Note : The Democrats have taken control of The US House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would work to restore checks and balances and be a buffer against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s “assault” on Medicare, Medicaid, affordable healthcare, and on Americans with pre-existing conditions.
These elections are more important than any in recent memory. Only a vote for a Democratic Congress can constrain Donald Trump and hiscampaigns of hate
The United States midterm elections are always important. But the elections on Tuesday matter in ways that few midterm contests can have matched. Yes, it will take more than one election to mend the damaged and angry political mood that, in the last two weeks alone, has seen a fervent Donald Trump supporter send bombs to several Democrats, and a white supremacist commit the most heinous act of antisemitic violence in the country’s history. The man in the White House is not the only thing that must change. But the journey has to start somewhere. You only have to imagine how much more difficult the journey will otherwise be to grasp the exceptional responsibility that rests on the shoulders of US voters on Tuesday.
“Mr. Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige “.–The Guardian
Donald Trump is not the sole reason why American politics have become so toxic, why Americans’ faith in their institutions has been so shaken, or the influence of the US for good in the world so diminished. In many ways Mr Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige. But he has turbo-charged this decline deliberately, as a matter of conscious policy. He seeks consistently to be the president of some of the United States, not of the country as a whole. Against those who do not support or agree with him he deploys only hate and scorn. He lies and provokes as a matter of strategy. This is a president without precedent, and although in the US democracy is strong, it is not indestructible.
Take the issue of voting rights. It is often assumed that the US constitution embodies a federal right to vote. It does not. Voting is administered by the states. Most states are in Republican hands, and the districts that will send members of Congress to Washington this week have frequently been gerrymandered. In many states, including North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have imposed restrictions on early voting, postal voting and voter identification, all of them designed to prevent black Americans from voting. In Georgia, officials tried to close seven out the nine voting places in a predominantly black area on the pretext that disabled access was inadequate.
The US constitution is celebrated for its checks and balances. Yet partisanship is now so entrenched and unbending that institutions themselves are beginning to creak. The White House is in the hands of a lying and rule-breaking racist executive who, apart from all his policy failings, refuses to release his tax returns, blurs the distinction between official and personal interests, meddles in investigations in which he has no business and who deployed thousands of US troops for a purely partisan reason. Meanwhile, since the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, the supreme court is now more firmly than ever under partisan rightwing control, opening up the near certainty of an attempt to overturn US abortion rights.
So there is a strong constitutional case, as well as a strong political one, for recapturing the legislative branch from its dishonest and sycophantic right wing Republican leadership. Democratic control of the House of Representatives would constrain Mr Trump by investigating issues that have been shamelessly ignored by the current House leadership. Democratic control of the Senate, a long shot, would clip his wings even more. Democratic failure this week, by contrast, would be – and would be taken to be – an electoral endorsement of Mr Trump.
This is a pivotal election for Americans, for American democracy, and for the rest of the world. Yet it comes at a time of decent US economic growth and high employment, when Republicans are energised, and Democrats are divided about their future course. It is far from guaranteed, in the light of 2016, that Democratic enthusiasm and money will turn into the blue wave that we want. But there is no more important political task anywhere in the world today than to seize this moment.
“Democrats create mobs, Republicans create jobs” has become a rallying cry for Republicans ahead of the midterms
For those who believe that President Trump is a clownish know-nothing who somehow tapped into the mood of the electorate, or just got lucky in 2016, the last month has been instructive. Trump has demonstrated uncanny political instincts. When combined with his ruthless “amorality” — a term used by one of his own senior officials in an anonymous New York Times op-ed — he presents a formidable challenge to his opponents.
Trump faces a familiar landscape. The party that holds the White House traditionally has low turnout and does badly in the midterm elections. But rather than accept this as inevitable, Trump has been aggressively trying to beat the odds. He’s turned what are usually disparate races in the House and Senate into a single national election, fought on an agenda that he has defined.
Item one on his agenda is immigration. The reason is obvious: The issue rouses his voters like no other. Trump campaigns relentlessly on it, making the false accusation that if the Democrats win, they will open up the borders and let everyone in.
He has used the current caravan of Central American migrants to highlight his case against the Democrats. Since Republicans are also still highly motivated by fears of terrorism, Trump threw in the accusation that there are “Middle Easterners” in the caravan. (First, there is no evidence for that claim, which Trump himself even admits; and second, if there were, it is an ugly slur to imply that any Middle Easterner is a terrorist.) As the media eagerly fact-checks his rhetoric, Trump seems well aware that they are incidentally repeating his claims and reinforcing the suspicion and fear in the public’s mind.
The second way Trump has turned the midterms into a national vote is by raising the specter of impeachment. Nothing would anger his base more than the notion of an elitist conspiracy (of lawyers, journalists and judges) determined to undo the results of the 2016 election. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declared that impeachment is “the only message [the Democrats] seem to have going into the midterms.”
Trump’s midterm strategy was foreshadowed by Stephen K. Bannon several months ago, when he explained, in an interview with me on CNN, that the Republicans needed to turn the midterms into a referendum on Trump. “Trump’s second presidential race will be on Nov. 6 of this year,” Bannon said. “He’s on the ballot, and we’re going to have an up-or-down vote.”
How does one counter this campaign? Many Democrats angrily maintain that they do not, in fact, favor open borders and impeachment — that their positions are more nuanced. But when you are explaining nuance in politics, you are losing. The Democratic Party has not found a way to go on the offensive and get Trump to explain that he has, in fact, a more complicated position on any given topic.
But there is a substantive problem in addition to one of style and tactics. The Democratic Party is insisting that recent election results are an unmistakable sign that it needs to change course and become far more populist on economics. But the data clearly show that the American public is very comfortable with where the party is on issues such as health care and inequality.
The challenge for the Democrats is a set of cultural issues — chiefly immigration, but also things such as transgender bathroom laws and respecting the flag — on which a key group of Americans thinks the Democrats are out of touch. An excellent study by the Democracy Fund found that people who had previously supported Barack Obama and then voted for Trump in 2016 (a crucial segment that Democrats could win back) agreed with the Democrats on almost all economic issues but disagreed with the party on immigration and other cultural matters.
Put simply, the study makes clear that the challenge for the Democratic Party politically is not whether it can move left economically but whether it can move right on culture. I say this as someone who agrees with the Democrats on almost every one of these cultural issues. But a large national party must demonstrate that it can accommodate some people who disagree with it on some issues. Doing this without abandoning one’s core principles is a challenge, but it is a challenge Democrats will have to embrace if they seek a durable governing majority.
Eventually, the electorate will be more young and diverse, but in the meantime, the Republican Party is utterly dominant in American politics because it owns the bloody crossroads where culture and politics meet.
The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. This time, too, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.
Jamal Khashoggi- Just Dead Duck-– Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow his death affect the relationship.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his associates –US Interest First Always
WASHINGTON, DC – The alleged killing of the Saudi Arabian dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the United States, in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has unleashed a tidal wave of criticism. In the US Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike have promised to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions if its government is shown to have murdered Khashoggi.
But significant damage to bilateral ties, let alone a diplomatic rupture, is not in the cards, even if all the evidence points to a state-sanctioned assassination. Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow the death of one man to affect the relationship. And with new allies working with old lobbyists to stem the damage, it is unlikely that the episode will lead to anything more than a lovers’ quarrel.
Saudi Arabia’s special role in American foreign policy is a lesson that US presidents learn only with experience. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, his advisers were bent on distancing the new administration from George H.W. Bush’s policies. Among the changes sought by Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, was an end to the unfettered White House access that Saudi Arabian Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan enjoyed during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Bandar was to be treated like any other ambassador.
But Clinton quickly warmed to Bandar, and Bandar and the royal court would become crucial to Clinton’s regional policies, ranging from Arab-Israeli peace talks to containing Iraq. In 1993, when Clinton needed a quote from the Koran to go alongside those from the Old and New Testament for a ceremony marking an Israeli-Palestinian accord, he turned to the Saudi ambassador.
Before Donald Trump assumed office, he frequently bashed the Saudis and threatened to cease oil purchases from the Kingdom, grouping them with freeloaders who had taken advantage of America. But after the Saudis feted him with sword dances and bestowed on him the highest civilian award when he visited the Kingdom on his first trip abroad as US president, he changed his tune.
Even the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, could not damage the relationship. Though al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national, recruited 15 of the 19 hijackers from the Kingdom, senior Saudi officials dismissed the implications. In a November 2002 interview, the Saudi interior minister simply deemed it “impossible,” before attempting to redirect blame by accusing Jews of “exploiting” the attacks and accusing the Israeli intelligence services of having relationships with terrorist organizations.
Americans seethed, and it appeared that the awkward alliance between a secular democracy and a secretive theocracy, cemented by common interests during the Cold War, was plunging into the abyss separating their values. But the alliance not only survived; it deepened. Bandar provided key insights and advice as President George W. Bush planned the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Today, American politicians are again ratcheting up their rhetoric following Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Turks claim they have audio and video revealing his death, and Senator Lindsey Graham warned, “If it did happen there would be hell to pay,” while Senator Benjamin Cardin has threatened to target sanctions at senior Saudi officials.1
But Saudi Arabia wears too many hats for America to abandon it easily. Though the US no longer needs Saudi oil, thanks to its shale reserves, it does need the Kingdom to regulate production and thereby stabilize markets.
American defense contractors are dependent on the billions the Kingdom spends on military hardware. Intelligence cooperation is crucial to ferreting out jihadists and thwarting their plots. But, most important, Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab bulwark against Iranian expansionism. The Kingdom has supported proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to contain Iran’s machinations. Any steps to hold the Saudis responsible for Khashoggi’s death would force the US to assume responsibilities it is far more comfortable outsourcing.
It is a role America has long sought to avoid. When the United Kingdom, the region’s colonial master and protector, decided that it could no longer afford such financial burdens, US leaders ruled out taking its place. Policymakers were too focused on Vietnam to contemplate action in another theater. Instead, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conceived a policy whereby Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by unlimited US military hardware, would police the Gulf. While Iran stopped playing its role following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Saudis still do.
It is a quandary Trump seems to grasp. Though he vowed “severe punishment” if the Saudis did indeed kill Khashoggi, he refused to countenance canceling military contracts, instead lamenting what their loss would mean for American jobs.
It is not only defense contractors who are going to bat for the Saudis. Before Khashoggi became Washington’s topic du jour, the Saudis paid about ten lobbying firms no less than $759,000 a month to sing their praises in America’s halls of power.
But it may be the Saudis’ new best friend who will throw them a lifeline. As Iran has become the biggest threat to Israel, the Jewish State has made common cause with the Saudis. Former Saudi bashers such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confidant Dore Gold now meet with the Kingdom’s officials. Following the 2013 military coup that toppled Egypt’s democratically elected government, Israeli leaders urged US officials to embrace the generals. They are likely to do the same today if US anti-Saudi sentiment imperils their Iran strategy.
The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. Yet it has endured and thrived. This time, too, in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.
There was a time when Edward Lansdale was arguably the most famous American in Asia, ostensibly the model for the hero of the novel “The Ugly American” by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer and widely thought of – erroneously – as the protagonist of Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American,” both books about a US aid official in a war-torn Southeast Asian country, in Greene’s case Vietnam.
Today, Lansdale, who died in 1987, is largely forgotten. But during the 1950s and 1960s, he was a legend, a man who literally single-handedly turned around the Philippines, ending the Communist Hukbalahap revolution and installing as president Ramon Magsaysay, an incorruptible and effective leader in a shambolic country. Purportedly an officer with the US Air Force, he was actually on a kind of permanent loan to the Central Intelligence Agency.
As Max Boot writes in this impressive, extremely well-researched biography, the decisions by generations of American planners stretching from the Kennedys to Richard Nixon to ignore Lansdale’s advice on how to handle wars of rebellion and insurrection were beyond tragedy. Lansdale’s advice, which worked in the Philippines, was to combine clever propaganda with a dedication to democracy, of making sure that all levels of society had a stake in its success, and finding credible local political figures to work with.
It wasn’t just the Road Not Taken, the title of Boot’s 713-page history. Refusal to heed Lansdale resulted in what would arguably be the loss of Vietnam and the death of 2.5 million Vietnamese along with 56,000 Americans who should never have been there in the first place and who, once there, did absolutely everything wrong.
After his triumph in the Philippines, Lansdale was posted to Vietnam, where he took on the task of shepherding a truncated country in chaos after partition following the departure of the French, as a million Catholics fled the north. He became mentor to Ngo Dinh Diem, wreaking order out of the disarray and putting South Vietnam, as it was known, on what appeared to be a solid footing before he returned to the US in 1956
That was pretty much the end of Edward Lansdale’s effectiveness. He was posted back to the United States as the Kennedys and the hawks took over. A long procession of Americans who knew little of the country’s history and cared less decided that Diem was a liability, saddled as he was with his autocratic brother and the brother’s harridan wife Madam Nhu. On Oct 31, 1963, with the Kennedys’ acquiescence, Diem and his brother were murdered in an armored personnel carrier.
On that same day, ironically, Lansdale was officially retiring at the Pentagon. As Blow writes, “While colleagues were delivering flowery toasts and speeches in honor of Lansdale, (Defense Secretary) Robert McNamara walked in. And he kept on walking, striding purposefully forward, one polished wingtip after another, never looking at what was going on through his polished spectacles, much less stopping to join in the tributes to a man who had left behind a successful advertising career to devote the last 21 years of his life to his country’s service.”
It was McNamara, of course, who was the architect of America’s descent into the folly of the Vietnam War.
Lansdale didn’t leave the service of his country. He was instead put in charge by the Kennedy brothers of attempting to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba, something Lansdale from the start said would be folly. He argued against the disastrous attempt by the Kennedys to invade Cuba, using CIA operatives and anti-Cuban exiles, which ended up one of the administration’s worst embarrassments. Dubbed Operation Mongoose, the campaign against Castro was characterized by loony attempts to poison El Jefe, to lay dynamite charges in seashells near where Castro swam and other stupidities
Lansdale would be rehabilitated somewhat by Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson and would return to Vietnam to head pacification efforts in a country that already was too far gone to be saved. US troop levels climbed and continued to climb. Lansdale was looked upon as a woolly-headed liberal by most of the establishment in the country – and by the press establishment as well, with the disdain particularly full-throated by David Halberstam of the New York Times and other establishment press figures. I was there at the time as a correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, and Lansdale was pretty much a shadow. Few ever went to see him. We all were too busy covering the war by that time although a few still believed in his attempts to mold the country into something other than sadly what it became – a killing ground.
Of course, the folly of the war was never in doubt. And the bigger problem was how American foreign policy followed Vietnam down the rabbit hole.
”The key American shortcoming, in the early twenty-first century, as in the 1960s, was the inability to constructively guide the leaders of allied states in the direction desired by Washington. The Kennedy administration had seen a downward spiral into a hostile relationship with Ngo Dinh Diem after Lansdale’s return home at the end of 1956. Something similar happened with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under the Bush and Obama administrations. What was missing was a high-level American official who could influence those allies to take difficult steps such as fighting corruption without risking a blowup or backlash. Lansdale believed such tricky tasks could be accomplished by a ‘person who was selflessly dedicated to the ideal of man’s liberty, was sustained by spiritual principles of his own faith, was demonstrably sensitive to the felt needs of the people of a foreign culture and had earned their trust.’”
Lansdale pulled it off twice. But reading Boot’s account, particularly of Vietnam, as official after official came and went, knowing nothing of the country and willfully refusing to learn while piling on the ammunition, is heartbreaking.
Boot was one of George Bush’s Vulcans, a right-wing neocon. But this book, written while he was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a remarkably level-headed and astute account of how US foreign policy went wrong and how it remains tragically wrong today. The US remains tied up in Afghanistan 17 years after it entered, with no idea how to extricate itself. Nor is the country’s foreign policy any more nuanced or intelligent anywhere else. With the current administration, which has emptied out the State Department, it is unlikely to get any better any time soon.
With less than a month until Election Day, it’s time for Democrats to hunker down and get serious about their midterm messaging. In the dispiriting aftermath of the recent Supreme Court confirmation circus, this means taking a couple of deep breaths, not flipping out over the Republicans’ purported “Kavanaugh bounce” (which might be more of a hiccup) and focusing on a few key issues that resonate with a broad swath of voters.
Republicans are twitchy about their electoral prospects. They know that midterm elections tend to go poorly for the party that holds the White House, just as they are aware that President Trump, while beloved by the base, has a popularity problem among the wider electorate. Party leaders are going all in with the culture-warring and scaremongering, looking to drive their voters to the polls with the specter of a wild-eyed, rage-filled Democratic “mob” hellbent on destroying the Republic. In a Wednesday op-ed in USA Today, the president himself indulged in some light red-baiting, claiming that “radical socialist” Democrats want to turn America into Venezuela. The entire screed was classic Trump: unhinged, breathtakingly dishonest and aimed squarely at making the opposition’s head explode.
As part of this base-stroking, Republicans are eager to keep the debate raging over their freshly confirmed, ultra-polarizing Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh. The brutal fight to seat Justice Kavanaugh, which morphed from an inquiry into the judicial fitness of one man into a culture-war cage match over women’s rights and shifting sexual mores, electrified many left-leaning voters. But it also stirred up die-hard Republicans, potentially endangering the “enthusiasm gap” Democrats had been enjoying.
With Justice Kavanaugh now safely tucked into his lifetime appointment, there’s much less cause for conservatives to stay angry. And even if they’re stewing today, or next weekend, three-plus weeks is an eternity in politics — all the more in a political climate dominated by this endlessly dramatic White House. Thus, we see prominent Republicans, including the Senate majority leader and the head of the Republican National Committee, peddling the idea that if Democrats gain power in Congress, one of their top priorities will be to impeach Justice Kavanaugh. No matter that this claim has no factual basis — it plays perfectly to the Republican base’s enduring sense of victimhood.
Which is why Democrats must resist the urge to follow Republicans down this spider hole, or that of any radioactive topic designed to inflame partisan passions.
Thankfully, Democratic leaders in both chambers of Congress seem to recognize this and are encouraging their members to pivot toward issues aimed at bringing more people into the fold. In the Senate, they have said they will fixate on health care in the coming weeks, with special attention paid to protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This is a wildly popular provision of Obamacare, and one on which Republicans know they are vulnerable. This explains why President Trump fibbed about having fulfilled a campaign vow to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions, when in reality his administration has refused to defend such protections. Every single Democratic candidate should be laboring to make sure that every single American voter knows this.
The day after the Kavanaugh confirmation vote, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, called on her members to pull themselves together — “DON’T AGONIZE, ORGANIZE” — and get busy selling voters on the party’s “For the People” agenda. In addition to cutting health care costs, Democrats pledge to focus on creating well-paying jobs through infrastructure investment and on tackling Washington corruption. The party ought to have a bit of fun with this last agenda item, given that polls have shown for months now that a strong majority of voters are favorably inclined toward congressional candidates who will provide a check on this White House.
So far, Democrats seem to be staying on point. A couple of lawmakers have called for the next Congress, presumably with Democratic control of the House, to revisit the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh. A handful of others have argued that, if it turns out that he lied to Congress, he should be impeached. Ms. Pelosi has swatted down such suggestions, declaring, “We are not about impeachment.”
None of this means that the masses of Americans rightly appalled by this Supreme Court fight, or any of Mr. Trump’s outrages, should simply swallow their pain and get over it. Outside groups and incensed individuals should be working to channel all that frustration and heartbreak into turning out voters next month.
But the truth is, voters repulsed by Mr. Trump and his congressional enablers are already fired up to turn out for Democrats. Thanks to an unforgiving Senate map, the party’s more daunting challenge this cycle is to persuade people in not-so-blue areas of the country to give it a second chance.
As such, candidates and lawmakers need to take a more strategic approach. Stick to a message with broad appeal. Discuss the Kavanaugh battle in the larger context of the need for a responsible legislative branch to hold this out-of-control executive branch accountable. And no talk of impeachment — for anyone.
The only way to get the attention of a Republican Party that has proved itself interested in nothing more than power is to take away that power. Until that happens, the rest is just noise.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Democrats, Don’t Muck This One Up | Today’s Paper
The US Supreme Court–The Ongoing Brett Kavanaugh Saga
“In this crucible of power politics, of bullying and posturing and rage, no one has been more severely tested than Judge Kavanaugh. If he believes himself innocent of sexual assault — if he is innocent of sexual assault — the test, to him, can only appear monstrous.
Yet unfair as the test might seem to the judge and his supporters, senators who want to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court cannot now look away from the result: Judge Kavanaugh failed, decisively.”–The Editorial Board,
The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as much as any development in the challenging era of Donald Trump, is testing America’s politicians and its civic institutions. Few, so far, have met the test.
Not Republican senators, who, after denying one president his legitimate authority to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court, are now rushing their own nominee through, uninterested in the truth, while weeping crocodile tears about other people’s partisanship.
Not Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who tainted the process by bringing forward damaging allegations against Judge Kavanaugh only at the last minute.
Not the F.B.I., which either of its own volition or because of constraints imposed by Republicans failed to interview many of the key witnesses who could speak to the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh. And not President Trump, to absolutely no one’s surprise.
In this crucible of power politics, of bullying and posturing and rage, no one has been more severely tested than Judge Kavanaugh. If he believes himself innocent of sexual assault — if he is innocent of sexual assault — the test, to him, can only appear monstrous.
Yet unfair as the test might seem to the judge and his supporters, senators who want to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court cannot now look away from the result: Judge Kavanaugh failed, decisively.
How? First, he gave misleading answers under oath. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must have, and be seen as having, unimpeachable integrity. The knuckleheaded mistakes of a young person — drinking too much, writing offensive things in a high school yearbook — should not in themselves be bars to high office. But deliberately misleading senators about them during a confirmation process has to be.
Even the small lies, of course, aren’t so small in context, since they relate to drinking or sex and thus prop up his choir-boy-who-indulged-now-and-then defense.
Second, confronted with the accusations against him, Judge Kavanaugh made recourse not to reason and methodical process, but to fury and the rawest partisanship. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must strive to be, and be seen as, above politics.
As Judge Kavanaugh said in a 2015 speech, “to be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor.” He added: “To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don’t be a jerk.”Wise words. He wasn’t able to live by them when it mattered. At last week’s hearing, Judge Kavanaugh was a jerk. He spun dark visions of a Democratic conspiracy of vengeance against him. He yelled at Democratic senators, interrupted them frequently, refused to answer questions directly and, at one point, confronted Senator Amy Klobuchar, who had asked him whether he had ever blacked out from drinking.
“I don’t know,” Judge Kavanaugh sneered. “Have you?” This contempt came only moments after Ms. Klobuchar told Judge Kavanaugh about her father’s struggles with alcoholism.
Was Judge Kavanaugh truly out of control, in rage and pain, as he appeared, or had he calculated that a partisan attack would rally President Trump and Republican senators to his side, as it did? (We all know he was capable of a more temperate response to the accusations: He’d demonstrated that just a couple of nights earlier, in his interview with Fox News.) For purposes of Senate confirmation, it shouldn’t matter. Such a lack of self-control, or such open and radical partisanship, ought to be unacceptable in a judge.
And indeed, on Thursday, the retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by a Republican president, took the astonishing step of saying that Judge Kavanaugh’s performance before the Judiciary Committee should disqualify him from the court. “Senators should really pay attention to it,” he said.
Judges are human beings, not ideological blank slates, but the American legal system depends on their being fair and open-minded to all who come before them. Judge Kavanaugh failed to show that he can do this, or that he even would want to.
That’s a disappointment, but maybe not a surprise to anyone who knew of his life before he joined the bench. He was a fierce Republican warrior in some of the most politically charged battles of the past two decades — including the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, in which he sought to expose the most intimate details of Mr. Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also played a role in the most controversial policies of the George W. Bush administration, including the torture of detainees and warrantless wiretapping. (How much of a role we may never learn, since Senate Republicans still refuse to release more than 90 percent of the documents related to Judge Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush administration.)
While many of Judge Kavanaugh’s defenders leapt to exonerate him of sexual assault or excused his rage-bender as understandable, virtually no one has tried to deny his rank partisanship. Yet after last week’s testimony, how could any self-identified Democrat, or leftist, or sexual-assault victim, or anyone who is not identifiable as a Republican, expect to get a fair shake from a Justice Kavanaugh? If he is confirmed, that will pose a profound problem for the court.
It is quite a tribute to Christine Blasey Ford that she has presented the one image of dignity and calm in this howling maelstrom. Dr. Blasey testified last week that a drunken Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a 1982 party while they were in high school. Her testimony was credible, and the F.B.I. inquiry was too cursory to substantiate or discredit it. Judge Kavanaugh denies the accusations, and in a court of law — and, we hope, in his life as an American citizen — he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
He is not, however, entitled to a seat on the Supreme Court. Republican senators have repeatedly said they respected Dr. Blasey and were sympathetic to her; but to vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh now is to declare that her accusations mean nothing.
Presidents have the prerogative to name Supreme Court justices who reflect their values and views of the Constitution. President Trump has no shortage of highly qualified, very conservative candidates to choose from, if he will look beyond this first, deeply compromised choice.
Some Republicans have warned that if Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, no decent person will ever want to be put up for the Supreme Court again. This, like so much nonsense in recent weeks, is political hysteria. For starters, consider these seven names: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts Jr., Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.
All were seated on the court since 1991, the last time a Supreme Court nominee faced credible allegations of sexual misconduct. In that case, Clarence Thomas got the job, even in a Democratic-controlled Senate. Since then, not a single nominee has faced allegations of the sort leveled at Judge Kavanaugh.
The only failed nominations since 1991 both came at the hands of Republicans: President George W. Bush’s choice of Harriet Miers, who Republicans said was unqualified; and President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland, a respected federal judge whose only disqualification was being named by a Democrat. Republicans refused to even grant Judge Garland a hearing. Meanwhile, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices will have been chosen by Republican presidents, and the court has had a Republican-appointed majority for nearly half a century.
The Supreme Court, coequal with Congress and the White House, takes up the most important issues facing the country. Its rulings are often decided by a single vote, and they can affect the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. Yet the source of the court’s power is not tangible. It holds neither the sword nor the purse, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton. The court’s legitimacy is founded instead in an act of national faith, of confidence in the integrity and fairness of the justices. It is that confidence that ratifies the court’s decisions as the final word on American law.
That confidence has already been shaken. The court’s party-line vote in Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the 2000 presidential election, led many Americans to wonder if the justices were nothing but politicians in robes. Sixteen years later, Republicans made the balance of the court more clearly a political prize by blocking Judge Garland.
This confirmation battle has been awful for everyone. It has exposed to the country a depth of partisan grievance and connivance within the Senate that should embarrass and worry every American. It is a terrible reality that, at this point, either confirmation or rejection of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination by a narrow and overwhelmingly partisan margin will dismay and anger millions of Americans. But only by voting no, by asking Mr. Trump to send someone else for it to consider, can the Senate pass its test of institutional character and meet its obligation to safeguard the credibility of the Supreme Court.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A28 of the New York edition with the headline: A Test of Mr. Kavanaugh, and America. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe