Can we talk about beer for a sec?
Specifically, Brett Kavanaugh’s professed affection for it?
Like a lot of people who have lived with or been friends with people who love beer a little too much, I experienced some familiar, unpleasant emotions as I watched the Supreme Court nominee’s behavior disintegrate Thursday in his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Kavanaugh came into the hearing room already upset, and who could blame him? Accusations of sexual assault have put his Supreme Court nomination at risk. He was under tremendous pressure.
I didn’t think it possible, but Kavanaugh’s performance rivaled — with an assist from the calculated histrionics of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — Clarence Thomas’ incendiary 1991 rebuttal to allegations that he had sexually harassed Anita Hill. Thomas was, he said, the victim of a “high-tech lynching,” a brilliant and despicable accusation that managed to trivialize the scourge of real lynching, put Democratic senators on the defensive and save his nomination.
If Kavanaugh had been able to play a race card, I’m sure he would have.
A man like Kavanaugh, who has attended the “best” schools, excelled at academics and athletics and risen to the top of his profession, does not take kindly to being under suspicion.
Once senators started to question him, his high dudgeon, which was defensible, turned into something darker and far more revealing about who he is: a political operative who had the great good fortune to be named as judge to a court that is a proving ground for future Supreme Court justices. Someone, it became clear, who likes beer, but does not want to be asked about drinking. In fact, he mentioned some version of liking beer at least 12 times, according to the hearing transcript.
I thought it was kind of cute when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell asleep briefly during a State of the Union speech and later confessed she had imbibed some wine at dinner. For a woman in her 80s, such a faux pas seemed forgivable.
But there was something really odd about the way the 53-year-old Kavanaugh talked about beer.
Questions about his high-school drinking, entirely relevant to Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her — when she was 15 and he was an inebriated 17-year-old — seemed to spark in him a combination of belligerence, sarcasm and defensiveness. The spectacle was uncomfortably familiar to those of us who have dealt with people who drink to excess.
When Kavanaugh was asked by Rachel Mitchell — the prosecutor hired by committee Republicans to keep the proceedings civil — whether he consumed alcohol during high school, he could have simply said “Yes.”
Instead, he began one of several alcohol-related rants. “Yes, we drank beer,” he said. “My friends and I, the boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink, and we — yeah, we drank beer, and I said sometimes — sometimes probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers…. We drank beer. We liked beer.”
When Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked him whether the phrase “Ralph Club” in his high school yearbook referred to vomiting related to drinking, Kavanaugh could not even bear to entertain the question. He could have simply said “Yes.” Most people know that “ralphing” is a side effect of over-consumption.
Instead, he obfuscated. “Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.”
“And did the word ‘ralph’ … refer to alcohol?” Whitehouse asked.
“I like beer,” replied Kavanaugh. “I like beer. I don’t know if you do…. Do you like beer, Senator, or not? What do you like to drink? Senator, what do you like to drink?”
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy asked about a drinking memoir by Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, who is alleged to have been present in the bedroom where Ford said she was assaulted. Leahy wondered if a drunk character in the book, Bart O’Kavanaugh, who vomited in a car, was based on Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh explained that Judge had developed an addiction to alcohol that almost killed him. The book, said Kavanaugh, was Judge’s way of “coming to grips with sobriety.”
“So you don’t know whether that’s you or not?” Leahy asked.
He responded with a puzzling non sequitur: “We can sit here, and you, like, make fun of some guy who has an addiction.”
When it came time for Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar to ask questions, Kavanaugh, who at first expressed his greatest respect, gave her the same treatment.
“Drinking is one thing,” Klobuchar said, “but the concern is about truthfulness, and in your written testimony, you said sometimes you had too many drinks. Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened the night before?”
Kavanaugh: “No. I remember what happened, and I think you’ve probably had beers, Senator, and so …”
Klobuchar: “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened?”
Kavanaugh: “You’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?”
Klobuchar: “Could you answer the question, Judge? That’s not happened. Is that your answer?”
Kavanaugh: “Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.”
You can try to turn the tables, Judge Kavanaugh, but it’s not the senators’ drinking that’s at issue. It’s yours.