David Brooks: “A Complete National Disgrace”

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Brett Kavanugh To Be Supreme Court Justice

There is little I disagree with in David Brooks’s analysis of Kavanaugh hearings.  Here is a taste:

These hearings were also a devastating blow to intellectual humility. At the heart of this case is a mystery: What happened at that party 36 years ago? There is no corroborating evidence either way. So the crucial questions are: How do we sit with this uncertainty? How do we weigh the two contradictory testimonies? How do we measure these testimonies when all of cognitive science tells us that human beings are really bad at spotting falsehood? Should a person’s adult life be defined by something he did in high school?

Commentators and others may have acknowledged uncertainty on these questions for about 2.5 seconds, but then they took sides. If they couldn’t take sides based on the original evidence, they found new reasons to confirm their previous positions. Kavanaugh is too angry and dishonest. He drank beer and threw ice while in college. With tribal warfare all around, uncertainty is the one state you are not permitted to be in.

Read the rest here.

Brooks’s point about intellectual humility is an interesting one, especially for historians.  How do we treat out sources?  How do we use those sources to find out “what happened?”  What can and can’t we know?  Any historian knows that this is a difficult task and one in which knee-jerk reactions and political rhetoric are not always helpful in getting at the truth.

26 thoughts on “David Brooks: “A Complete National Disgrace”

  1. In fact, I don’t believe we can know what happened or who is telling the truth in the Kavanaugh-Ford matter. Not on the evidence we have.

    What I said at the beginning still holds: Either her testimony is accurate, or we have a very inept and bizarre conspiracy going here.

    Think about it: If you were cooking up a conspiracy to bring down a SCOTUS nominee, would you concoct one where there was no disrobing, no penetration, no rape, just a couple drunk teenagers who end up falling on the floor? With all that Soros money, couldn’t you find somebody to say they were a witness at least, and make up a more convincing story?

    All these things actually point in the direction of it not being a conspiracy. They do not prove that what she’s saying happened, however.

    What I have pointed out is that the things you believe undermine her story actually render it less likely that she’s lying. Likewise, Kavanaugh’s response in no way proves or disproves his story, but it is consistent with how guilty people respond to such charges.

    The Weinstein, Rose and Hastert cases are all important for understanding how these things work. Powerful men have powerful friends. They can do you a lot of harm. In the Weinstein and Rose cases, a lot of women all at once decided they’d had enough, and all testified at once. And even those these celebrities themselves whose lives were already partially public, it took decades. In Hastert’s case, it was only when he’d been indicted and convicted that his victims spoke out. Again, it took decades. In Ford’s case, she was not a public figure, and the man she was testifying against was not only as powerful as before, he was gaining power: Ascending to the court, with the President of the US at his side, along with the entire Republican Part and its voters, pundits, etc.

    Look at the way Ford’s been treted by others, or yourself. It’s Anita Hill 2.0. You really find it mysterious no witnesses (if there are any) want to leave their private lives behind and join that party?

    I’m not sure deficits in reading comprehension are our only problems here.


  2. Again with the reading comprehension impediments.

    Prof. Haas, your impulse to be supercilious doesn’t make nonsensical arguments into valid arguments. It doesn’t make bad analogies into serviceable ones. Her account doesn’t cohere, your reply is that she’s ‘traumatized’ (not that there’s any evidence apart from her claim that she suffered any trauma). Her named witnesses draw a blank, well they don’t want to get involved or something something or other. There isn’t any evidence she ever knew Kavanaugh or Judge, you go off on a tangent about Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, and Catholic priests.

    I asked at the beginning of this discussion what would it take for you to regard her claim as something about which you could suspend judgment. The answer is nothing persuades you to do so. Yet you’re denying to me that you began with the assumption that she was telling the truth and babbling on about my ‘reading comprehension.’.


  3. Again with the reading comprehension impediments.

    Only after Hasrtert had been indicted on the banking charges did the charges emerge that he had molested three men decades earlier.

    Victims are ashamed, and scared. One of the things they’re scared of is that when going up against powerful men with only their word, they’ll be treated the way Anita Hill was treated, and the way you’ve been treating Dr. Ford.

    The Hastert accusers only came forward after he was already tarnished in the public eye. That gave them some cover. Without that, it would have been their word against his, and we all know how rthat would have gone.

    100% of the nominees to SCOTUS who have been accused of financial or ideological scandal since the 1960s have been rejected or withdrawn. 100% of those accused by lone women of sexual misbehavior have gone on to sit on the court. We have a long history in this country of blaming the woman when sexual misconduct is the topic.

    Be proud. You kept that going.

    #winning, I guess.


  4. What we’ve got here (to paraphrase “Cool Hand Luke”) is a failure of reading comprehension.

    No, Prof. Haas. What we have here is a stew of confusion and motivated reasoning on your part.

    Whatever Charlie Rose or Harvey Weinstein did do or did not do, there’s no disputing the people accusing these men worked for them and were acquainted with them face to face. Same deal with Dennis Hastert, who also paid blackmail money to two people. His criminal conviction was for structuring the blackmail payments to avoid triggering reporting requirements by the bank.


  5. What we’ve got here (to paraphrase “Cool Hand Luke”) is a failure of reading comprehension.

    That Dr. Ford’s testimony is consistent with that of almost all traumatized victims (moments of clear and certain memory and moments of no memory at all) doesn’t add up to a guilty verdict on Kavanaugh. What it does is lend credence to her testimony–ie, she’s not unusual, and her not remembering certain things doesn’t invalidate what she claims she does remember. That doesn’t mean her claims are true.

    However, it is the case that Kavanaugh’s reaction does fit the profile of guilty suspects It was long ago discovered that the best defense is a good offense. Does that in itself mean he was dissembling? No. Does his emotional outburst mean he was telling the truth? Obviously not.

    The claim that, had he remained calm and collected, that too would have been taken as proof of his guilt, is hard to countenance. When has that happened? The fact is, when people are innocent–and know they are innocent–the last thing they get is rattled. Kavanaugh not only got rattled like no one’s ever been rattled before the senate and on TV, he went all Alex Jones on them–and the nation. May that be because he was outraged at false accusations? Perhaps. Does it prove his innocence? Far from it.

    Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose were taken down by just the same kind of testimony as Dr. Ford’s. The difference is several people came forward to testify, but only after many years, and those others were already used to living in the public spotlight. That there’s little to corroborate Dr. Ford may be because she’s fabricating, or she was a one-off, or because other potential winesses are loathe to become figures of public scrutiny. Recall that no one came forward to speak about Dennis Hastert until he was already investigated by the FBI and indicted.


  6. What you call ‘holes’ in her testimony would properly be referred to as ‘a complete absence of evidence’ apart from her testimony. That doesn’t faze you. It should.


  7. Understand that Mr. Haahs has adopted an unfalsifiable theory of guilt: the lack of any corroborating evidence or witness IS evidence that Kavanaugh did it. How delightfully Kafka-esque.

    If there was a hint of evidence that he assaulted or could have assaulted Ford — say, a single witness placing him at the party in question, or a contemporaneous report by Ford that he attacked her — that would suggest guilt as well.

    See how much better it is to just admit one is a witch and seek purification?

    Mr. Haahs also claims to know “how accused people behave when they are guilty.” For instance, just look at Clarence Thomas, who “counter-attacked.”

    Thus, defending oneself against charges too vociferously imputes guilt. And because Kavanaugh was angry at having been slandered as a gang-rapist, well, Q.E.D. — that’s how guilty people behave. Then again, had he been stoic, and passionless, that too would have demonstrated guilt, because just look at that cold, unfeeling, remorseless visage!

    It is both scary and depressing that this Torquemada approach to justice and truth-seeking (selectively applied, of course) is now widely accepted.


  8. We should note also the evolution of these sorts of responses. Back in 1991, you folk painted Anita Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” Now, with Dr. Ford (or, as you denominated her, “the woman”), it’s just “a little bit nutty.” I guess we should be grateful for that sign of progress.


  9. Read it again. I’m beginning with the assumption that we have two alternatives: Either Kavanaugh did what Dr. Ford alleges, or we have a very elaborate, but very inept, false accusation from Dr. Ford. You’re arguing that the holes in Dr. Ford’s testimony–which she placed there herself–prove Kavanaugh’s innocence. I’m pointing out that in fact those kinds of holes are typical of narratives offered by traumatized victims. (And Kavanaugh’s behavior was typical of how the accused behave when they’re guilty–perhaps especially if they’ve studied the Nixon “Checkers” speech, Clarence Thomas’s counter-attack, and Roy Cohn’s methods–which he may or may not have.) All that doesn’t “prove” this particular matter either way, of course; it only indicates that what we saw is consistent with how these testimonies typically go when it is the case that the accuser is telling the truth.


  10. You say that like it’s a bad thing, Prof. Fea. The president talks sense.

    For the rest of us, the question is how unsubstantiated and incredible must an accusation be before you and your ilk at least suspend judgment. Here it is: 36 years after the fact, rendering in 2012 inconsistent in important respects with rendering in 2016, 4 out of 4 ‘witnesses’ draw a blank, the one piece of contemporaneous documentation has no reference to her, and there’s no evidence (apart from her claims) that she knew Kavanaugh or Judge. Nothing about their known associations suggest that it would be at all likely she’d know either. That aside she lied about a series of ancillary matters: the home renovations, the fear of flying, the polygraph, and the matter of the offer to interview her in California. How bad does this mackerel have to stink before you toss it in the garbage?


  11. I’m going to suggest you try some inductive reasoning. You’re beginning with the assumption that Kavanaugh assaulted her and then setting about trying to explain away all the elements of the story inconsistent with that thesis. The result is Ptolomaic cosmology.


  12. Right. So that’s the alternatives: Either she’s like a whole lot of traumatized people (some things burned in the memory, others unsure about–that’s very common, btw–just talk to any therapist, or any prosecutor in a Special Victims Unit), or all of Soros’s money and deceit could only cook up a half-baked conspiracy that a) didn’t even involve an actual rape; b) featured a witness with no corroborating evidence; c) featured only one witness who couldn’t put together an iron-clad story, let alone offer hard evidence.

    Btw, Kavanaugh behaved exactly like guilty people usually do in such scenarios: Yelling, accusing, playing the victim card, etc.


  13. It’s amazing isn’t it? Her lack of specifics — don’t know where, don’t know when, don’t know how I got there, don’t know how I left (but I do remember drinking one, single solitary beer, oh yes) — and her ever changing accounts — there were 4 boys in the room; no, 2 boys in the room (my therapist got it wrong, see?); there were 6 people, no 5 people (my best friend also got it wrong, especially the part about never having met Kavanaugh because she has ‘health problems’); it was the mid-eighties; no, the early eighties; no, actually, the lawyers have helped me realize it was the Summer of 1982.

    All of this somehow, magically, makes her tale … more believable?



  14. It doesn’t ‘lend credence to her story’. You’re offering a series of excuses, and not terribly plausible excuses for a’ that.


  15. Well, both Kavanaugh and Ford came from similar socio-economic backgrounds. You might be correct in stating that he is somewhat preppy, but what about her? Might I suggest an elitist, affluent, California liberal who fits in better at faculty lawn parties than among average Americans? I doubt that she lives in the barrio.


  16. “the woman named four people she fancied present, all of whom had no recollection of the event.”

    Since we’re talking about the testimonies and not the whole event, it’s worth pointing out that the fact quoted above–like several others from Dr. Ford–actually lends credence to her story. It is quite typical that individuals that didn’t witness anything out of the ordinary and who weren’t themselves traumatized would not recall being at such an event. It would be typical for a traumatized person to remember very clearly some things, but not others (or perhaps have never known them even at the time, such as who owned the house, what street it was on, etc) That Dr. Ford mentioned these four women as being there, means that this was one extremely ineptly concocted hoax–where the rape was never consummated, the witnesses she mentions can’t corroborate, etc.–or that she is likely telling the truth.


  17. This argument fascinates me. What is the best measure of judicial temperament? The 12 years Kavanaugh spent on the D.C. Circuit, where he was roundly praised by all attorneys appearing before him, from both sides of the ideological spectrum (the ABA ain’t a bastion of consevatism) for his decency, fairness and respect for all — OR — his outraged response as a man, husband and father being publicly slimed as a gang rapist?

    I can promise you: walk into a federal courtroom, tell the sitting Judge that you suspect him of being a sex criminal, alcoholic and all around miscreant, let me know the equanimity and Solomonic patience with which those accusations are received.

    The “You Mad, Bro?” tut-tutting by the mudslingers is possibly their most shameless and bad faith talking point, and that’s saying something.


  18. Whether or not there is ‘corroboration’ “either way”, the woman named four people she fancied present, all of whom had no recollection of the event. She give her marriage counselor an account in 2012 which included no names, 4 attackers, and suggested a date of 1985. She gives Eshoo in her letter this account which names BK and MJ and suggests 1982. Astonishingly, he has 1982 calendars salted away, but neither her name nor her initials appear on those calendars. The gathering BK detractors select as corresponding to her account did not have a dramatis personae which matches hers.

    That aside, she’s yet to produce any photographic or testimonial evidence that she was ever acquainted with Judge or Kavanaugh. There were at the time 500,000 people living in suburban tract development in Montgomery County, Maryland. She attended a girls’ school. BK has no sisters and Mark Judge’s sister was enrolled at a different school. Her brother Ralph was not enrolled at BK’s school. She lived 8 miles from the Kavanaugh home and 6 miles from the Judge home. There have been unsourced news reports claiming her father and EE Kavanaugh belonged to the Burning Tree Club. CB herself does not name Burning Tree as the source of any familial association (it was an all male club and women were banned from the campus) and her family of origin hasn’t produced any statements indicating they were acquainted with the Kavanaughs. She claimed she was acquainted with Christopher Garrett from a different club membership and he introduced her to his circle. Problem: Garrett has said for public consumption that he had no knowledge or information relating to her claims and any elaboration on that to the FBI the Democrats did not find useful. Her old chum Leland Keyser has stated she has no memory of having been acquainted with BK. Leland Keyser isn’t some random person from the student body at Holton-Arms; she’s a person CB named as being present during this event.

    Mark Judge has written two memoirs. He’s one person you’d know something about without ever having met him. And Brett Kavanaugh makes an appearance therein.

    Is David Brooks thick or is he playing thick for effect?

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  19. I think David Brooks long ago understood his role — and the narrowly acceptable range of opinions it permits — as a NYT “conservative.”

    (Bret Stephens, a NeverTrumper formerly in good standing, with his recent epiphany that he was thankful for Trump’s mulish refusal to knuckle under to the Kavanaugh slanderers, has put himself at risk of being cast into outer darkness for such heresy. Many NYT readers can take only so much double plus ungood crimethink.)


  20. Good points,Tony. David Brooks generally tries so hard to be a middle-of-the-road, goody two shoes, objective observer that he ends up serving his readers a bland soup of well written yet meaningless verbiage.


  21. I’m sorry, but Mr. Brooks’s ‘a pox on both houses’ analysis is disingenuous. This disgrace — and it was a disgrace — was a freak show brought to you almost entirely by the D party and its media adjunct. He posits competing narratives — Ford’s tale, Kavanaugh’s response — as if they were equally plausible, without ever confronting the fact that: 1) it was not Kavanaugh’s job to prove a negative in order to refute a 36 year old, entirely unsupported allegation (although that is the brave new world in which the shrieking #MeToo Jacobins want us to live); 2) Ford’s story was not credible in the least — if we define credible as having facts, witnesses, evidence to bolster it — given that it was entirely uncorroborated, contradicted by her own witnesses (see especially Leland Keyser, who said under penalty of perjury that she had never met Kavanaugh) and shot through with glaring inconsistencies, alterations and logical incoherence (e.g. she left her best friend alone at a party attended by only five people, two of whom were boys she claims tried to rape her, cannot explain how this went unnoticed, or how she got home in the middle of the night, or why her hasty, exigent disappearance was never broached again).

    Brooks also avoids any discussion of the absurdist “gang rape” allegations put forth by the attention-seeking porn lawyer and gleefully splashed across the news by the anti-Kavanaugh media, which were then parroted by Diane Feinstein and her cohorts on the panel. And which side was it that was parsing high school yearbooks and three decades old calendars like Inspector Clouseau (“Sir, was there a boofing minkey in your bathrheum during ‘Beach Week’?”) And then Brooks adopts the Orwellian critique that Kavanaugh’s righteous fury at being smeared as an alcoholic gang rapist monster — with certain media outlets speculating that he should also stay away from coaching girls because, heck, he might be a child molester, as well — was somehow indecorous and inappropriate. “Yes, Senator T-Bone: may I have another bowl of raw sewage dumped on me, please?”

    Brooks reduces everything to dueling party affiliation, but most of the people who I have spoken to about this public smear campaign (including many Never Trumpers), recoiled at the D’s tactics not because they wanted Kavanaugh on the court, facts be damned, but because they found the orchestrated and transparent character assassination of a good man, in furtherance of political ends, to be despicable and — even as compared with the prior calumnies heaped upon Thomas and Bork before him — unprecedented in their mendacity.

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  22. Let’s all agree with David Brooks that this recent confirmation process was a disgrace and an indignity to the face of the Senate. It was also a charade in that the votes of most of the senators had already decided how to vote even before the hearings began.

    The bigger question is surfaced by John Fea; specifically, how do historians and social scientists sort out the accurate facts from the falsehoods? After all, we can’t even agree on who killed JFK, and that happened within our lifetime! (At least within mine.)

    Getting back to the case of Judge Kavanaugh, Senator Feinstein (or one of her ideological bedfellows) did not surface the confidential Ford letter until the last minute. These Democrats reasoned wisely that its contents were highly questionable and had probably hoped that more substantial damning evidence could have been summoned at the outset of the hearings. When that path failed, the Ford letter was a last resort. I doubt that most of the Democrats definitively believed Dr. Ford’s full story despite the carefully crafted public masks they displayed for the cameras.

    At least in the case of Lee Oswald, respected historians can martial compelling evidence on either side addressing the question, “Did Oswald act alone?”


  23. What happens when the concept of truth itself becomes politicized, and the search is never for the truth, but rather for a politically convenient narrative?


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