Thursday’s hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, was an almost perfect Rorschach test: Democrats and much of the mainstream media saw Ford’s testimony as credible, authentic and emblematic of the mistreatment of women by privileged men. Republicans saw a decent man with an unblemished record being accused of the most heinous criminal acts in a last-minute attempt to derail his confirmation.
I watched the hearings transfixed. I am a conservative who generally supports Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy, but I also believe the GOP bungled this process. I would like to have heard, in person, from Mark Judge, who Ford claims was in the room when the alleged attack took place. I believe it was in everyone’s interest — including Kavanaugh’s — to ask the FBI to reinterview witnesses after the allegations were made.
But we’re left to make a judgment without a perfect process. And after listening to both witnesses, I found Kavanaugh’s testimony more compelling. That is not what I expected to feel.
Memory is often imperfect, and decades-old memories, even of traumatic events, change over time. My younger sister died when I was 12 years old. I have a vivid memory of the doctor calling to say that my parents should come to the hospital because she was in heart failure. I remember that I was sitting on a swing on the front porch of my apartment building, that I ran down the stairs to our basement apartment to answer the phone. I remember my parents returning later that evening with my sister’s clothing in a small paper bag. I can see myself standing on the landing at the top of the stairs as my mother walked in, clutching the bag.
The picture in my mind now is as clear as the day it happened. Except that some of the details are wrong. My memories have conflated some facts. As perfect as the images in my mind may seem, they are inaccurate. The crystal-clear image of my mother clutching the bag as she comes up the stairs is in an apartment we no longer lived in when my sister died. The dress I remember my mother wearing could not have been what she wore. It’s a dress I’ve seen dozens of times in a picture taken years later. I am remembering images I’ve looked back on hundreds of times, and I’ve altered some of those memories in the act of recalling them so often. That is the way memory works, and it is why memory is often unreliable.
Ford’s testimony was based entirely on memory. No corroborating witnesses. No evidence to support a timeline or important information, such as how she got to the party in question or how she got home — over five miles away — at a time when she had no driver’s license. All we have to go on is the searing details she provided from memory.
Kavanaugh, on the other hand, can point to sworn statements from those Christine Ford said attended the event. Their statements say they do not recall any such gathering taking place, and in one case, that the supposed witness has never even met Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh also produced contemporaneous calendars that detailed his activities from the time in question, which show him otherwise occupied on the dates the event might have occurred. And we have his unblemished record of more than a quarter century in high-profile jobs, which required six full-field investigations by the FBI and a previous Senate confirmation.
Perhaps I am reacting as a partisan — though I have been critical of the Trump administration and Trump himself. But I believe Brett Kavanaugh. And if uncorroborated accusations are the new standard to determine who is fit to serve, then our toxic politics have sunk to a new and dangerous low.