In his first TV interview since two women accused him of sexual assault, beleaguered Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sat under the lights looking deeply distressed and demanded fairness.
His wife sat beside him, looking equally uncomfortable, and not quite sure what to say.
During the Kavanaughs’ 23-minute interview, I counted 17 times that the nominee used the phrase “fair process” to describe how he wants the Senate to handle the 11th-hour revelations that could, potentially, prevent him from receiving a coveted lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
“I’m looking for a fair process,” he said, “a process where I can defend my integrity and clear my name.”
“All l’m asking for is a fair process where I can be heard.”
“I want an opportunity — a fair process.”
Sometimes you can be so on-message that you come off looking robotic and sounding over-rehearsed. Political candidates are the biggest offenders. And to that list I would add Supreme Court nominees.
Watching Kavanaugh defend himself was painful. Which does not mean that he was not telling the truth as he remembers it, only that he was performing, under pressure, and it showed.
It showed in the way he pursed his lips as if he was tasting something awful. It showed in the way his eyes reddened. It showed in his repetition of phrases, his refusal to answer straightforward questions.
Who can blame the Kavanaughs for looking as if they’d been taken hostage and were being forced at gunpoint to answer questions that until a week ago might have been met with the retort, “None of your damn business.”
Kavanaugh has been accused by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford of attacking her when she was 15 and he was 17, of pushing her onto a bed and grinding his body into her, of holding his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream, and trying to rip her clothes off.
He has also been accused, by a different woman, of pulling down his pants and dangling his penis in front of her face at a college drinking party.
“So you’re saying that through all these years that are in question,” asked Fox host Martha MacCallum, “you were a virgin?”
“That’s correct,” Kavanaugh replied.
Since we’re asking uncomfortable questions here, what, really, does virginity have to do with the things he’s been accused of?
Ashley Estes Kavanaugh didn’t add much to the interview, but her presence was calculated to buoy her husband’s image as a strait-laced family man. She sympathized with his first accuser, saying she felt “badly” for her; in the current #MeToo climate, it would be untoward to attack her.
Of the accusations, she said, “Truly, I don’t understand it. I know Brett. I know who he is.”
Surely, Kavanaugh’s crisis advisors know that in such moments, when a male is accused of sexual harassment, assault or infidelity, a loyal wife can save the day.
Recent history is replete with ambitious women defending their errant, ambitious men.
“I wouldn’t be standing here if this man weren’t an A-plus human being,” Maria Shriver told voters in 2003 when sexual misconduct allegations against her husband surfaced just before the California gubernatorial election, which he won. (She would later discover he had fathered a child with a member of their household staff a few years earlier.)
“I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together,” said Hillary Clinton in 1992 when she and her husband went on TV to address rumors of his infidelities. “And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck — don’t vote for him.” Bill Clinton won, and would later face impeachment for lying under oath about his sexual indiscretions.
Even when MacCallum asked the most obvious follow-up question in the world — “Do you believe there should be an FBI investigation into these allegations, and that a pause should happen and, you know, sort it all out?” — Kavanaugh could not bring himself to go off-script.
“I mean, I’ve said all along and Ashley, too. I want to be heard … I want an opportunity — a fair process.”
Why didn’t he just say, “Hell, yes. Let’s please have an FBI investigation.”
Wouldn’t that have been the most genuine answer from a man who has proclaimed himself innocent of untoward behavior, even though he attended Georgetown Preparatory School, an elite all-boys prep school notorious for its drinking culture and manifestations of male privilege?
“I was focused on trying to be No. 1 in my class and being captain of the varsity basketball team and doing my service projects, going to church,” said Kavanaugh, when MacCallum pressed him.
The image of the hapless German Sgt. Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes” suddenly popped into my mind: “I see nothing, I was not here. I did not even get up this morning.”
And yet, Monday evening, shortly after the Fox interview ended, the New York Times posted a story about Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page, which described “lots of football, plenty of drinking, parties at the beach.” The paper also reported that the page alluded to an unsubstantiated sexual conquest.
When you grow up in the kind of privileged milieu in which Kavanaugh has been immersed his whole life, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the concept of fairness is different from how his accusers and their supporters might see it.
In the Kavanaugh context, a “fair process” appears to mean, “What is fair for me?”
His accusers have not testified before the Senate, they have not had the opportunity to tell their stories to the American people, who have the right to judge for themselves what kind of person Kavanaugh is.
Fairness means hearing both sides, not just his.