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How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement

A Commentary By Ted Rall

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Innocent until proven guilty.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell floated a lot of arguments to defend Brett Kavanaugh, but that's the one that carried the day: "We owe it to the American people to underscore that you're innocent until proven guilty."

In the end, the Kavanaugh confirmation battle was simple. Presumption of innocence was the argument that SWINO (SWing vote In Name Only) Sen. Susan Collins used to justify treason to her gender.

"This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt," Collins said. "Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard."

Once again, Democrats asked themselves: "What happened? Why did we lose a fight we should have won?"

Donald Trump's defeat of Clinton, Bush v. Gore, the 1940 Fall of France -- those were perfect storms with numerous contributing factors. Not this one. Kavanaugh made it to the Supreme Court because his allies framed #MeToo as an out-of-control mob of man-haters.

When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations first hit the news, polls found the worst showing of any high court nominee since they began asking the question. Then came the one-two punch: Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself and tried to force her to give him oral sex. Even with a Republican Senate, Kavanaugh was in real trouble.

Anti-Kavanaugh sentiment peaked after the marathon nine-hour hearing, in which Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified about her allegations. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 45 percent of Americans believed her. Only 33 percent believed him. If that's where things had remained nine days later when the Senate voted, Collins and other wobbly GOP senators might have voted nay.

#MeToo came to their rescue.

Nothing unites a party like a common enemy.

As the Kavanaugh vote drew nearer, #MeToo activists became increasingly aggressive. They chased senators down hallways, cornered them in elevators, doxxed them and picketed their homes.

Direct tactics hold politicians accountable. Confronting right-wing senators was empowering for sexual assault survivors and the millions of others they represented. It was more than fair; it was justified.

But it didn't turn out to be smart.

The optics and audio were ugly, particularly to Republican-leaning voters. Protestors shouting during hearings looked rude and hostile. Screaming at elderly senators as they ran down capitol corridors exuded chaos.

They shouted and carried signs bearing the mottos of #MeToo:

"Believe survivors."

"Believe women."

Such powerful words. Also sloppy. "We are worried as mobs chant, 'We believe survivors!' (What if Ford is not truly a 'survivor'? Don't we have to establish whether she's a survivor first?)," Stephanie Gutmann, a Republican, wrote in USA Today.

Revolutions follow years of resentment piled upon eons of abuse, so their imperative to destroy what's broken and evil necessarily leads to intemperance. Nowhere is this more evident than in rhetoric. So it is with #MeToo. What began as an uprising no reasonable person could oppose, against bona fide monsters like Harvey Weinstein, inevitably cast its net wider into the gray area of Aziz Ansari.

As the targets of #MeToo expanded from the undeniably disgusting to garden-variety piggishness, the movement's slogans became more militant, further out on a limb.

Official policy at human relations and local police departments had always been "ignore women." A rational corrective to "ignore women" would be "listen to women." Accusers deserve respect, to be taken seriously. So do the accused. But revolutions don't reform the old order. They destroy it.

"Believe women" doesn't make sense to a society whose core judicial fiction is the presumption of innocence. In America, no one earns the right to be believed by virtue of their gender. Being believed is a zero-sum right, one that inherently comes at the expense of another person and so must be earned by a combination of corroborating evidence, witnesses and the intangible social currency of credibility.

Sensing that #MeToo had overreached, McConnell and his fellow Republican leaders rallied their party's base in two steps.

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing usually feels like a job interview. Despite Collins' denials, the Republicans did everything they could to frame Kavanaugh's as a trial instead, complete with a hired-gun prosecutor from Arizona to provide a veneer of legalishness.

It was then easy to convince fence-sitting moderate Republican viewers that for Kavanaugh to be denied his seat Ford and her Democratic allies would have to follow the familiar rules of a criminal proceeding: establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and adhering to sharing of evidence (which is why they attacked Sen. Dianne Feinstein for withholding Ford's letter) -- the burden of proof on her, not him.

Of course, the fix was in. Ford was the one really on trial; she fended off the questions of the rent-a-DA, whereas Kavanaugh didn't have to. Once Democrats allowed Republicans to set the bar at beyond-a-reasonable-doubt guilt -- something the he-said-she-said nature of the allegation made impossible -- Kavanaugh was in like Flynn.

Shaunna Thomas, of the women's group UltraViolet Action, said: "This doesn't end [on Saturday]," she said. "It ends in November." But polls show that the Democrats' chance of recapturing the Senate is dropping, in part because they're buying the argument that the #MeToo movement is dangerous. "It's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of," President Trump said.

Fair or not, the perception of many men is that #MeToo is willing to sacrifice 100 innocent men in order to end the career of one guilty one. In the same way that the civil rights movement needed white allies in order to succeed, #MeToo needs men not to fear them but to support them.

Whatever happens in the midterm elections, the #MeToo movement has arrived at a tactical crossroads. Should we Believe Women? Or Listen to Everyone?

Ted Rall, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of "Francis: The People's Pope." He is on Twitter @tedrall. You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

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