History repeated as US Republicans pummel Kavanaugh accuser
Blasey Ford dealing with dark forces not in play during Hill-Thomas episode
An activist wears a button in support of Christine Blasey Ford during a protest on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Capitol is covered in mud.
Somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, I can recall a time when the sight of that white dome thrilled me. As a teenager, working for a New York congressman, I felt privileged to walk the same marble corridors where some of America’s most revered leaders had walked.
I can also vaguely remember a time, back before the travesty of Bush v Gore, when I felt awe walking past the Supreme Court. And if I try really hard, I can summon the lost sensation of pride in covering the White House.
But all that is utterly changed.
It was wrenching to watch the futile Iraq war unfold, with its tragic echoes of Vietnam. It is jarring to think I could live through three sagas of impeachment. But I most dread the rhyming history we are plunged into now: the merciless pummelling of a woman who dares to obstruct the glide path of a conservative Supreme Court nominee.
It is unnerving to think how far women have come, only to find ourselves dragged back to the same place.
It has been almost exactly 27 years since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, and we are still defensively explaining – including to the US’s troglodyte president – why women do not always tell the authorities about verbal and physical sexual assaults, why they bury episodes or try to manoeuvre past them.
We are still watching a bookish university professor from the west, who tried to anonymously report an alleged blight on the character of a man about to ascend to a lifetime of power, get smeared as a demanding, mixed-up, uptight, loony fantasist.
I didn’t sleep the week of the Hill-Thomas hearings. At first I was feverishly trying to figure out what was true in their two diametrically opposite stories.
But it quickly became apparent that Thomas was lying.
His friends and supporters had talked publicly about how, at Yale Law School, Thomas was a regular patron of X-rated movie houses and enjoyed describing the porn to friends afterward.
But that was not introduced into testimony by either the Republicans or the Democrats. Instead, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch – who is still on the judiciary committee at age 84 for this new kangaroo court – suggested that a man as esteemed as Thomas could not possibly know the language of porn, that anyone who talked like that was “a psychopathic sex fiend or a pervert”.
Hatch preposterously accused Hill of scavenging her testimony about Long Dong Silver from an old law case, and her story about Thomas asking “Who put pubic hair on my Coke?” from the novel The Exorcist.
No one was trying to figure out the truth or do what was best for the court and the country. Republicans only cared about ramming through a right-wing justice. Even though they were the majority, Democrats were cowed by Thomas wrapping himself in the charged symbolism of the civil rights movement he had always scorned. And they were gun-shy after criticism of their initial bungling of Hill’s revelation. (Does that ring a bell?) Joe Biden, the committee chairman, cancelled the testimony of Hill’s backup witnesses from work.
Teddy Kennedy was mute, hobbled by his own past sins. The feminists were less concerned with Hill’s humiliation than with using her as a bludgeon to block a justice who would be devastating on women’s rights.
After a three-day FBI investigation, the White House declared Hill’s charges “unfounded”. Then agents were pressured by Republicans into providing affidavits suggesting that Hill had embellished her testimony, as Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote in Strange Justice.
Anita Hill was alone, in a hearing room full of Republican liars and Democratic cowards, getting ripped apart as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” in the immortal words of Kavanaugh pal turned Hillary henchman David Brock; and this in front of her elderly parents, farmers from Oklahoma.
Post #MeToo, the Republicans know they have to be more careful on the surface. Their wet work to discredit Christine Blasey Ford will have to be outsourced and done mostly outside the hearing room; consider the sordid, outrageous attempt by Ed Whelan – a friend of Brett Kavanaugh’s who heads a prominent conservative think tank on, ahem, ethics – to throw suspicion on a lookalike classmate at Georgetown Prep. Backed by the Swift Boat public relations slimers, as Politico reported, Whelan even tweeted a floor plan to the house the student grew up in.
Dr Blasey is dealing with some demonic forces not in play with Prof Hill: a vicious partisan internet that drove her out of her house and being discredited not merely by the White House but personally by a president who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault, who has consistently defended predators such as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Roy Moore, and who is advised by the same man who enabled Ailes’s loathsome behaviour at Fox News.
We haven’t forgotten our history. But we still seem doomed to repeat it. – New York Times