Column: Washington is in ruins but Amy Klobuchar is still standing tall

Senator Amy Klobuchar at the Senate Judiciary Committee markup on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 28.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA-EFE / REX)

In the late 1960s, in Plymouth, Minn., Amy Klobuchar, who is now a Democratic U.S. senator, was nearly kicked out of her elementary school for being the first girl to show up for class in pants.

According to her 2015 memoir, “The Senator Next Door,” the school principal, Mrs. Quady, cast a cold eye on little Amy’s bell-bottoms. The verdict: Wear “your culottes and your knickers and your trousers” at home. At school, stick to skirts.

For the record:

9:00 a.m. Oct. 10, 2018An earlier version of this op-ed said Amy Klobuchar was in elementary school in the late 1970s. She was in elementary school in the late 1960s.

We know where fables like this lead in the memoirs of powerful men.

The young George, Abe or Brett squares his boyish chin and says, “Mrs. Principal, I respectfully disagree. Because I chopped down a cherry tree, grew up in a log cabin and went to Yale, I’ll do whatever I want.”


Klobuchar’s story ends differently. “I wish I could say I talked back,” she writes. “Or started a girls-can-wear-pants petition drive. Or, even more dramatically, a lawsuit.”

The world is upside down, but Klobuchar is not.

She goes on: “But since I was the good girl, who had never been called to the principal’s office before, and who didn’t know how to take on the likes of Mrs. Quady and talk back, I simply cried. I got a permission slip, walked home, put on a skirt, and returned to school.”

It’s hard to say what part of this is most poignant. High on my list is: “I got a permission slip.”

Like most normal members of the Senate, Klobuchar is both a proceduralist and a decent person.

A permission slip is what a fourth-grader needs to go home on a school day to change clothes. That’s proceduralism; it’s like the rules of order in the Senate. Or the notion that a Supreme Court nominee who has been accused of serious misconduct will undergo a thorough FBI investigation.


But a decent person — as distinct from the archetype of the good girl — is one who, with or without procedure, initiates petition drives, oversees prosecutions and, even more dramatically, asks questions that reveal a Supreme Court nominee’s fatuousness and lack of integrity.

Klobuchar says she learned from her fourth-grade capitulation to a discriminatory dress code that she didn’t want to capitulate again.

She’s stuck to this. Klobuchar is the member of the Senate Judiciary Committee whose shrewd questions of Brett Kavanaugh, nominee for the Supreme Court, elicited his rudest, and what many believe was his most revealing, behavior.

“So you’re saying you never drank so much that you didn’t remember the night before?” she asked the nominee. Perfect question: It went to the reliability of Kavanaugh’s memory, the consistency of his self-accounting, his history of reckless behavior and his capacity to be honest.

“It’s — you’re asking about, you know, blackout,” Kavanaugh said, his chin dimpling in what looked like despair. “I don’t know. Have you?”

“Could you answer the question…. Is that your answer?”

“Yeah. And I’m curious if you have.”

“I don’t have a drinking problem, Judge.”

“Yeah, nor do I,” Kavanaugh said.

With his chippy answers, Kavanaugh seemed to close the case against himself. He was out of evasions, down to the bottom of his box of tricks: raw pain and projection. He couldn’t think straight under pressure. He was willing to show aggression toward a woman and a U.S. senator. He lacked the capacity for elementary professional equipoise and the common sense to see the wretched optics of the occasion.


What’s more, Kavanaugh’s projected accusations revealed a stunted emotional life. I can’t bear this pain; I will force it back on her.

Later, Klobuchar said that had she talked to Kavanaugh like that in his courtroom, he would have had her tossed. But this time, no one — not the judge, not Mrs. Quady — could throw Klobuchar out.

She accepted, with detachment, an apology from Kavanaugh, who regretted having answered a question with a question. (Is that all he did there?)

But she never accepted his non-answer to the blackout question. Instead, she took to cable news to explain — levelly — that she believes any hard drinker who can break out of denial can get sober. (Klobuchar says her father, now in his 90s, is sober and in Alcoholics Anonymous.)

Kavanaugh’s evasions only redoubled Klobuchar’s commitment to an FBI investigation, to procedure. Of course, what Klobuchar advocated never came about. Instead, the Senate accepted a cursory FBI report and, in a 51-49 cloture vote, rushed the final decision on confirmation.

“Where is the bravery in this room?” Klobuchar had asked right after the hearings.

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As of Friday afternoon, with nearly all of the senators making their intentions clear, Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court seemed certain. The reverberations of this catastrophic act — despite the copious evidence of Kavanaugh’s dishonesty, history of reckless behavior and tendentious partisanship — will be with us a long time.

For his part, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called on Klobuchar to apologize to Kavanaugh.

Oh really? Kavanaugh was the one who asked Klobuchar insulting and irrelevant questions about her drinking habits. Kavanaugh was the one who acted both equivocally and menacingly toward the senator. And Kavanaugh was the one whose lies, insubordination and partisanship were on lurid display.

Would she apologize?

Of course not. No more capitulation. The world is upside down, but Klobuchar is not.

Twitter: @page88