three: Control of the House is probably tighter than the “blue wave” talk suggests. Races for the House of Representatives are toughest to survey, because the House district lines don’t always align with area codes and pollsters have to be more careful to ensure the households that they’re calling are in the right district.

The New York Times/Siena College watch-it-as-it-happens surveys are fascinating, but I’m not sure I buy the idea that showing the results as they happen is influencing the results; this would mean the registered voters that Siena is calling have already checked the Times web page and are altering their choice based upon those results.

If the Siena College polling is correct, a slew of moderately endangered House Republicans can breathe a little easier. Mike Kelly in Pennsylvania, Ted Budd in North Carolina, John Carter in Texas, Lee Zeldin in New York, and Steve Chabot in Ohio all enjoyed leads of six to 16 percentage points. All the standard points about the House remain in effect — the president’s party traditionally does badly in midterm elections, the GOP has to defend a lot of open seats, and Trump isn’t popular in the suburban districts that make up the main battlegrounds. But a prominent House Republican told me last week that he thought that his party’s chances of keeping the majority in the House are 50-50. Even if he’s being overly optimistic, a four-in-ten chance of keeping GOP control is considerably better than just a few weeks ago. For what it’s worth, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com thinks there’s just a 22 percent chance the GOP keeps control.

Keep in mind, right now the House has 235 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and seven vacancies, and Republicans found it challenging to keep their caucus united. A smaller majority for either party would make passing legislation even tougher, and leave any faction much more empowered.

Four: Maybe it’s a temporary Kavanaugh effect, but the GOP has the opportunity for a really good year in the Senate. After trailing for a long while, Marsha Blackburn is surging ahead of Phil Breseden* in Tennessee. After trailing for what felt like forever, incumbent Dean Heller is now ahead by 2 percent in the latest poll in Nevada. (As Liam Donovan keeps pointing out, Heller was a strong enough campaigner to win by about 11,000 votes while Obama was winning the state by about 68,000 votes in 2012, but for some reason the political media keeps describing Heller as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in this cycle.)

GOP wins in Tennessee and Nevada would take away two of the Democrats’ best opportunities to pick up a seat. Republicans still have some reason to worry about Arizona where Kristen Sinema has a small but consistent lead over Martha McSally, although a new poll out this morning puts McSally up by six.

And no, Beto O’Rourke does not look like he’s going to win in Texas, which will raise tough questions about whether the $23 million donated to O’Rourke’s campaign could have been better spent elsewhere.

You can write off Heidi Heitkamp’s chances in North Dakota now.

Missouri looks really, really close, as does Florida. Polling in Indiana has been sparse, but Mike Braun has a gift-wrapped issue because of incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly’s vote against Kavanaugh. (Failing to knock off Donnelly would rank as one of the biggest missed opportunities for the GOP in the cycle.) Democrats had felt confident about Jon Tester in Montana, but now his race against Matt Rosendale is getting tighter, too. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin probably made himself electorally bulletproof with his vote for Kavanaugh.

The Republicans’ best realistic expectation is that they keep seats in Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Arizona, and then knock off Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, and Montana. That five-seat pickup would give them a comfortable 56-44 majority in the Senate. More likely, they’ll win some of those pickup opportunities and fall short in a few.

*As noted on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, in light of a certain pop star’s recent endorsement in the Tennessee Senate race, Marsha Blackburn may have been trailing, but she figured out how to shake it off. Yes, there’s some bad blood in this race, but Tennessee voters are figuring out that Bredesen was trouble when he walked in, and they’re likely to tell the former governor that they are never ever getting back together. Blackburn is not out of the woods, but the end game is near. And where Democrats thought they had a Senate pickup on election night, they’ll end up with a . . . blank space.

‘Win Back the House and/or the Senate, That’s When Civility Can Start Again.’

Hillary Clinton:

You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.

In other words, civility is a luxury that can only be afforded when Hillary Clinton’s preferred party controls Congress; when the Republicans control Congress, there is no need for civility. Heads she wins, tails Republicans lose.

It’s also absolutely fascinating that Clinton defines the GOP as “a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” Fairly or not, this is how a lot of Republicans feel about the Democratic party.

If you care about the Second Amendment right to own a firearm, the unborn, a secure border, the enforcement of immigration laws by ICE, limiting citizenship to those who go through the proper legal steps to earn it, and keeping a fair level of what you earn, once you’ve paid your federal taxes, state taxes, local taxes, sales taxes, car taxes, and property taxes — Democrats want to “destroy” all of that. Democrats want to impede, if not destroy, school choice, vouchers, charter schools. They want to bring earmarks — member-chosen spending priorities — back into the budgeting process.

Meanwhile, on the World Stage . . .

The Turkish government claims the Saudis killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had applied for permanent residency in the United States. The Chinese just detained the head of Interpol. A Bulgarian investigative journalist was just raped and murdered.

It looks like some of the world’s more thuggish regimes feel free to act with impunity. Might be time for our law-and-order, takes-no-grief-from-anybody, never-backs-down, no-time-for-diplomatic-niceties president to get a little more vocal.

ADDENDUM: Early voting has begun in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (or parts of them, check your local elections boards). Whether or not you think early voting is a good idea for our country, if you’ve got the option, why not go for it? Avoid the lines on Election Day and you’re set in case your car breaks down or something else goes wrong on that first Tuesday in November.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Don’t View Conservative Victories as Legitimate

Anti-Trump protesters march in Seattle, Wash., November 21, 2016. (Reuters photo: David Ryder)

Making the click-through worthwhile: how the rise of Donald Trump, or a Trump-like figure, was inevitable in an age when the Democratic party and its media allies team up to destroy prominent conservatives with unverified accusations; and why our politics are poisoned when one side refuses to ever accept that the other side won a legitimate election victory.

The Post-Kavanaugh Landscape

Over the weekend, the circus left town.

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to be the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and sworn in. Christine Blasey Ford said she had no interest in pursuing her allegation further. No one ever filed any complaint with the Montgomery County Police Department. Julie Swetnick is left fuming that she has been “re-victimized” and that she “literally put her life in jeopardy” by coming forward. This morning, Michael Avenatti is tweeting about his upcoming appearance at a Harris County, Texas, Democratic-party fundraiser. Elected Democrats are left griping to the public that the Federal Bureau of Investigation helped “cover up” Kavanaugh’s crimes.

Over the past few weeks, the Democrats and their allies in the national media attempted to establish the new standard that an accusation itself was sufficient evidence of guilt in the court of public opinion. The only evidence we have that Kavanaugh ever encountered the three accusers, never mind assaulted them, was their own testimony. All of Ford’s named witnesses said they could not remember the party. Deborah Ramirez claimed that many people witnessed the act she claimed, but Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer could not find any of them. Avenatti and Swetnick described an ongoing series of crimes that would have dozens of victims and witnesses, but none of them ever came forward.

The Democrats and their media allies attempted to set up new rules, shifting from “anyone who comes forward from past chapters of your life and makes any accusation must be taken seriously” to “anyone who comes forward, without any proof of ever meeting you, must be described as a credible accuser, no matter how outlandish the claim.”

If this is how the Democrats and their media allies want to play the game, or how they always intended to play the game, then the rise of a Trump-like figure in Republican politics was inevitable.

If the Democrats and media planned to insist upon this new rule that accusations amount to guilt, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would describe the media as “the enemy” and treat them as such.

If the Democrats were always going to insist upon unveiling an accusation as serious as Ford’s at the end of the confirmation process, instead of at the beginning, it was inevitable that the leading Republican would dismiss it as partisan nonsense, instead of taking it seriously.

If the Democrats and media were always going to insist that accusations amount to guilt, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would openly express skepticism of claims of sexual assault. You notice that coverage of #MeToo suddenly quieted down after AMC’s investigation cleared host Chris Hardwick, a CNN investigation cleared contributor Ryan Lizza, and accounts of Asia Argento’s past behavior became more complicated. People began to rightfully wonder whether a movement and rallying cry against patterns of shameless predatory abuse was becoming a tool for score-settling.

If the Democrats and national media insisted upon these new rules, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would openly mock accusers and point out gaps in their memories. It was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would begin describing unproven claims as “a hoax.”

If the Democrats and national media were always going to insist that demanding corroborating evidence was morally akin to supporting sexual assault, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would tune out that kind of accusation.

Few Democrats Ever See Any Republican Victories as Legitimate

Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, but if you talk to certain aged progressives, they’ll insist that the reason Reagan won was that George H. W. Bush secretly met with the Iranians in Paris to persuade them to keep the hostages in Tehran until after Election Day.

In 1994, Republicans won control of the House and Senate, and ABC News anchor Peter Jennings explained to viewers that it wasn’t a real shift in the electorate, or at least not one to be respected:

Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It’s clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It’s the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week . . . Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry two-year-old.

Republicans had technically won the elections, but they hadn’t really won a legitimate victory.

In 2000, Democrats believed that Al Gore really won Florida and that the Supreme Court stopped a recount that would have shown him to be the winner. (Never mind that the court voted 7-2 that the recount method the Gore campaign wanted, using a hand recount in their four best counties, violated the Equal Protection Clause. The 5-4 decision was about whether an alternative method could be completed in time.)

Democrats contended that GOP victories in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election were the result of Diebold voting machines changing votes for Kerry to votes for Bush.

After the 2010 midterms, Democrats contended that gerrymandering, a bipartisan passion, was suddenly a threat to democracy. No less a figure than Barack Obama enjoyed drawing the lines of his state legislative district “to include some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat.” A political fact of life that both parties utilized suddenly became intolerable once Democrats were in the minority again.

After the 2014 midterms, Democrats started complaining that their total vote in all Senate races combined was higher than the Republicans’ total vote in all Senate races combined, and that this somehow made the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate illegitimate, because so many of the GOP states had smaller populations.

The second-least populated state in the union is Vermont, with an estimated 623,000 residents; the 45th is Delaware; the 43rd is Rhode Island; and the 40th is Hawaii, with about 1.4 million. All of those states have two Democratic senators. I don’t hear Democrats complaining that those states are over-represented.

Then there was 2016, when President Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. The irony is that not only had Hillary Clinton lost a slew of key states that Barack Obama had won four years earlier, but that other Democrats had figured out how to win in those states in recent years. Senator Bill Nelson won in Florida in 2012, Senator Sherrod Brown won in Ohio in 2012, Senator Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin in 2012, Governor Tom Wolf won in Pennsylvania in 2014, and Governor Roy Cooper won North Carolina in 2016. In 2014, Iowa Democrats won the state’s treasurer and attorney-general races. These are not impossible states for Democrats to win; they’re just impossible states for a candidate as lousy as Hillary Clinton to win.

But to a lot of Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s ability to run up her margins in states such as California and New York meant that Trump’s win was somehow illegitimate.

To a certain type of Democratic activist, Trump’s victory was illegitimate because of the popular vote, the Republican Senate majority is illegitimate because of the low population of some red states, the Republican House majority is illegitimate because of gerrymandering, and now the Supreme Court is illegitimate because of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh — and heck, maybe they’ll throw in the allegations against Clarence Thomas, too. Whenever the party they don’t like wins something, they can find a reason why the victory isn’t really “legitimate.” This is “Calvinball,” where the rules of the game are made up while you’re playing, and the purpose of the constantly shifting rules is to ensure that one side always wins.

The notion that every Republican victory is illegitimate in one form or another is not a fringe theory in Democratic circles, and if it’s not a majority within the party, then the minority who believes this is loud.

On Saturday I posted a Twitter poll, asking whether people agreed that if the Democrats won the House, they should impeach Trump, Vice President Pence, and Justice Kavanaugh. (This would make Nancy Pelosi or whomever the Democrats elect as speaker the 46th president and create a new opening on the Court.) The number of responses was insane — more than 37,000 votes — and it ended with 67 percent disagree, but 33 percent agree, and it swung back and forth over the 24-hour period. (The poll also left some Mensa candidates on Twitter convinced that I’m a progressive Democrat.) That puts about 12,000 people who encountered my Twitter poll subscribing to the “impeach them all” theory.

And now expanding the size of the Supreme Court is becoming a priority in Democratic circles.

Their key aim, an expansion of the Supreme Court from nine to twelve members during the next Democratic administration, would thwart the Court’s current majority and bring important procedural reforms to the Court . . .

Why are our politics so angry, accusatory, vicious, nasty, personal, and vindictive? Because when one side refuses ever to recognize that the other side has legitimately won an election, this kind of atmosphere is inevitable.

ADDENDA: Everybody in northern Florida, stay safe . . .

Former Obama national security adviser and notorious liar about Benghazi Susan Rice is thinking about running against Susan Collins in 2020. Oh, by the way, Rice is not a resident of the state of Maine, but she owns a home there.

I suppose if Rice’s Senate bid doesn’t succeed, she’ll just blame it on a video.

Politics & Policy

Who Is Ford’s Unknown Therapist?

Christine Blasey Ford on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/Reuters)

Monday is Columbus Day, so the next Morning Jolt will be on Tuesday.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The economy reaches a milestone that it hasn’t been able to reach in nearly half a century, someone was pressuring a witness in the Kavanaugh investigation, some hard questions about the unnamed therapist at the heart of Christine Blasey Ford’s account, and an opportunity you won’t want to miss.

Unemployment Rate Lowest in 49 Years — Yes, You Read That Right

It’s understandable that everyone’s focused on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight, including this newsletter, but there is other news going on, and it’s important. In fact, this is exactly the sort of headline that Republicans want to see one month before Election Day:

Job creation for September fell to its lowest level in a year though the unemployment rate dropped to a point not seen in nearly 50 years, according to Labor Department figures released Friday.

Nonfarm payrolls rose just 134,000, well below Refinitiv estimates of 185,000 and the worst performance since September 2017 when a labor strike weighed on the numbers. The unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969 and one-tenth of a percentage point below expectations.

I know the common argument among Democrats is that Obama did all the hard work of getting companies hiring again and that Trump is just coasting. But Justin Wolfers, a staunch critic of Trump and Republicans in general, is raving about the state of the job market:

The labor market is motoring along . . . You’re seeing average job growth over the past three months of +190k. That’s strong, and even stronger for this point in the cycle. It’s great news to see the recovery — now well into its 8th year — is continuing to draw more people in from the sidelines.

Leland Keyser Told the FBI That She Felt Pressured to ‘Revisit’ Her Initial Statement

The award for the Most Interesting and Consequential Article Behind a paywall goes to the Wall Street Journal today:

A friend of Christine Blasey Ford told FBI investigators that she felt pressured by Dr. Ford’s allies to revisit her initial statement that she knew nothing about an alleged sexual assault by a teenage Brett Kavanaugh, which she later updated to say that she believed but couldn’t corroborate Dr. Ford’s account, according to people familiar with the matter.

Leland Keyser, who Dr. Ford has said was present at the gathering where she was allegedly assaulted in the 1980s, told investigators that Monica McLean, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and a friend of Dr. Ford’s, had urged her to clarify her statement, the people said.

Remember in Ford’s testimony, when she commented about Keyser?

MITCHELL: Are you aware that they say that they have no memory or knowledge of such a party?

FORD: Yes.

MITCHELL: OK. Do you have any particular motives to ascribe to Leland?

FORD: I guess we could take those one at a time. Leland has significant health challenges, and I’m happy that she’s focusing on herself and getting the health treatment that she needs, and she let me know that she needed her lawyer to take care of this for her, and she texted me right afterward with an apology and good wishes, and et cetera, So I’m glad that she’s taking care of herself. [Emphasis added.]

That seemed a little strange, didn’t it? It didn’t really address the question of why Keyser would not recall the party — other than to perhaps imply that the health issues would impede her memory.

The Missing Therapist and the Withheld Therapist’s Notes

Earlier in the week, I started doing some digging into the therapist described in the account of Christine Blasey Ford. It’s a little surprising that the name of the therapist hasn’t leaked, isn’t it? The therapist could be the very best in the profession, or the therapist could be a quack who specializes in “recovered memories.” There’s been intense debate among psychologists about the reliability of recovered memories and new research raising questions about the reliability of memories in investigating long-ago crimes:

Contrary to what many believe, human memories are malleable, open to suggestion and often unintentionally false. “False memories are everywhere,” she says. “In everyday situations we don’t really notice or care that they’re happening. We call them mistakes, or say we misremember things.” In the criminal-justice system, however, they can have grave consequences.

Until Ford chooses to disclose the therapist’s name, we are likely to never know. And unless Ford gives the therapist permission to discuss what was said in therapy, it is likely we will never hear from the therapist.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and California state law put tough restrictions on when a therapist can discuss a patient without the patient’s consent — basically, they can discuss their records only when the patients are threats to themselves or others. It is extremely likely that the Fords’ therapist believes he or she cannot come forward and verify (or contradict!) Ford’s account without serious professional and perhaps legal consequences.

A therapist who currently lives in Oregon sold her house to the Fords, and when asked if she was the therapist who treated them by a reporter for RealClearPolitics, refused to say. A few observers interpreted that as confirmation, but I don’t think that’s accurate. (For starters, this therapist appears to have moved to Oregon before 2012, which is when Ford said she discussed it in therapy.)

You may recall that when Ford began her testimony, she said, “My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

And yet . . . she won’t turn over even excerpts of the therapist’s notes. Those notes could be helpful. Or they might contradict her account more than we already know.

There was this odd exchange during the hearing:

FORD: She [presumably the therapist ] helped me go through the record to locate whether I had had record of this conversation that I had remembered.

MITCHELL: Did you show a full or partial set of those marriage therapy records to The Washington Post?

FORD: I don’t remember. I remember summarizing for her what they said. So I’m not – I’m not quite sure if I actually gave her the record.

MITCHELL: OK. So it’s possible that the reporter did not see these notes.

FORD: I don’t know if she’s – I can’t recall whether she saw them directly or if I just told her what they said.

MITCHELL: Have you shown them to anyone else besides your counsel?

FORD: Just the counsel.

MITCHELL: OK. Would it be fair to say that Brett Kavanaugh’s name is not listed in those notes?

FORD: His name is not listed in those notes.

(A question that I wish Mitchell had asked: Do those notes list any other names?)

Ford spoke to the Post sometime between July 10 and September 16. The article ran September 16. The hearing was September 27. Why was it so difficult to remember whether she had given a full or partial set of the therapist’s notes?

The Post wrote in that initial article:

The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part.” [Emphasis added.]

Ford said, “I can’t recall whether she saw them directly or if I just told her what they said.” If it was the latter, then the Post was mischaracterizing what its reporters had seen.

A couple of years back, I saw a therapist for a while. Thankfully nothing traumatic to deal with, just a sense of being overwhelmed and never having enough hours in the day to be the father, husband, worker, son, brother, and friend to everyone that I wanted to be, and always feeling like I was leaving somebody important shortchanged. I don’t think I said anything unbearably embarrassing in there, but I can completely understand being reluctant about putting a therapist’s notes out for public consumption . . .

But if I needed those notes released to strengthen my case to prove that a crime occurred, then it would be worth it, wouldn’t it?

ADDENDUM: Are you interested in podcasting? Are you within driving distance of Washington, D.C.? Then you need to run, not walk, to sign up for the Leadership Institute’s Podcasting School. It’s only $25 if you register in the next eight days, and it’s a two-night program featuring NR’s publisher, Garrett Bewkes; Teri Christoph, host of the Smart Girl Politics podcast; Michelle Cordero, digital content manager for the Heritage Foundation; Beverly Hallberg, president of the District Media Group; Chris Malagisi, the editor-in-chief of the Conservative Book Club; Scott Rank, host of History Unplugged; Katrina Trinko, managing editor of the Daily Signal, and ahem — myself. If you’ve ever wanted to know what went into building the Three Martini Lunch podcast or those other fine programs, come on out and enjoy.

Politics & Policy

The FBI Report That Everyone Wants to Read, but That Only a Few Can

Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

As of this writing, nothing significant has leaked from the supplemental FBI investigation into the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. The report arrived on Capitol Hill last night. The longer we go without a leak that is damaging to Kavanaugh, the less likely those kinds of leaks are to exist.

The material was conveyed to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night, just hours after Senate Republicans set the stage for a pair of votes later in the week to move to final approval of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. A statement issued by the White House around 2:30 a.m. said the F.B.I. had completed its work and that it represented an unprecedented look at a nominee.

Senators will be permitted to review the materials, in what the F.B.I. calls 302 interview summaries, in a secured room at the Capitol starting on Thursday morning, or they can be briefed by a handful of staff members who are cleared to examine the material. After a day of review, the Senate is on track to take an initial vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday and possibly a final vote as early as Saturday.

I’m surprised at all of the secrecy involving the FBI report and the steps taken to minimize leaking. The public interest in this dispute is almost off-the-charts. If there’s anything in there that’s bad for Brett Kavanaugh, it’s going to leak from the Senate Democrats. If there’s anything in there that’s good for Kavanaugh, it’s going to leak from the Senate Republicans. You may get completely contradicting interpretations of the same information. It would be wiser to redact any information in the FBI report that is private, sensitive, or embarrassing to those interviewed by the bureau and then release the rest.

The Senate could use the public-address system known as Dianne Feinstein’s office . . . but the problem is that it would take seven weeks for the information to get out.

The New Yorker’s Story Falls Apart

What the heck happened to The New Yorker?

What the heck happened to Ronan Farrow? The dragon-slayer of #MeToo is suddenly co-writing pieces like this:

Kenneth G. Appold was a suitemate of Kavanaugh’s at the time of the alleged incident. He had previously spoken to The New Yorker about Ramirez on condition of anonymity, but he said that he is now willing to be identified because he believes that the F.B.I. must thoroughly investigate her allegation.

Appold said that he was “one-hundred-per-cent certain” that he was told that Kavanaugh was the male student who exposed himself to [Deborah] Ramirez.

Appold said that he initially asked to remain anonymous because he hoped to make contact first with the classmate who, to the best of his recollection, told him about the party and was an eyewitness to the incident. He said that he had not been able to get any response from that person, despite multiple attempts to do so. The New Yorker reached the classmate, but he said that he had no memory of the incident.

So Appold repeated a story that he vaguely remembered and heard second-hand . . . and this was a central piece of supporting evidence at the heart of the previous New Yorker story about Ramirez’s accusation. This is what Jane Mayer dared claim was “the talk of the campus.”

This is bull-a-word-I’m-not-supposed-to-use-in-this-newsletter. The accuser said days before the article that she wasn’t sure it was Kavanaugh and only concluded it was him after “six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.” Now the only other person who had allegedly witnessed the incident turns out to not remember anything.

Separately, Ramirez tells The New Yorker that the FBI interviewed her, but because the bureau has not followed up with other people she named, “I feel like I’m being silenced.”

See, when the FBI interviews you, you’re not being silenced. That’s the opposite of being silenced. You don’t get to just willy-nilly reinvent the meanings of words because you think it makes a more powerful political argument.

Personal Issues, Bad Experiences, and Modern Politics

Thanks again to Rush Limbaugh for again discussing an item from last week’s Jolt, contending that a significant number of political activists don’t see today’s disputes as questions of governance and policy at all, but as extensions of their own personal-psychological problems and issues. Authority figures, organized religion, members of whole groups or genders — everything is seen through the individual lens and thus every debate instantly becomes extraordinarily personal. In these activists’ minds, merely telling them that you disagree amounts to an extremely deep, cruel personal attack upon them and elicits a volcanically angry reaction.

It’s worth noting that everyone is shaped by their experiences and draws conclusions from those experiences. If you’ve had a good experience with law enforcement, you’re more likely to trust cops, and if you’ve had a bad one, you’re less likely to trust them — and that no doubt shapes how you view accusations of police brutality and groups such as Black Lives Matter. If you live outside the South and had a nice visit to Atlanta, or Charleston, or Raleigh some time, you’re more likely to have a positive feeling when people talk about “the South” — and you’re more likely to bristle when someone suggests it’s a wasteland of ignorant, violent, backwater hicks obsessed with glorifying their side during the Civil War. Similarly, if you’ve ever had a bad visit to a city or part of the country, that bad taste in your mouth probably lingered — leaving you suspecting that New Yorkers are rude, Los Angelenos are self-absorbed, and that everything’s bigger in Texas, including the egos. Everyone laughed at Casey Affleck’s Dunkin Donuts commercial on Saturday Night Live because lots of people have run into a not-quite-sober, chatty-to-loudmouthed Boston lout.

(Lest anyone think I’m not willing to mock my home regions — I grew up south of The Sopranos and north of the Kevin Smith movies in New Jersey, and it would have only taken one or two wrong turns in life to turn me into a character in Mallrats. And I observed last year, “Every time I travel to someplace else in the country, I think, ‘Wow, everyone is so nice and polite here!’ Then I suddenly realized, it isn’t that everyone else is exceptionally nice; it’s that my baseline expectation of human interaction is set by the colder, ruder, nastier people in the Washington area.”)

Everybody has bad experiences. A teacher that castigated us, a relative who relentlessly criticized us, a boss who belittled us, the coworker who took credit for our work, the company that without warning, laid us off. Almost all humor involves some element of shared bad experiences. Comedians’ routines such as, “What is the deal with airline food, huh? Did they scrape this stuff off the engine?” only work if you’ve had airline food that wasn’t so good.

Conservatives like to joke that government handles every problem the way it handles the Department of Motor Vehicles, because lots of people have a lousy experience at the Department of Motor Vehicles: long lines, long waits, tons of paperwork, surly staff who act like they don’t want to be there. (Hey, pal, at least you’re getting paid to be here, we’re not.)

When liberals need to defend government, they point away from the DMV and towards firefighters, and hospitals, and depending upon the day, police. I suspect very few Americans have ever had a bad experience with firemen. They show up fast and save people and save our homes from burning down. Surely some folks have had bad experiences with hospitals, particularly the billing departments, but every day, hundreds of thousands of people go into the hospital with a serious health problem and thankfully most of them walk out okay a few days later.

But we run into problems when we draw sweeping conclusions from our bad experiences. And sometimes the distinctions that people draw in making those classifications and conclusions are so small that they’re imperceptible to others.

Ross Douthat observed that much of the discussion of Kavanaugh’s younger years amounts to fuming about “those damned Ivy League elitist prep school boys” from writers and journalists who went to different prep schools and attended the same Ivy League universities.

The story Miller is telling is about how a jock from the No. 5 private high school in Maryland was a jerk to his roommate who went to the No. 2 private high school in Connecticut, and who years later communicated the story to a reporter who also went to that same No. 2 private high school, who then wrote it up as a tale of social stratification for our times.

A lot of our modern politics is driven by the cultural gap between mostly progressive cities and mostly conservative rural areas, with the suburbs making up the purple parts in between.

I could be wrong, but I suspect most folks on the center and the right would rather not have a cultural war. If San Francisco, Berkeley, Boston, Portland, and other heavily progressive cities want to pursue hard-left policies, knock yourselves out, guys. These things tend to generate their own backlash — like when Seattle tried to enact a new annual $275 tax per employee for big companies, and then rescinded it a few months later once Amazon and Starbucks threatened to leave town.

Let the cities and states be laboratories of democracy and allow other parts of the country be as conservative as they like, as long as their laws are consistent with the Constitution. Let Amarillo and Tulsa and Colorado Springs and Omaha and Huntsville and Jacksonville enact conservative ideas, and the liberal cities enact their ideas, and let Americans vote with their feet. (Some would argue they already are, considering state-to-state migration.)

But as Jonah has noted many times, liberals are the aggressors in the culture wars. They’re fine with banning large sodas, banning guns, requiring religious institutions to provide birth control, public funding for abortion, restricting Airbnb rentals, limiting ride-sharing services, and instituting “bias response teams” on college campuses. They are not comfortable leaving you free to make decisions that they think are wrong.

They appreciate every kind of diversity except people who disagree with them.

ADDENDUM: The latest NPR/PBS/Marist poll: “Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared.”

Politics & Policy

How the Kavanaugh Fight Will Shape Our Politics

A demonstrator against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. September 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Segar )

You no doubt recall that during the 2012 presidential campaign, then-Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid accused Mitt Romney of having not paid any taxes over the past decade. It wasn’t true; Romney released tax returns showing that it wasn’t true. In 2015, CNN’s Dana Bash pressed him about telling a blatant lie, Reid responded,“Romney didn’t win, did he?”

That is the only lesson anyone in politics is going to take from everything surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Did the last-minute leak of Christine Blasey Ford’s name and accusation help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did the New Yorker article that began with a lurid accusation, but that halfway through admitted could not confirm Kavanaugh’s attendance at the party at the center of the accusation, help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did the implausible claims of Julie Swetnick, released and publicized by Michael Avenatti, help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did fundraising off of the Kavanaugh accusations help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did a U.S. senator telling all men in America to “shut up and step up” help Kavanaugh opponents win?

This is binary. Either these efforts derailed the nomination, or they didn’t.

There is no circumstance where everyone involved with those norm-breaking steps suddenly wakes up, has a crisis of conscience, and realizes that they were morally wrong. The only way they decide not to take similar steps in the future is if they conclude that those steps are not effective.

If these sorts of tactics work, we will get more of them. Right now, Kavanaugh could be a squish who wimps out on Roe vs. Wade and I’d still want him on that court, because this isn’t really about him anymore. This is about what kind of proof is needed before you believe a man is a monster. This is about whether decades of respected public and private life can be wiped away by an allegation without supporting witnesses. This is about whether anyone who ever knew you at any chapter of your life can suddenly come forward and paint you as a malevolent deviant of every kind . . . or whether people who never knew you at any chapter of your life can suddenly come forward and paint you as a malevolent deviant of every kind.

Make no mistake, this whole public discussion would be completely different if P. J. Smyth had said, “Well, I remember the party, but I don’t know what happened when the three of them were upstairs.” Or if Leland Keyser had said, “Yes, I remember the party, but I had no idea what happened in that room after they turned up the music.” If Ford remembered the date and the house, and we could go back and check property records and see whose parents owned the house, and whether her description of the house matches the floor plan . . . this would be a different conversation.

But as it is, we have a denial — and three named witnesses who do not corroborate that the party ever occurred, much less an assault. Ford’s claim is just lacking in specifics enough that no alibi can ever be created. For example, if Ford said this occurred on, say, any of the last three weekends in 1982, we would be able to go back and see Kavanaugh’s calendar and attempt to verify the listed weekend trips to St. Michael’s in Maryland or Connecticut to visit his grandmother.

I think the pro-Kavanaugh side is indeed winning the public argument. A weekend Harvard CAPS/Harris poll of 1,330 registered voters found that “once the voters are told that the named witnesses deny any knowledge of the allegation, this shifts to 57 percent who favor confirmation — and that goes up to 60 percent, if the FBI agrees there is no corroboration.” Almost everyone in America has been wrongfully accused of something sometime, and they’re rightfully terrified and outraged at the suggestion that the new standard should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

But we’ve got at least three GOP senators who seem nervous. They’re used to being considered the “nice” Republicans, who are used to being praised in contrast to their colleagues, heralded as reasonable, and sensible, and centrist. They’re not used to being demonized in the press, and they’re certainly not used to activists yelling at them that they support rape.

Senators, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there is never going to be enough political cover to stop activists from yelling at you. The only thing that will stop the Left from hating you is total capitulation. There is another option of course, which is to teach them the hard lesson that everything they tried against you did not work in its intended goal, which is to get you to vote against Kavanaugh. All of this is to sway you, frighten you, intimidate you, and bend you to their will.

The future of American politics depends upon Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Mazie Hirono, Richard Blumenthal, Jane Mayer, Emily Bazelon, Michael Avenatti, Brian Fallon, and all the rest saying after the confirmation vote and the 2018 midterms, “Wow, that didn’t work.”

Brett Kavanaugh, Scapegoat for Washington’s Sins

Why have Washington’s political and media classes responded to the allegations against Kavanaugh in the way that they have?

We’ve learned over the years that high-level, white-collar Washington, D.C. — including the realms of journalism, politics, academia, and law — includes a lot of creeps. Over the past year, the city’s professional class learned that a bunch of their colleagues, mentors, role models, and industry leaders were a bunch of sexual predators or otherwise sleazy. Sure, there were the politicians such as Al Franken, and Tim Murphy, and Blake Fahrenthold, and John Conyers Jr., and Trent Franks, and Patrick Meehan.

But the media world saw one establishment, center-left to left, often self-proclaimed-feminist man after another suddenly resigning or suffering some other career consequence after horrific stories and allegations of patterns of abuse: Mark Halperin. Charlie Rose. Leon Wieseltier, formerly an editor at The New Republic. Hamilton Fish, publisher of The New Republic. Michael Oreskes, a top editor at NPR. Glenn Thrush, political reporter for the New York Times. Garrison Keillor. In each case, peers and colleagues wondered — who knew? Who witnessed something odd or weird but pretended not to notice? Who turned a blind eye to the behavior? Did anybody ever confront these guys? If not, why didn’t anybody ever confront these guys?

Even if some members of Washington’s white-collar community never encountered sexual harassment or assault, a lot of people — mostly men, but also women — look back on their teen years and their early twenties and cringe. Hopefully their youthful indiscretions never got anywhere near sexual assault. But the college scene of past decades included lots of people getting hammered, having drunken hookups, sleeping with people and then regretting it, sleeping with people whose names they don’t remember and never really learned, dumb things said, dumb reactions to things said, and macho challenges to take it outside.

In the Old Testament, they describe the tradition of the scapegoat:

By the high priest placing his hands on the head of the goat and confessing the sins of Israel, the priest symbolized the transference of the people’s sin to the goat. Together the goat sacrificed and the living scapegoat showed that the goats were substituted for the people and that they bore the penalty of the sin.

The sacrificed goat perished and the scapegoat took away the impurities and sins to the wilderness.

Whatever you think of this theologically, it’s no doubt psychologically appealing to absolve ourselves of all of our own wrongdoings and transfer the blame to one animal or figure to represent all of those bad judgments, bad deeds, and selfish motives.

Kavanaugh is turning into an old-fashioned scapegoat. And he’s perfect, because he checks so many of the boxes: White. Male. Conservative. Raised in the safe, comfortable suburbs. Prep school. Football player. Ivy League. Fraternity. Well-connected in Washington’s legal scene. One of the authors of the Starr Report. Worked on the Florida recount in 2000. Worked for George W. Bush. Openly Catholic. Oh, and he might just be the deciding vote the next time there’s a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Here’s a man that the mostly progressive, Washington, D.C., media and political elites can denounce with relish. They hate the way he’s like them (comfortable upbringing, Ivy League education), and they hate the way he’s different from them (open traditional religious faith, worked for Republicans).

What we’re witnessing is a lot of people in their thirties, forties, and fifties engaging in a public ritual of castigating the behavior they regret from decades earlier.

But don’t worry, this period of neo-McCarthyist witch-trial-style moral panic won’t last forever. Concepts like privacy, the need for forgiveness, and the need to leave the past behind will be rediscovered the moment the public learns of the first embarrassing, career-trajectory-altering story about a real 2020 Democratic presidential contender. 

The Goalposts Shift, Again

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday:

The FBI has ample resources to do this within the one-week period requested by the members of the Judiciary Committee. No one is asking it take longer than a week, but everyone is asking it be done thoroughly and completely within that week.

The news, Tuesday:

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said she thought a Friday vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh would not give senators enough time to evaluate the FBI probe of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“Well, I believe it is. I believe it’s too soon,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told reporters at the Capitol.

ADDENDA: We’re asking for your help. I know, you don’t like being asked, and we don’t enjoy asking. But if this newsletter or other NR works have brought you some joy, insight, comfort, humor, or news in the past year, maybe you’ll feel it’s worthwhile to chip in a bit, to ensure it keeps going.

Our Charlie Cooke notices that Rachel Mitchell probably knew that there were claims Christine Blasey Ford had some experience with polygraphs, because “during last week’s Senate hearing, because she asked Ford two extremely specific questions on the subject of polygraphs.” Isn’t there an old saying that lawyers almost never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer?

Law & the Courts

Swetnick Walks Back Her Initial Sworn Statement

Demonstrators protest Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Julie Swetnick’s accusation falls apart, Democrats risk a major mistake by putting their faith in Michael Avenatti, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison is almost out of the woods.

Scrutinizing a Wildly Implausible Accusation

Should we be mad that MSNBC interviewed Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick and put her on camera, considering the implausibility of her claims? Or should we be pleasantly surprised that MSNBC pointed out all of the ways that her story doesn’t add up?

Before the interview aired, NBC News’ Kate Snow declared:

NBC News, for the record, has not been able to independently verify her claims. There are things that she told us on camera that differ from her written statement last week. We’ve been trying independently to reach out to anyone who remembers attending parties with Julie Swetnick and Brett Kavanaugh and we’ve been asking her attorney for names. So far, we’ve not found anyone who remembers that. She’s also unclear about when she first decided to come forward.

In her sworn statement, Swetnick said:

During the years 1981-82, I became aware of efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to “spike” the “punch” at house parties I attended with drugs and/or grain alcohol so as to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say “no.”

In last night’s interview, Swetnick said:

Well, I saw him giving red Solo cups to quite a few girls during that time frame and there was green punch at those parties. And I would not take one of those glasses from Brett Kavanaugh. I saw him around the punch, I won’t say bowls, or the punch containers . . . I don’t know what he did, but I saw him by them.

That’s an astonishing walk-back of the original accusation.

Snow also noted that of the four names Swetnick provided of people who went to these parties with her, “one said he doesn’t even know her, one is deceased, and the remaining two opted not to respond to NBC News.”

Snow also said, “Swetnick says after the alleged attack on her when she was 19, she never returned to those big house parties.” Swetnick was born in 1963; if her birth date has been publicly revealed, I haven’t been able to find it.

But whenever her birthday is, if she never returned to the parties after an attack that occurred when she was 19 as she said last night, she would have stopped attending parties in 1982.

From her sworn statement: “I attended well over ten house parties in the Washington, D.C. area during the years 1981 — 1983 where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present.” In her interview she said she stopped attending parties in 1982; in her sworn statement she said she attended until the following year.

What’s more, Swetnick “told NBC that she reported her assault to the Montgomery County police department, but the officer whose name she provided is deceased and the department said it could take as long as one month to locate the relevant report.”

Last night Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend appeared on Fox News and said that during their seven-year relationship, she never mentioned anything about these weekly gang-rape parties that she attended in her college years. He also said she threatened to kill their unborn child.

Deep in a Washington Post article published on Sunday, the paper offered details of Swetnick’s past legal fights that raise serious questions about her credibility:

In its civil complaint in a state court in Oregon, the company said Swetnick, a software engineer, was an employee for a few weeks before its human resources department received a report that she had engaged in “unwelcome sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct” toward two male co-workers at a business lunch.

The lawsuit said that Swetnick in turn accused Webtrends of subjecting her to “physically and emotionally threatening and hostile conditions” and that she claimed that she’d been sexually harassed by four co-workers. The co-workers denied the allegations, the suit said.

Company officials later determined, the suit said, that Swetnick had provided false information on her employment application. The suit alleged that she had misrepresented the length of time she worked at a previous employer and falsely claimed that she’d earned an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry from Johns Hopkins University.

Deeper in the same article, there was another case that suggested perjury:

Swetnick, who described herself in court records as a model and actor, claimed she had “numerous modeling commitments” with several companies at the time of the accident but missed out them because of her injuries.

To support her claim for lost wages, Swetnick named “Konam Studios” as one of the companies promising to employ her. A court filing identified Nam Ko, a representative of “Kunam Studios,” as a possible plaintiff’s witness for her case.

Ko, however, told AP on Friday that he was just a friend of Swetnick’s and that he had never owned a company with a name spelled either way and had never agreed to pay her money for any work before she injured her nose. He said he first met Swetnick at a bar more than a year after her alleged accident.

Keep in mind, from her description in her sworn statement, there should be dozens of witnesses.

You’re Making a Big Mistake, Democratic Friends

Democrats are unlikely ever to take my advice, but they need to hear it anyway: Michael Avenatti is bad news for everybody except Michael Avenatti.

I think most Americans would concur that whether or not Christine Blasey Ford is accurate in her claims, she deserved a serious hearing — although she and the country would have been better off if Senator Dianne Feinstein or Representative Anna Eshoo had honored Ford’s request that her identity not be released to the media. We can argue about the claims of former Yale student Deborah Ramirez; she confesses that her memory contains “gaps,” she told other classmates that she wasn’t certain it was Kavanaugh, and so far, no one else can even confirm he was at the party where the incident allegedly occurred. But she at least described a plausible scenario — college freshmen drinking to excess and behavior getting out of control.

But these claims by Swetnick? There’s a reason Avenatti announced the accusations on Twitter. Any journalistic institution — even MSNBC! — would have looked into them, found the lack of corroborating victims and witnesses where there should be many, checked the ages and dates (Kavanaugh was 15 going on 16 in 1981, when these drug-fueled, gang-rape parties that included college students allegedly began), and noticed the credibility issues in Swetnick’s past, and offered a report at least as skeptical as last night’s interview. Avenatti didn’t go the traditional route of bringing these accusations to the public because the traditional route would have doubted their credibility.

False accusations make everything harder for those who have to come forward with true accusations. Avenatti brings a lot of bombast and showmanship to the table, but his priorities are clear:

 A federal judge gave Michael Avenatti a choice Wednesday: If he wanted to represent his client Stormy Daniels in the federal investigation of President Donald Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, he had to end his “publicity tour” of TV appearances and aggressive tweets about the case.

Avenatti chose instead to drop the case. He was back on MSNBC talking about Cohen less than two hours later.

And if the counterargument from Democrats is, “Trump used Twitter to make outlandish statements and implausible accusations first!” then this is a gut-check time for them. What kind of a society do Democrats want to live in? Do they want to live in a world where anyone can accuse anyone else of anything, put the accusation out on social media, and destroy someone’s reputation forever? Because what is done in this case with Kavanaugh will set the rules in politics and civil society going forward. A huge majority of Republicans are absolutely convinced that a good man is being destroyed.

A USA Today sports columnist wrote that he doubted Kavanaugh should still be allowed to coach girls youth-league basketball. A cartoonist portrayed Kavanaugh’s daughter calling her father a rapist. Every tool, method, and tactic used by one side of the political divide will inevitably be adopted by the other. This is a formula for a society where no one in his or her right mind ever wants to go anywhere near politics and governing. Once this becomes “the new normal,” the inmates truly will run the asylum.

Keith Ellison, Almost Out of the Woods

We don’t know what happened between Keith Ellison and Karen Monahan behind closed doors. Yesterday, the Minnesota Democratic party concluded they could not substantiate her claim of physical abuse but referred the claim to local law enforcement to “determine whether further investigation is warranted.” The party’s investigator, attorney Susan Ellingstad, said a major obstacle to verifying the claim was the video of the assault that Monahan claimed to have had at one point.

“An allegation standing alone is not necessarily sufficient to conclude that conduct occurred, particularly where the accusing party declines to produce supporting evidence that she herself asserts exists,” she wrote in the report. “She has thus repeatedly placed the existence of the video front and center to her allegations, but then has refused to disclose it.”

Monahan said on Twitter that she would not release the video because “you are not entitled to my pain and trauma. You are not entitled to see me getting dragged, when my body is being exposed in more ways than one.”

She’s entitled to make that choice, but she also has to accept the consequences of that choice. Fairly or not, there will be people who will doubt the credibility of an accuser who claims to have video evidence of an assault but refuses to provide it.

ADDENDUM: Color me skeptical that all of these folks who claim “I know a liar when I see one” are as good at determining veracity as they think they are.

Law & the Courts

Jeff Flake Is a Sucker

(REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs)

I hope this is worth it to you, Senator Jeff Flake.

“Based on some of the reports we’ve seen this weekend, I’m very concerned about this because the White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“While the White House decides who to nominate, and then that person is submitted to a background check, I have never heard that the White House, either under this president or other presidents, is saying, ‘well, you can’t interview this person, you can’t look at this time period, you can only look at these people from one side of the street from when they were growing up,’” Klobuchar said.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether she thought the FBI investigation would be credible, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono said, “That’s going to be the big outstanding question.”

“I would think that Jeff Flake and the other senators who are going for this investigation will call for — there’s time, you know,” said Hirono, who is also a Judiciary Committee member. “The thing is that every Senate vote matters and there is . . . time to get to the bottom of it, even if it’s seven days.

“That’s bad enough,” Hirono continued. “But then to limit the FBI as to the scope and who they’re going to question, that, that really — I wanted to use the word farce — but that’s not the kind of investigation that all of us are expecting the FBI to conduct.”

Democrats don’t want an FBI investigation just into the accusations against Kavanaugh; they want an FBI investigation into whether others remember Kavanaugh drinking more during his college years than he described in the hearing:

As agents conducted their review, which involves interviewing four potential witnesses, a college professor in North Carolina became the latest in a series of former Yale classmates of Judge Kavanaugh’s to accuse him of giving untruthful testimony by minimizing his use of alcohol when he was a student.

The professor, Chad Ludington, said he frequently saw Judge Kavanaugh “staggering from alcohol consumption” during their student years. He said he planned to tell his story to the F.B.I. at its office in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday. A spokesman for the White House declined to comment on Mr. Ludington’s allegations.

Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman, writing in the New York Times op-ed page today:

Any good agent would follow up on [Kavanaugh’s] comment [about his yearbook] by asking the judge to identify the friends he discussed the yearbook with in the week before the hearing. That agent would then proceed to talk to each friend and probably other Georgetown Prep classmates who might shed light on the meaning of terms such as “devil’s triangle,” “boofing” and “100 kegs or bust.”

This is where we are: Democrats are insisting unless we can say precisely what the slang term “boofing” meant amongst teenagers in 1980s suburban Maryland, the investigation is not complete.

I suspect Flake thought he was doing the right thing by giving Kavanaugh a way to dispel the accusations against him, and also by taking away the biggest argument from the Democrats, that “we need an FBI investigation.” But he assumed what few other Republicans did: that these objections from Democrats were made in good faith.

Jeff Flake is a sucker. People acting in good faith don’t leak the name of a woman making sexual-assault accusations when she has asked to remain anonymous. People acting in good faith don’t withhold information about accusations as serious as this from their colleagues for two months. People acting in good faith don’t unveil the accusation after the confirmation hearings. People acting in good faith don’t tout the investigative abilities of the FBI for months and then turn around and express doubt that they’ll get the answers once they get that investigation.

A Democrat acting in good faith would say, “Whatever you think of the allegations by Ms. Ford and Ms. Ramirez, the allegations brought forth by Michael Avenatti’s client — claiming that at age 15, Brett Kavanaugh began organizing weekly gang-rape parties that involved dozens of assailants, victims, and witnesses, that involved acquiring and slipping young women Quaaludes, and continued a relentless gang-rape spree for three years, and not a single victim or witness ever went to police, a parent, a teacher or other responsible adult — are extremely implausible and represent a smear.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein has done the opposite, calling for the FBI to investigate those farfetched claims:

“Each of these stories are troubling on their own and each of these allegations should be investigated by the FBI. All three women have said they would like the FBI to investigate; please do so. All three have said they have other witnesses and evidence to corroborate their accounts.”

We will see what happens in a few days, when the FBI brings back its report.

There’s always the remote possibility that the FBI report comes back with some compelling new evidence of Kavanaugh breaking the law. But if it doesn’t, we already know what Democrats will say; most of us could guess it on Friday. The Democrats will always move the goalposts. They will always point to new vague allegations, new “troubling rumors,” more long-forgotten acquaintances who just happened to remember some stunning new scandalous behavior and who are just coming forward now. Apparently, none of these terrible acts by Kavanaugh were serious enough to report to authorities at the time, somehow all of them managed to escape the attention of the six FBI background investigations over the years, and none of them were worth bringing up when he was nominated to be a federal judge in 2006.

Flake gave Democrats the FBI investigation they demanded; in exchange, they will give him nothing but another week of implausible accusations of horrific crimes by Kavanaugh, and more accusations that he himself as a senator is insufficiently opposed to sexual assault.

Lest There Be Any Confusion . . .

At least one reader had an objection to a section of Friday’s Morning Jolt:

Ford described herself, quite compellingly, as being in a state of relief after getting out of the house, no doubt frightened and shaken and traumatized by what she had just experienced. While anything is possible, one would think that anyone who encountered her immediately after that event — such as someone who drove her home — would notice that something was terribly wrong.

Some interpreted that as a contention on my part that there’s a right and wrong way to respond to sexual assault — which I don’t think is a fair interpretation at all, particularly a sentence that begins “while anything is possible.” But lest there be any doubt, no, there is no right or wrong way to respond to a sexual assault. Perhaps what I wrote reflects the widespread desire to have faith in our own skills of observation — that if someone close to us had recently suffered a terrible, traumatic event, we would be able to tell. No doubt some assault victims try very hard to hide their experience from everyone.

Why Are Recent Events Difficult to Recall As Well?

Sexual-assault investigator Rachel Mitchell provided an analysis of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Among her observations and conclusions:

  • Ford said the alleged assault occurred in “the mid-1980s” in a July 6 text to the Washington Post; by September, she told the paper that it occurred in summer of 1982.
  • Ford refused to provide any notes from her therapist to the committee.
  • The notes of the therapist described in the Post article say that four boys were in the room when she was assaulted; Ford says the therapist made an error. In her letter to Feinstein, Ford said “me and four others” were at the party. Testifying before the committee, she said the party had herself, Leland Keyser, and four boys, but she can only remember three of their names.
  • In the statement to the polygrapher, Ford described P.J. Smith as a “bystander.” In her statement to the polygrapher, she did not list Leland Keyser. While testifying to the committee, she said P.J. Smith was not in the room and did not witness the attack, and that it was inaccurate to describe him as a bystander.
  • Perhaps most oddly, Ford said she could not recall if she showed the Washington Post reporter the full or partial set of therapy notes. Ford said she could not recall if she summarized the therapist’s notes for the reporter or whether she showed the notes to the reporter. These are events that occurred about three months ago, not years ago.
  • She claimed she reached out to the Post because she “did not know how” to contact her senator.
  • She could not remember the date of the polygraph or whether she was video or audio recorded.

ADDENDUM: One year ago tonight was the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The official conclusion of investigators is that they could not determine the motive of the shooter.

Politics & Policy

A Heart-Wrenching Accusation, Followed by an Adamant and Impassioned Denial

Christine Blasey Ford testifies about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (Gabriella Demczuk/Reuters)

Everybody’s going to have their own personal response to the testimony by Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. If you’re interested in the nomination fight, you owe it to yourself to watch her and his opening statements in their entirety.

After watching Ford’s testimony, it is not the least bit surprising that she passed a lie-detector test, despite whatever questions some may have about the test administered to her. I don’t think anyone watching could come away believing that this is all a cynical ruse on her part. She believes what she says, and she is utterly convinced that Kavanaugh was the young man who attacked her. We cannot travel back in time and see the time and place that Ford described — even if we had a time machine, we wouldn’t have a specific date and place to look — but short of that, she convinced almost everyone watching that something absolutely terrible happened to her in a house in suburban Maryland one night in the early 1980s, and that the perpetrator was never held responsible.

A few hours later, Brett Kavanaugh offered a tour de force. I suspect everyone who’s ever been falsely accused of anything will relate to his tone, which was angry, but not, as some axe-grinding reporters exaggerated, enraged or unhinged.

He laid out every piece of counter-evidence and laid out the glaring fact that all four witnesses named by Ford said they couldn’t recall any such event, including “her longtime friend, Ms. Keyser, [who] said under penalty of felony that she does not know me, and does not believe she ever saw me at a party, ever.”

He forcefully denied all of the allegations, and said:

The day after the allegation appeared, I told this committee that I wanted a hearing as soon as possible to clear my name. I demanded a hearing for the very next day. Unfortunately, it took the committee ten days to get to this hearing. In those ten long days, as was predictable, and as I predicted, my family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin asked Kavanaugh to urge the president to suspend his own nomination until the FBI investigates the accusations further. But in his opening statement, Kavanaugh had already addressed the question: He welcomes any investigation, but he’s not suspending or withdrawing.

The committee now has conducted a thorough investigation, and I’ve cooperated fully. I know that any kind of investigation — Senate, FBI, Montgomery County Police — whatever, will clear me. Listen to the people I know. Listen to the people who’ve known me my whole life. Listen to the people I’ve grown up with, and worked with, and played with, and coached with, and dated, and taught, and gone to games with, and had beers with. And listen to the witnesses who allegedly were at this event 36 years ago. Listen to Ms. Keyser.

Those are not the words of a man who is afraid others will uncover his long-forgotten crime.

Both Ford and Kavanaugh made emotionally powerful statements — a heart-wrenching accusation, followed by an emotional and adamant denial. This is why cops and prosecutors look for evidence separate from testimony — forensics, DNA, things that can’t be faked and that are not subject to the frailty of human memory. She says it happened; he says he was never there. Unfortunately for her, the witnesses she named aren’t supporting her account.

There are other small incongruities. Ford says she does not remember how she got home after the alleged attack, other than she did not drive home herself. She also testified:

MITCHELL: Would it be fair to say that somebody drove you somewhere, either to the party or home from the party?

FORD: Correct.


Has anyone come forward to say to you, “Hey, remember, I was the one that drove you home?”


Ford described herself, quite compellingly, as being in a state of relief after getting out of the house, no doubt frightened and shaken and traumatized by what she had just experienced. While anything is possible, one would think that anyone who encountered her immediately after that event — such as someone who drove her home — would notice that something was terribly wrong.

Secondly, on the calendar Kavanaugh submitted, the nickname “Squi” pops up 13 times, suggesting that this character and Kavanaugh were friends during that time. During yesterday’s testimony, Ford affirmed that the person nicknamed “Squi” was the Maryland man named by Ed Whelan as a potential doppelgänger for Kavanaugh.

Yesterday, Ford affirmed that she had a preexisting relationship with the man nicknamed “Squi.”

“He was somebody that, I will use the phrase ‘I went out with,’” Ford said, using air quotes. “I wouldn’t say ‘date.’ I would say ‘went out with’ for a few months. That was how we termed it at the time.”

According to her testimony, Ford had been going out with Squi for months before the alleged incident in the summer of 1982. This would mean that in her account, Kavanaugh and Judge didn’t merely attack a casual acquaintance (which is awful enough, and criminal); they attacked a girlfriend of one of their friends, inexplicably confident that she would never tell him or anyone else. In this account, Kavanaugh and Judge look less likedrunken teenagers who ignore consent to the point of criminality and more like absolute sociopaths.

The notion that Kavanaugh was secretly a high-school sociopath, so reckless and malevolent that he would attack his friend’s girlfriend, contradicts every other bit of information we have about him.

(For what it’s worth, Kavanaugh can be confirmed and the FBI could still investigate the allegations. If the FBI investigation found evidence of criminal acts, Kavanaugh could resign or be impeached.)

Kavanaugh spoke for many Republicans when he said the process had become “a national disgrace.” No doubt in the coming days, we’ll get some instant polls, but in addition to the general public, Kavanaugh’s statement and answers were aimed at a handful of wavering Republicans and a handful of nervous red-state Senate Democrats. I suspect he made it exceptionally difficult for them to vote against his confirmation in the near future.

The Vote

Last night, our old friend Elaina Plott reported:

A source close to Senator Manchin tells me now,“Short of claims that definitively prove Dr. Ford’s allegations or a realization that Kavanaugh will gut the healthcare law, Manchin will side with the overwhelming number of people in WV who want Kavanaugh confirmed.”

For what it is worth, it was separately reported that “Donnelly, Manchin, Murkowski and Collins are all expected to vote the same way, per senators and aides.”

If the vote indeed shakes out that way, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin will be able to point to a vote that absolutely outraged the grassroots of the national Democratic party, strengthening the argument that they don’t just follow the party line. Of course, some chunk of Indiana and West Virginia grassroots Democrats are likely to be livid with them, too.

Who Leaked Ford’s Accusation?

Neither Christine Blasey Ford nor Brett Kavanaugh had to go through this ordeal. The Senate Judiciary Committee has a way to handle confidential information and can hold private interviews and closed hearings. The letter containing the accusation could have been passed through appropriate channels, and Ford could have been invited to a closed hearing or chosen to simply submit written testimony. If Senator Dianne Feinstein had used those procedures, Ford’s name might well have never been released to the public, and she would never have been subjected to all of the horrific death threats and reporters showing up at her workplace.

Some Senate Republicans pointed this out yesterday, and Feinstein denied that she leaked the letter, and said she believed no one on her staff had either. (In other news, the man who was Dianne Feinstein’s driver for 20 years turned out to be a spy for the Chinese government.)

For what it’s worth:

The Intercept Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim tweeted Feinstein’s staff did not leak the letter to The Intercept. He followed up with a tweet saying “Nor did she or her staff leak the existence of the letter to The Intercept. After our story, she turned it over to the FBI, which placed it in his background file, which meant that it became widely available and soon after it was leaked to CNN.”

Assuming that Grim is telling the truth, there’s a person and group he didn’t deny leaked the letter and Ford’s identity.

The other member and office of Congress who heard from Ford: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and her staff.

This Guy Is Such a Richard

Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal, at yesterday’s hearing:

BLUMENTHAL: “As a federal judge, you’re aware of the jury instruction falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, are you not? You’re aware of that jury instruction.”


BLUMENTHAL: “You know what it means.”

KAVANAUGH: “You can translate it for me, Senator, you can do it better than I can.”

BLUMENTHAL: “False in one thing, false in everything, meaning in jury instructions, that we — some of us, as prosecutors, have heard many times, is told a jury that they can disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing. So, the core of why we’re here today really is credibility.

From the New York Times, May 17, 2010:

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

Blumenthal is exceptionally lucky that the voters of Connecticut do not operate under falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

ADDENDUM: I know we’re all supposed to hate Hillary Clinton with an undying passion forever, but I thought her cameo on the premiere of the reboot of Murphy Brown was pretty funny. Much funnier than, you know, the rest of the show, but credit where it’s due.

Law & the Courts

Nine Things to Know on Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Day

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

You knew the night before Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that a lot of partisans and reporters would unveil the news they had been holding onto all along. Last night was an avalanche. Grab a cup of coffee, because sorting through all of this might take a while.

One: Let’s start with the two men coming forward and separately claiming that they think they were the ones who encountered Ford at that party in 1982:

However, the unidentified men in question told the committee in separate interviews that they, not Kavanaugh, were the one who had the encounter with Ford in the summer of 1982 that is the basis of her claim, the committee wrote in a timeline of the investigation.

One of the men produced a detailed written statement about his recollection of the evening.

Ford will no doubt claim that she’s certain it was Kavanaugh. But she’ll be insisting that her memory — after consuming a beer in her teen years and after 36 years — is correct, when all four people she named at the party (Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, P.J. Smith, and Leland Keyser) have no memory of attending the party, and two other men have come forward and claimed that they’re the guys who had an encounter that matches her description. Either it’s a vast conspiracy to discredit her or she simply isn’t accurately remembering the man who allegedly attacked her.

Keep in mind, there is no statute of limitations for a charge of rape in Maryland.

Two: A Rhode Island man contacted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and claimed that his friend had been assaulted by Kavanaugh in 1985. Last night the man recanted and apologized: “Do [I think he meant “to”] everyone who is going crazy about what I had said I have recanted because I have made a mistake and apologize for such mistake.”

Three: Senator Kamala Harris wanted the FBI to investigate an anonymous accusation of rape. No date, no location, no name of the accuser.

Four: A separate anonymous allegation was sent to Senator Cory Gardner’s office:

 An anonymous woman wrote to Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) office on Sept. 22 alleging that the Supreme Court nominee shoved another woman “up against the wall very aggressively and sexually” in 1998 after leaving a bar where both had been drinking, the transcript states. Kavanaugh denied any involvement in the events alleged in that complaint, which was first reported by NBC. 

Becket Adams summarizes:

“An anonymous letter quoting anonymous sources regarding a supposed assault on an anonymous woman who wishes to remain anonymous. The author of the letter isn’t talking about herself. She’s not even talking about her supposed daughter. She’s speaking on behalf of her alleged daughter’s alleged friend who is the alleged victim of an event the accuser did not herself witness.”

Five: Ford’s lawyers released the polygraph that she took, and quite a few people were surprised that it consisted of only two questions. You’ll recall that because of their inadmissibility in court and the claims that practice and relaxation exercises can help you beat a lie-detector test, I don’t put a lot of stock into them either way.

But law professor Jonathan Turley finds this one particularly odd and unilluminating:

The passage of a polygraph by Christine Blasey Ford has been a key factor for many in believing her story — a fact cited by various members of Congress.  New details of the polygraph however have been released and some contradictions are being cited within Ford’s account. However, my main interest is the polygraph itself, which does not sound like any legitimate polygraph that I have encountered. I have handled a number of polygraph cases in my career and the description of these questions are nothing short of bizarre as a reliable test.

The examination was administered by former FBI agent Jeremiah Hanafin in a Hilton hotel in Maryland.  It appears that Hanafin worked off a handwritten statement that Ford signed.  That statement refers to “4 boys and a couple of girls” at the party.  That is different from her account to the Committee that the party consisted of “me and 4 others.”

… The most notable aspect of the story however is the only two “relevant” questions asked by Hanafin “Is any part of your statement false?” and “Did you make up any part of your statement?”

Those questions would be effectively useless in an actual case.  Good polygraphers ask specific, clear, insular questions.  They do not use overarching language.  He did not ask specific questions on whether she was assaulted by Kavanaugh — a rather curious omission.

It is not natural way to frame such an examination and the question is whether the examination was framed or limited by Ford’s counsel.  I have never met a polygrapher who would structure questions like these for use in a test.

If this is truly the content of the examination, I would view it as largely useless in an actual case.

Six: Separate from the “how many people were at the party?” discrepancy, there’s another contradiction in Ford’s story. From her account to the Washington Post:

When Donald Trump won his upset presidential victory in 2016, Christine Blasey Ford’s thoughts quickly turned to a name most Americans had never heard of but one that had unsettled her for years: Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh — a judge on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — was among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. When Trump nominated Neil M. Gorsuch, Ford was relieved but still uneasy.

But he wasn’t among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Scalia. Kavanaugh wasn’t on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees in 2016, and he was only added in November 2017.

Seven: The New York Times did a long profile of the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, without the cooperation of the subject and includes this interesting detail:

Some of her closest Yale friends said they lost touch with Ms. Ramirez in the last decade. That was in part because she became more politically liberal and conscious of her Latino roots and no longer felt as comfortable among her Yale cohort, several friends said she told them.

I’m reminded of Anna Eshoo’s claim that Ford “didn’t have a political bone in her body,” a statement that, from what we already know, is only true in the biological sense. Again, the partisan affiliation and ideological beliefs of the accusers does not make them any more or less credible, but dishonesty about those partisan affiliations and ideological beliefs does make them seem less credible.

Eight: Then there’s Michael Avenatti and the literally unbelievable claims of his client, Julie Swetnick.

As Jonah points out:

 At this stage I think it is a sure bet that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets have talked to, or tried to talk to, every single person of consequence in Brett Kavanaugh’s high-school and college life. And yet, until celebrity porn lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client went public with these charges, not a single news outlet had found — or at least reported — any hint that it was just about an open secret that Kavanaugh was part of a crowd where organized rape gangs acted with impunity.

If we must believe Ms. Swetnick, we must also believe that the best journalistic outlets in America completely missed this story. (We also must believe that the FBI as well as the Democratic party’s best opposition researchers missed it too.)

Last night brought a lot of new information about Avenatti’s client. None of these revelations are definitively proof that Swetnick is lying, but they create complications for her credibility.

Perhaps most seriously, an ex-boyfriend filed a restraining order against Swetnick:

“Right after I broke up with her, she was threatening my family, threatening my wife and threatening to do harm to my baby at that time,” Richard Vinneccy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO. “I know a lot about her. She’s not credible at all.”

Webtrends Corporation filed a defamation suit against her in 2000, but the case was dismissed without any court costs or attorney fees incurred to either party. She has two tax liens in recent years from the state of Maryland and the IRS for a combined total of more than $100,000, but they were eventually paid.

She filed a personal-injury negligence case against the D.C. Metro system in1994. The case was dismissed without prejudice three years later.

Nine: Avenatti says his client will not testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until an FBI investigation is complete. Meanwhile, she did an interview with Showtime.

ADDENDUM: It says something about our political environment that President Trump can give an 81-minute press conference and that’s not even the wildest news of the day.

Politics & Policy

Decision Time: Will Ford Testify Tomorrow?

A jogger runs past The U.S. Capitol Building at sunset (Zach Gibson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Public pledges and doubts about accusers testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday; a contradiction in one accuser’s account; and some questions about whether a Democratic politician’s divorce records should be unsealed, just because a Republican’s was ten years ago.

Place Your Bets on Who’s Willing to Testify Thursday

A lot of Republicans strongly suspect that neither Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez will ever testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For what it is worth, as of this writing, Ford is still scheduled to testify Thursday. This morning on NBC’s Today Show, Ramirez’s lawyer John Clune said “That’s a decision I’ll certainly let her make. I would be very concerned about doing that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she would agree to do that.”

Her lawyer also claimed that the committee hadn’t invited her, but that the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel described a series of emails that the committee’s majority staff asked her six times when she was available for an interview or to submit a statement. Strassel writes that during that exchange, Ramirez’s lawyer referred to The New Yorker article as “evidence.”

Yesterday afternoon, Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, characterized the exchange as a refusal to testify: “Our counsel repeatedly tried to reach him,” Kennedy said of Ramirez’s lawyer. “They finally did reach him, and he said we are not issuing a statement. He said if you want our statement, read the New Yorker.”

Many Kavanaugh defenders see a clear pattern here of accusers who are willing to make stunning and horrific allegations while talking to the media, but are strangely reticent about repeating the accusations while under oath and penalty of perjury. If this is how things shake out, the accusers are asking the country to make their decision about Kavanaugh — both his Supreme Court nomination and his entire reputation, based upon their claims, but unwilling to say so under oath. And, as Kavanaugh’s defenders keep pointing out, not a single named witness has corroborated Ford’s account, and according to the New York Times, Ramirez told some of her classmates in recent days that she could not remember if the man she described was Kavanaugh.

Republicans should not be quite so quick to conclude that there’s no chance that Ford testifies, and that there’s no danger to Brett Kavanaugh from her testimony. Yes, her social media and any other web presence has been scrubbed. Perhaps she won’t come across as truthful and credible. Then again, maybe she will. She and her lawyers no doubt understand that if she refuses to testify at the eleventh hour, many people, and certainly almost all Republicans, will conclude that the allegations are fabricated or wildly exaggerated. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin put it succinctly: “If she doesn’t testify, he gets confirmed.”

USA Today reports what initially appears to be a bombshell new development about Ford’s account . . .

In her declaration, Adela Gildo-Mazzon said Ford told her about the alleged assault during a June 2013 meal at a restaurant in Mountain View, California, and contacted Ford’s attorneys on Sept. 16 to tell them Ford had confided in her five years ago.

Except . . . that contradicts Ford’s account to the Washington Post.

“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”

These were the lengths that Ford, a professor and mother of two, once considered to avoid revisiting one of her most troubling memories — one she’d discussed only in therapy and with her husband.

So she remembers the events from the 1980s clearly and accurately, but forgot discussing the events with her friend at dinner five years ago?

Should Keith Ellison’s Divorce Records Be Unsealed?

We’ve relished pointing out how conditional that the slogan “believe all women” is for most partisans, particularly self-described feminist Democrats. “Believe all women when a Republican is accused” more accurately describes their worldview.

As noted earlier this week, Congressman Keith Ellison — the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and candidate for Minnesota attorney general — faces an allegation of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend. If you’re leaning towards believing the accuser, you focus upon the three friends she told about the abuse before coming forward publicly and the medical record showing that she told a doctor in 2017 that she had been in an abusive relationship with Ellison. You would also note that this isn’t the first woman to come forward alleging abuse.

If you’re leaning towards believing Ellison, you focus upon the accuser claiming she had a video of Ellison pulling her off of the bed, then saying she misplaced it when moving, and then saying she would not share the video even if she found it. (If you had video evidence of someone committing a crime against you, wouldn’t you be exceptionally careful to hold onto that? And if you’ve got open-and-shut, absolutely indisputable evidence that your allegation is true . . . why would you pledge to never release that evidence?)

There’s a small sign that the Minnesota media is getting more interested in the allegations against Ellison:

The Star Tribune has joined a legal effort to unseal the divorce records of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Ellison and his ex-wife, Kim Ellison, divorced in 2012. The related records have been sealed, so the public cannot access the information.

The Star Tribune’s motion to intervene and unseal the records follows a similar action by Alpha News, a right-leaning online news and opinion site.

… Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said Tuesday that the party’s investigation of the allegations against Ellison will be finished soon, then released to the public. An external investigator was hired to conduct the inquiry.

The Star Tribune argued that, given the public interest around that situation and Kim Ellison’s public support of her ex-husband, the divorce records are a matter of concern to voters. Divorce records are typically public, but judges will often agree to seal them if both parties to the case agree and no one else objects.

The Ellison campaign released a statement from Kim Ellison on behalf of both her and Keith Ellison. “Our divorce simply isn’t the public’s business, and therefore, when we separated, we jointly asked the court to seal the file. Now, one month before a closely contested election for Minnesota Attorney General, a conservative group wants to probe our divorce file in search of something to use against Keith in this race. I am disappointed that the Star Tribune would choose to file this motion.”

Kim Ellison said her ex-husband “never abused me in any way before, during, or after our marriage.” She said release of the file would exploit their privacy and the privacy of their children.

This is “the Jack Ryan maneuver.” For those who have forgotten, let me take you back to 2008 . . .

Republican Jack Ryan seemed to be out of central casting — handsome, independently wealthy, sharing the name of a Tom Clancy hero.

But once again, the [Chicago] Tribune and a local television station launched a crusade to unseal the candidate’s divorce records. Ryan, his ex-wife (actress Jeri Ryan, best known for playing a cybernetic bombshell on Star Trek: Voyager), and his supporters argued that his nine-year-old son ought to be spared the messy details of his contentious divorce. A California judge ordered the records unsealed, and the entire political world heard accusations that the candidate urged his unwilling wife to have public sex in clubs in New York and Paris. Ryan denied the allegations, but no candidacy could survive a revelation like that.

Months later, Ryan would note that no media organization ever sued to open John Kerry’s sealed divorce records, and that the Tribune seemed to be highly selective in its application of its self-described “matter of principle.”

(In light of the Stormy Daniels story, it’s hard to believe what an innocent and naïve country we were just a decade ago.)

At this moment, a lot of Republicans are probably cheering. Turnabout is fair play. But let’s say the unsealed divorce records show something embarrassing but not criminal for Ellison, and his political career is derailed from this. Each party’s lost one rising star because of unsealing divorce records.

What do we want the standard to be for unsealing divorce records of political candidates of either party in the future? Divorces are often messy and ugly, with bitter accusations and counter-accusations. Legal proceedings of the split rarely showcase people at their best and usually at their worst. Do we want to effectively rule out anyone who’s been through a messy divorce from public office?

Because if that’s really what Republicans believe, we wouldn’t have the president we currently do — nor would New York City have ever had Rudy Giuliani. We understandably recoil from married politicians who cheat on their spouses. Do we really want to enact a political price upon any elected official or candidate who had a marriage fail?

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Rush Limbaugh for his kind words about yesterday’s Jolt. As I elaborated yesterday, in today’s micro-aggression-conscious, the-personal-is-political, woke, hyper-polarized environment, no issue is too small to be inflated into a clash between identity groups, and there’s nothing more personal than one’s identity. Every disagreement becomes personal and every dispute becomes enraged.

Of course, you can’t function as a society or a country once enough people become obsessed with the idea that anyone who disagrees with them is a malevolent personal threat to them.

Law & the Courts

Another Day, Another Unidentified Source

Demonstrators protest against Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C, September 24, 2018 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Jane Mayer contradicts her own reporting; the Washington Post calls Texas Democratic messiah/Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke a liar; why we should be wary when people start shifting the debate from specific allegations to nebulous discussions of culture; and Ted Cruz gets attacked in public.

We’re Now In the ‘No One Remembering Means Everyone Secretly Remembers’ Stage

Jane Mayer insisted last night that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “the talk” of campus at Yale University.

From her own article, co-written with Ronan Farrow:

The New Yorker has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party. The magazine contacted several dozen classmates of Ramirez and Kavanaugh regarding the incident. Many did not respond to interview requests; others declined to comment, or said they did not attend or remember the party.

In the article, Mayer and Farrow cite one unidentified source as claiming he heard about the alleged incident at the party at the time.

From the New York Times, yesterday:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

That’s not “the talk of the campus.” That’s the opposite of “the talk of the campus.” But Mayer will most likely go unchallenged on her claim that one unidentified source claiming he heard about it at the time means that the allegation was widely known.

The Democrats’ Golden Boy Lies About His DUI

In Friday night’s Texas Senate debate, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke claimed that he never tried to leave the scene of a serious accident that he caused after driving while intoxicated.

No fewer than twelve major publications, including quite a few not-so-political ones — Spin!  Town & Country! — wrote glowing profiles of O’Rourke in the past year. Most of those profiles echoed the Democratic line that O’Rourke is Lone Star Jesus. (GQ wrote two!) I doubt many of those publications will get around to mentioning this assessment by the Washington Post:

O’Rourke’s assertion that he did not try to leave the scene of the accident, however, is disputed by the police records. So that’s worthy of a fact check.

The accident had been observed by a witness. He told Carrera that O’Rourke, driving a Volvo, had passed him a high rate of speed through a 75 mph zone and then lost control and “struck a truck traveling the same direction.” O’Rourke’s car then crossed the large grassy center median and came to a stop…

“The defendant/driver then attempted to leave the scene,” Carrera reported. “The reporter then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and try to get the defendant to stop.”

Similar information appears in another document, the incident and crime report: “The driver attempted to leave the accident but was stopped by the reporter.”

The Post notes that the police report describes the then 26-years-old O’Rourke as extremely drunk —  Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.136 and 0.134, and described as having difficulty standing up — and doubts he could remember the event and its aftermath more accurately than the reports written by sober police officers and witnesses at the scene. The Post’s Fact-Checker gives him Four Pinocchios.

Texas Monthly  wrote an 8,500-word profile of O’Rourke and spent one half of one sentence on it.

When the Debate Shifts from Specific Individuals to ‘Culture’ . . .

In an argument about a highly charged topic such as the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, be wary whenever someone tries to shift the discussion away from the specific allegations and known facts and over toward the broader and discarnate issues of culture.

It’s entirely probable that someone at a Maryland suburban prep school did something terrible in the early 1980s. Or it’s entirely probable that someone at Yale University or Yale Law School did something creepy at a party with heavy drinking during that time period. But the probability or evidence of those types of actions doesn’t tell us whether Kavanaugh did something like that. Muggings occur in New York City, but that doesn’t tell us whether any particular person in the city mugged someone.

Nonetheless, we’re probably going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about an allegedly toxic culture in the places Kavanaugh spent his younger years — even, strange as it may seem, at Yale Law School.

In a courtyard just off the main hallway, students have hung signs criticizing the law school’s institutional culture, as rumors swirl about how much a deputy law school dean knew about allegations of sexual harassment against appellate court judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned last year after multiple allegations by former female staffers and clerks and for whom Kavanaugh clerked in the early 1990s. “Sex Sells @ YLS,” one sign reads. “Is there nothing more important to YLS than its proximity to power and prestige?” another asks.

I don’t know who put up that sign, but I’d love to ask . . . isn’t the proximity to power and prestige a big reason why you applied, and why people want to go to the Ivy League schools? What, you think everybody wants to attend because of the winter weather in New Haven or Cambridge?

Before we scoff at the image of Yale Law School being a hotbed of bacchanalian excess and venal corruption, keep in mind. . . Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton went there.

The term “ruling class” gets thrown around wildly and usually stupidly, but if there is a ruling class in this country, it consists largely of Yale Law School alumni: Sonia Sotomayor, Jerry Brown, David Boies, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons, Robert Reich, FBI director Christopher Wray, Gary Hart, Joe Lieberman . . .

You know who else went to Yale Law School? A huge chunk of the conservative legal establishment: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, John Bolton, John Yoo, Michael Mukasey . . .

The Atlantic article linked above quotes a student who asks, “Where does [the allegations against Kavanaugh] fit into the larger story of the law school?”

If, in an effort to get Kavanaugh, the left wants to retroactively declare that Yale University and its law school are and always were some sort of teeming cesspool of abuse and exploitation and elitist unaccountability . . . go ahead, fellas. Of course, a declaration like that spurs some questions about what the likes of Booker and Blumenthal saw and did when they were there. If this “institutional culture” of harassment and protecting the powerful was so deeply ingrained and so pervasive in the school for so long, how could those men somehow emerge with clear consciences? How could they themselves remain silent about it for so long?

There are a lot of Yale Law School graduates in the highest ranks of the progressive legal world — no doubt all of them should face the same suspicions. Were they complicit in continuing or even promoting and strengthening an exploitational culture?

If the aftermath of this whole angry mess is that Yale Law School has a permanent cloud over it, and everyone who went there is regarded with newfound suspicion . . . which side of the political divide do you think is going to pay the higher price?

When you try to indict a man by indicting the culture around him, you end up indicting a lot of other people in the process. If Yale graduates feel like their school and formative years are being rewritten and smeared, they probably ought to speak up about it now.

ADDENDA: Two observations on the group that harassed Senator Ted Cruz and his wife at an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., last night.

Shortly before 1 a.m., the group posted on Twitter, “This is a message to Ted Cruz, Bret Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and the rest of the racist, sexist, transphobic, and homophobic right-wing scum: You are not safe. We will find you.” That’s a straight-up threat, and a job for U.S. Capitol Police and any other police authorities that handle security for lawmakers. Congressional leadership gets around-the-clock protection, but security for other members of Congress is handled on a case-by-case basis.

One of the protesters harassing Cruz and his wife said to the senator, “Beto is way hotter than you.”

Texans are choosing a senator, not a boyfriend. But the comment says a great deal about the mindset of that protester, and perhaps all of his compatriots.

The more time I spend covering politics, the more I’m convinced that a significant chunk of grassroots political activists aren’t really arguing about politics at all. These folks are actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics. Every problem they had with a parent is projected onto authority figures. Every religious person who ever scolded them or made them feel guilty becomes the embodiment of organized religion and demonstrates its menace. Because they’ve had a bad experience with a member of a minority group, that experience reveals something sinister about every member of that minority group. The cop who wrote them a ticket instead of giving them a warning demonstrates the danger and corruption of law enforcement, the boss who fired them for shoddy work exemplifies the inherent cruelty of the capitalist system, and every frustrating experience they had with an ex-girlfriend demonstrates some defect in all women.

This is why things get so personal with them so quickly. They cannot distinguish their worldview from themselves, and so if you contradict that worldview, they believe that you have attacked them personally. In their minds, expressing doubt about an accusation of sexual assault means you support rape; scoffing at the need for higher taxes means you’re greedy and want them to endure more financial difficulties; and as a Yale freshman puts it in The Atlantic article linked above, “You can’t devalue a woman’s right to choose and respect women.” Only 31 percent of women believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances — meaning, in the mindset of the student, 69 percent of women do not respect women.


‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Apply to Conservatives

Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), September 20, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Judge Brett Kavanaugh now faces two accusers with no witnesses, a showcase of how journalism standards have changed in just 15 years, Senator Hirono’s conditional belief in the rights of the accused and the allegations against Representative Keith Ellison, and tales from the third-grade soccer field.

Two Accusers, No Witnesses

We now have two named women accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of acts that are, if not crimes and are beyond any criminal statute of limitations, repugnant and reflecting a poor character. If either accusation was definitively proven, it would be difficult to picture Judge Kavanaugh serving on the Supreme Court. There are plenty of fine judges and legal minds who haven’t committed acts like this.

But we’re still a long, long way from proving either accusation. Both allegations stem from the accuser’s memory of events of 35 or 36 years ago. In both cases, the accusers say they had been drinking alcohol before the actions; in both cases, the accusers admit they cannot recall key details.

The second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, offered her description of events in The New Yorker in an article published last night. The article includes an explanation of a changing account:

“She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty.”

The magazine says she named Kavanaugh “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”

Last night’s report included the stunning line that the magazine has “not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” That’s a pivotal point to nail down, and the magazine actually did the opposite. All of the witnesses listed by the accuser are denying that the event occurred:

In a statement, two of those male classmates who Ramirez alleged were involved in the incident, the wife of a third male student she said was involved, and three other classmates, Dino Ewing, Louisa Garry, and Dan Murphy, disputed Ramirez’s account of events: “We were the people closest to Brett Kavanaugh during his first year at Yale. He was a roommate to some of us, and we spent a great deal of time with him, including in the dorm where this incident allegedly took place. Some of us were also friends with Debbie Ramirez during and after her time at Yale. We can say with confidence that if the incident Debbie alleges ever occurred, we would have seen or heard about it—and we did not. The behavior she describes would be completely out of character for Brett. In addition, some of us knew Debbie long after Yale, and she never described this incident until Brett’s Supreme Court nomination was pending. Editors from the New Yorker contacted some of us because we are the people who would know the truth, and we told them that we never saw or heard about this.”

Today’s New York Times helps illustrate how much The New Yorker has gone out on a limb:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

In both cases, the accusers are calling upon the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate their claims, despite no claim of a federal crime, nor supporting evidence or witnesses with similar accounts to theirs.

Also since Friday, we’ve learned that everyone that Christine Blasey Ford listed as being at the undated party somewhere in suburban Maryland has denied witnessing or hearing anything to support her account: Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth, and Leland Keyser. Of course, Kavanaugh denies not only committing the act but ever attending a party like the one she described. And all of them have said so in communications to the Senate Judiciary Committee under penalty of perjury. Ford is, as of this writing, scheduled to testify Thursday.

It is easy to forget that Kavanaugh worked in prominent legal positions on Ken Starr’s team investigating Bill Clinton, the 2000 recount, was staff secretary in George W. Bush’s White House, and was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2003. He was confirmed in 2006 after a lengthy and fairly contentious confirmation hearing. Neither accuser chose to come forward at that point.

All federal judges serve until they choose to retire, die, or are removed from office.

Why News Consumers Hate Anonymous Sources

One unnamed source told The New Yorker “another student told him about the incident either on the night of the party or in the next day or two,” and the unnamed source calls Kavanaugh “aggressive and even belligerent” when drunk.

Let me take you back to 2003, when I was working for a small wire service that occasionally did work for the Boston Globe, covering the small, region-focused stories that the Globe’s Washington Bureau didn’t have the time or manpower to do themselves — fishery regulations, announcements of EPA cleanup sites, stuff like that. I developed a source close to then-senator John Kerry, and the Massachusetts senator was starting to warm up his 2004 presidential bid. For one story, both Kerry and then-senator John Edwards — also warming up a presidential bid — were mentioned, and my Kerry source had strong opinions on Edwards. I don’t remember the exact criticism, but picture it as something along the lines of, “Senator Edwards is a doody-head who talks a lot, but he’s done nothing useful on this issue.” My article included the line with something like, “Not all Democrats see Edwards as leading the way on this issue; one aide to another senator says he’s a ‘doody-head who talks a lot, but he’s done nothing useful on this issue.’”

I sent along my article about the senators to the Globe, and the Washington Bureau chief sent back an edited version with the quote taken out, and the note that the paper would not let an anonymous source trash someone like that in print. (For the record, I have no reason to think this editor was a fan of Edwards. He, and the leadership of the paper at the time, simply believed that if a source wanted to slam somebody, that source had to put his name next to it, barring some really good reason.)

Times have changed, huh? Now you can anonymously call Kavanaugh an “aggressive, belligerent drunk” and The New Yorker is fine with that.

Hirono and the Keith Ellison Allegations

Senator Mazie Hirono’s full answer when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Doesn’t Kavanaugh have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else in America?”

HIRONO:  I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases. As I said, his credibility is already very questionable in my mind and in the minds of a lot of my fellow Judiciary Committee members, the Democrats.   So he comes, and — when I say that he’s very outcome-driven, he has an ideological agenda, is very outcome-driven.  And I can sit here and talk to you about some of the cases that exemplifies his, in my view, inability to be fair in the cases that come before him. This is a person that is going to be sitting on our Supreme Court, making decisions that will impact women’s reproductive choice.  He has a — he very much is against women’s reproductive choice. And I can tell you two very important cases in which he applied the same standard, but came to totally different results to make it much harder for women to get this kind of coverage. So there’s — there are so many indications of his own lack of credibility.  And I put that in a context.

TAPPER:  It sounds to me like you’re saying, because you don’t trust him on policy and because you don’t believe him when he says, for instance, that he does not have an opinion on Roe v. Wade, you don’t believe him about this allegation about what happened at this party in 1982?  Is that fair?

HIRONO:  Well, without — this is why it is so important that there be at least an investigation, so that there’s some effort at collaboration.

Many conservatives spent Sunday decrying Hirono for effectively admitting that she believes Kavanaugh doesn’t have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else because of his ideology. She’s concluded that he’s more likely to be guilty because he’s a conservative. As Josiah Neeley put it, “They don’t oppose him because they find the accusation credible. They find it credible because they oppose him.”

Many conservatives have pointed out the wild disparity in coverage between the allegations against Kavanaugh and the allegations of abuse by Democratic congressman, DNC vice chair, and aspiring Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison.

Karen Monahan, an organizer with the environmental group the Sierra Club, told CNN in August that Ellison was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive near the end of their relationship in late 2016. Three friends of Monahan “told CNN she had confided in them about the bed incident in the months after she had moved out of Ellison’s apartment.” And Monahan showed CNN a text message to Ellison saying, “We never discussed — the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed, yelling get the f*** out now, calling me a bitch and saying I hate you bitch.” She also gave an on-camera account to CBS News. She has posted a medical document.

This is not the first allegation of abuse against Ellison.

In 2005, Ellison sought a restraining order against Amy Alexander, saying she was making harassing phone calls and threatening to “destroy” him. The following year, Alexander petitioned the court for a restraining order against Ellison, writing in an affidavit that they had been in a romantic relationship and that he pushed, shoved and verbally abused her, and had a lawyer intimidate and threaten her.

District Judge Robert H. Lynn dismissed the request by Alexander, then a St. Louis Park resident.

Asked if he was confident that no one else would come forward with more allegations, Ellison said, “in this political environment, I don’t know what somebody might cook up.”

But it’s not quite an open-and-shut case. Monahan claimed she had a video of Ellison pulling her off of the bed, but then said she misplaced it when moving, and then said she would not share the video even if she found it.

For what it’s worth, a poll of Minnesota likely voters conducted last week found that 21 percent believed the allegations of abuse, 22 percent did not believe the allegations of abuse, and 57 percent weren’t sure. Only 18 percent of women believed the allegations, while 25 percent of men did; 42 percent of Republicans believed the allegations, while just 5 percent of Democrats believed them.

Do Republicans find the allegations against Ellison more credible because they oppose him politically?

ADDENDUM: Those who have followed me on Twitter for a while may recall my autumn offerings of “#soccerdadlife,” the occasional moments of hilarity that occur when you’re trying to get a bunch of grade schoolers to learn “the beautiful game,” and/or stop chasing butterflies or lying down and look at clouds while they’re playing the game. You would be amazed how many great plays get disrupted by untied shoelaces, knowing which direction is right and which one is left, or who’s ended up playing goalie because the zipper on his windbreaker is stuck and he can’t get it off.

I haven’t tweeted about soccer this fall because I’ve been promoted to assistant coach. The league announced they needed coaches, then a few days later reiterated that they really needed them. Then a few days after that they announced that if they couldn’t find volunteers, they would have to disband some teams, cancel some games, and pay refunds. At that point, I volunteered, cautioning them that I last played soccer when Reagan was president, (okay, maybe George H. W. Bush) and my expertise consists of mocking the flopping during the World Cup, but that I can set up cones with the best of them. Thankfully, they found another dad with experience coaching in another kids’ league and now I’m the assistant coach of the Thunder, or Fairfax United, or the Fightin’ Yellow Clump, or whatever our team will be called once we all agree on a name.

Now this year I’m one of the coaches who has to differentiate between Aidan, Jayden, Brayden, Kaiden, Hayden, Peyton, and — oh my God, my wife and I were so convinced we were being original when we named our sons. I think the opposing coach last week had a team of boys entirely named after cities in Texas. “Austin! Dallas! Irving! Move up, you’re strikers! Tyler! Allen! Move back, you’re midfielders! Avery, Bryan, you’re on defense! Bryson, you’re in goal!” Just wait until next year, when their younger brothers San Antonio and Waco are old enough to join the team.

So far in this young season, it’s been about 90 percent delightful and 10 percent maddening as the kids keep finding new ways to surprise me. The kid who initially seemed like a ball hog suddenly remembers to pass to his teammates. The kid who never seemed to listen suddenly wakes up and demonstrates hustle. We’ve made amazing strides in every area of the game, from passing to throw-ins to corner kicks to remembering which goal we’re supposed to aim for when we get the ball. In any given moment, easily more than half of our players know what position they’re playing and many of them have at least a vague sense of where they should be on the field.

We won this weekend, which put a big smile on my face, even though we’re trying to teach the boys that it’s not about merely whether you win or lose but about how you play the game. Seriously, the kids really did seem to remember what we practiced, and I felt ready to burst. It more likely reflects the influence of our head coach, who actually knows what he’s doing. My wife gently reminded me that the terminology I use in my coaching advice from the sideline — “spread out, you’re playing soccer, not holding a staff meeting!” — may not match the frame of reference of third-graders.

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