Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Was a Warning
Do you remember the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault?
No, no you don’t, since Dr. Blasey didn’t write her allegation in the fall of 2018, when Kavanaugh was on the cusp of confirmation. That was when we found out about it. She didn’t issue the accusation during the hearings themselves, either, or when then-President Donald Trump announced then-Judge Kavanaugh as the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. She didn’t even come forward when news broke that Trump was choosing between Kavanaugh and Judge Amy Coney Barrett, or when conservative talk radio tried to push Trump towards Barrett amid claims that Kavanaugh had helped preserved Obamacare in the courts.
No. No, no, no, no, no. No no. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, then and now a psych professor at Palo Alto, first contacted the press and her local politicians to accuse Justice Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in July of 2018, when Kavanaugh’s name popped up in the papers as one of many Trump was weighing for the high court. (Before that, Dr. Blasey had only spoken about the attack in therapy, and in private conversations with her husband.) Her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, didn’t meet with her until Kavanaugh was announced, and together they sent a letter to the senior senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, and dated it July 30, 2018.
Feinstein reported the allegation to the rest of the Senate on September 13, the day after Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept blog pointed out that she’d been sitting on Dr. Blasey’s letter for nearly a month and a half. Dr. Blasey, among other things, was terrified that her identity would become public if the allegation was issued to late. In other news, her identity as Kavanaugh’s accuser is about as public as identities come, in part because both Eshoo and Feinstein waited to hockey-assist the accusation to their colleagues until Kavanaugh’s confirmation looked like a coronation. (I know, I know — I’ve written the doctor’s name, her employer, and her profession multiple times since this article began. Just wait until you see the TIME profile.)
A handful of Democrats stuck up for Feinstein, saying that she delayed issuing the allegations until they were certain to explode because she was trying to protect Dr. Blasey’s privacy, but everyone from Mitch McConnell (who needs no introduction) to Democratic senator Jon Tester found themselves working the reverse: Why on earth did Feinstein obtain an allegation like this, and then refuse to tell anyone about it until the very last minute imaginable? (And why, oh why, did she move to delay Dr. Blasey’s testimony for another week, pending an FBI investigation, when the FBI had already checked up on Kavanaugh’s past and found nothing of note — despite the river of assault accusations lined up behind Dr. Blasey’s?)
You, my friend, are probably wondering something else: Why am I talking about four-year-old political news from the other side of the Potomac when the most salient stories in politics are happening right here, right now, in Pennsylvania — heck, in Philadelphia — on Labor Day weekend?
Well, for one thing, I don’t have a backyard. I have a little key card on a lanyard that takes me various places in the Delaware Valley for a not-infinitesimal monthly fee.
Second, speaking of Philadelphia, President Biden was here last Thursday to speechify over the threat that Donald Trump poses to a free America. In that speech, Biden verbally peeled off “MAGA Republicans” — those who back up Trump’s claim that he actually won the 2020 election, and continue to defend the rioters from January 6 — from the rest of polity, warning that they and the candidates they’ve nominated in Arizona and Pennsylvania are, as Jennifer Senior said of Steve Bannon in June, “a lit bomb in the mouth of democracy.”
Before I go much further, I need to issue a couple of disclaimers: I have written entire pieces arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was foolhardy at best. I have howled, at length, about bigotry against Black people, Asians, and Jews, occasionally in the very same article. And I once broached the idea of erecting a television tower in Georgia for the exclusive purpose of beaming Voice of America-style propaganda broadcasts, featuring Lia Thomas and a handful of Muppets, into the state of Florida ahead of that state’s general election.
Does any of that make me a liberal, or a progressive? I have no idea. (It certainly doesn’t make me a Democrat.) What I hope it does is insulate me from the sideways glances that the rest of this piece will invite.
Those of us who spill breath and ink baying about Trump’s menace to democracy can’t derive our legitimacy from the likes of President Biden; instead, our warnings are credible because Republicans are sounding the alarm, too. Liz Cheney? Mitt Romney? Bill Cassidy? Larry Hogan? Without them, and conservatives like them, democracy is just another partisan plank — and that makes the voices of Republican backbenchers way more important than any Democrat in the country. For all our sakes, the Never Trump movement has to stay in the fold. Otherwise, the Jenga stack of representative government comes crashing down.
No matter how obvious this might sound on the page, I’m not sure any of it crossed the desks at the White House before the president’s speech last Thursday night. Yes, he gave lip service to the “rational Republicans” — the adults in the room, Biden insisted, who didn’t support Donald Trump or the authoritarians he has in tow. But 46 didn’t stop with the pointed pokes at his predecessor that no incumbent should have to make but this one did. He conflated, by accident or oversight, the policies of Democrats in bog-standard times with the lines that separate free countries from Fallujah.
“MAGA Republicans,” Biden charged, “want to take this country backwards — back to an America where is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.” If he’s talking about the GOP’s views on abortion, gay marriage, and birth control, then the president isn’t too far off base. But the Republican Party has opposed abortion since the summer of 1976, and their 2004 platform called for the Constitution to be amended in order to ban gay marriage. Neither position is new in the Trump era, and neither position is particularly rare among the conservatives who deplore MAGA in all its forms.
Not only does Republican social policy predate Trump by decades, but Trump himself has routinely declared war on party members more conservative than he is — namely Mitt Romney, who’s moved right on abortion in the Trump era, and Liz Cheney, who famously passed on her sister’s wedding because her sister wasn’t marrying a mister. (Cheney, coincidentally, embraced gay marriage in 2021, after her beef with Trump cost her a leadership position in the House of Representatives. I should probably write this as a footnote in every article I write that mentions Liz Cheney.)
Donald Trump, and the movement he owns and operates, is a cult of personality, not of policy. If Democrats aren’t more careful in conflating the two, the system that serves as their namesake is already screwed.
Last month, as Trump conjured the ghost of sectarian violence in response to the FBI’s raid of Mar-A-Lago, Louisiana’s most recent Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, decided to set the record straight on the people who would replace him in the GOP. “Any Republican nominee,” Jindal warned, “is going to share most of Trump’s core policy positions, as these positions are popular with Republican voters.” The person who casts Trump out, Jindal listed, is going to be a border hawk and a pro-lifer. They’re probably going to complain if they see education as too racially progressive; carve out religious exemptions to LGBT rights legislation; and look to fossil fuels as a primary source of energy. Perhaps most importantly, Jindal pointed out that whichever Republican provides the oil that breaks Trump’s death grip on the party is going to care about “election integrity” — a lot. Even when Trump’s challengers diverge from the headman, it might be because they’re pivoting to his right, on an issue like Social Security or gun control.
There will be two major candidates on the November ballot in 2024. One of them, by all indications, will be Joe Biden. The other candidate is almost certainly going to be a not-at-all-liberal Republican, whose past and politics will probably remind some of us of why we aren’t Republicans. But the real test of Democrats’ commitment to democracy isn’t going to be whether they like that candidate; it’s going to be whether they treat that candidate as anything less than the devil incarnate — even though old habits can be tough to break.
Sure, the Democrats might live up to their name and accept such a candidate as their great and worthy opponent. But this is the same party that spent good money to boost Kari Lake, Blake Masters, and Doug Mastriano in the Arizona and Pennsylvania primaries — and no Republicans are more MAGA than they, except (maybe) Former President Trump himself, under the theory that extremists are easy outs in general elections. The members of the Left say they care about democracy, and yet they opened their checkbooks to nudge voters in the other direction when they thought it might win them a seat or two.
Which brings us back to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and her bizarre relationship to California’s congressional delegation.
It wasn’t Sen. Feinstein’s idea to rape Dr. Blasey at a party in suburban D.C., and it’s not Anna Eshoo’s fault that Trump plucked her alleged attacker from a haybale of SCOTUS-caliber judges and jurists. (Including but not limited to: Amy Coney Barrett, the Kevin Durant to the Cavs of abortion rights, tribal rights, and probably some amount of LGBTQ rights. Sorry, Kevin.) But, as David Brooks once said in a truly terrifying triple-negative, “Just because it’s not your fault, doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.” Both California pols arguably had a shot to nip Kavanaugh’s nomination in the bud before it could have turned Dr. Blasey’s life into a living hell. They didn’t; her name returns 457,000 Google hits in less time than it takes for “Jesus Christ” to turn up 391 million; and a video of then-President Trump — of all people — mocking Dr. Blasey as an idiot and an alcoholic is plastered, forever, on every self-respecting news site in the land… and the Daily Beast.
Of course, if the GOP had rejected Kavanaugh, had Trump withdrawn his name, it would have been dang near impossible to confirm a backup before the 2018 midterms. Dianne Feinstein knew that, and Anna Eshoo knew that. But the GOP and its voters also knew that — which is why Judge Kavanaugh got to scream about beer on national TV as if the Judiciary Committee were a Super Bowl ad, spar with Amy Klobuchar, whose father battled alcoholism, over the mind-altering effects of strong drink, and nevertheless take a seat on the bench like Patrick Mahomes on a scoring binge less than two weeks later. Given a chance to demonstrate that they cared about people more than politics, Feinstein and Eshoo dropped the ball, and America noticed. Republicans picked up Senate seats in the 2018 midterms, and their next confirmation was a little easier as a result.
Joe Biden, coincidentally, has a similar shot here: He can grease the tracks for his legislative agenda by conflating it with democracy itself, throwing one of our government’s pillars on the Democratic side of the ballot and validating those who blasted him as a liar after Thursday night. Or, he can be the unifying force we were sold two years ago, rallying Americans of all political stripes against the man — and the movement — who would erase their voices from the halls of power.
The laws of politics might tempt him to take the first path, but the people will notice if he does — and who’s to say we won’t look elsewhere to find the voice of democracy?