We Can Believe Ford and Confirm Kavanaugh
Though we are waiting for the results of the extended FBI investigation into claims that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted women as a teenager and college student, I’m still stuck on last Thursday’s hearing.
I worked with Brett in the White House and believe him when he says he did not attack Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or anyone else. The man I knew would not do that. I’m also a feminist and believe Dr. Ford when she says she was attacked. She has no reason to lie.
If this sounds like cognitive dissonance, you’re getting a small taste of what it is like to be a woman in America. We constantly navigate being told, mostly by men, what to believe on topics from our abilities and work history to our appearance and personal experiences. Our very identities can be casually litigated as a matter of conversation. To object to this reality runs the risk of being labeled “difficult,” especially in conservative circles.
But we don’t want to treat someone, like Brett Kavanaugh, badly because he is a powerful man, or destroy his life to prove we support women. To hold a man to a different standard of truth is to delegitimize our own struggle for equal treatment. Feminism is about knowing women are as credible and capable as men and working to create a society that reflects that value. It does not mean always taking the side of a woman over a man regardless of the evidence.
I believe Dr. Ford believes she is telling the truth. She passed a polygraph test, which doesn’t convict Kavanaugh so much as it establishes that Ford is convinced in her account. I understand as a woman how hard it is to share a story that you know other people—especially powerful men—don’t want to hear. I’ve been there and have the non-disclosure agreement to prove it. It makes sense to me that she would ask for her account to be kept confidential. I’m also not surprised that request was betrayed by people she thought she could trust.
Yet after Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the fact remains that there is no way to either prove or disprove her story. That’s the conclusion sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell reached when she wrote that Dr. Ford’s account was “even weaker” than a “he said, she said” and that the evidence would be insufficient to bring a case in court. But that doesn’t mean Ford is a liar or has a vendetta against Kavanaugh.
“Jackie,” the self-professed victim at the center of the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” stood by her story, under oath, even after it had been definitively disproven. “I believed it to be true at the time,” she said.
Like “Jackie,” Dr. Ford said that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. As Dr. Nathan Lents and Deryn Strange wrote in Psychology Today, experiences of trauma like a sexual assault are vulnerable to memory distortion. “In fact,” they said, “traumatic memory distortion appears to follow a particular pattern: people tend to remember experiencing even more trauma than they actually did. This usually translates into greater severity of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms over time, as the remembered trauma ‘grows.’”
It’s not for me to say if Dr. Ford’s memory is distorted, but it’s certainly one explanation for how two people could tell different stories and neither of them be lying.
While I don’t know Dr. Ford, I did work closely with Brett Kavanaugh in the White House his last year there, from the spring of 2005 until he left the staff secretary job in May 2006. The Office of Speechwriting works hand in glove with the Staff Secretary’s office. We wrote the speeches and Brett took them to the president. For minor speeches, he would collect the president’s edits and give them to us to implement. Brett would scrutinize every draft, making sure every edit had made it into the speech. When it was finalized, he would review an annotated version of the text produced by the fact-checking team. Often they would be replying to his emailed queries about corroboration until the early morning hours.
Brett had one of the most difficult jobs in the West Wing, with zero margin for error. Working with him was consequently a terrifying experience for a young staffer. As he delivered perfection in his job, he was methodical, exacting and no-nonsense. Frequently, he was brusque. The only consistent way I knew to get him to smile was to ask about his daughter, Margaret.
Though Brett was not my favorite person to work with at the time, the accusations against him are completely inconsistent with the man I knew. He was never inappropriate in any way with me or anyone else, though he certainly would have had the opportunity. He worked at all hours of the day and night with attractive young female staffers, many of whom posted recently on Facebook about their positive experiences with him using the hashtag #IstandwithBrett. Several of these women were in addition to the 84 from the George W. Bush White House who signed a letter of support for him. He is known as a man of faith and conviction.
I find his denials completely credible.
The purpose of confirmation hearings and the preceding Senate interviews are to determine a nominee’s fitness and aptitude for a Supreme Court seat. Brett’s long career reveals a careful lawyer who follows the facts wherever they may lead. Because his previous jobs required the highest clearance levels, he is the most investigated nominee in the history of the Senate confirmation process. He is certainly qualified to be a justice.
As much as I admired Dr. Ford’s courage and found her personally to be convincing and sympathetic, it does not change my conviction that uncorroborated and un-investigable accusations from a pre-adult time in a man or woman’s life shouldn’t derail a demonstrably exceptional career. This goes for the allegations by Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick as well, which are less believable and are similarly uncorroborated and denied by named eye-witnesses.
It is wrong for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to become a question of whether women deserve to be believed. If the #MeToo movement demands blind adherence to the idea of supporting women regardless of facts, then it has become no different from the patriarchy that has always said women are weaker and less-than. Women have the right to be evaluated according to objective criteria for truth, not coddled and protected because scrutiny might hurt our feelings.
But beyond that, being nominated for the Supreme Court or opposing a nominee should not be a one-way ticket to having one’s character assassinated, as has happened to both Ford and Kavanaugh. Neither should be treated as pawns — as women have been for centuries.