When Judge Brett Kavanaugh took his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee a little after 3:00 p.m. last Thursday, the consensus among the political punditry on both sides of the aisle was that his chances for Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court were left in ashes on the hearing room floor.
The reason for this was that a few hours prior, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had recounted an allegation about how the Circuit Court judge had drunkenly assaulted her in the early 1980s when the two were high schoolers.
Intellectual, seemingly fragile, and visibly overwhelmed by the sheer bigness of the stage on which she found herself, Ford’s account of the alleged drunken fumblings lacked any detail or verifiable facts but was unimpeachably sincere and emotional.
When Senator Dianne Feinstein surfaced the allegations against him a few weeks ago, Kavanaugh must have known moments like this awaited him. He also surely knew that he was entering into an arena where his opponents held the advantage. Remember, Kavanaugh is a judge. His is a world of legal analysis and decorum and rules of procedure, not the nihilist, knife-fighting place that people like Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris, and Corey Booker inhabit. (Senator Blumenthal’s shameless falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus line of questioning, coming from someone who lied for years about his own service during the Vietnam War, encapsulates the rank hypocrisy of the proceeding.)
Kavanaugh’s wife and children had front-row seats to the political trial-by-combat. They watched, helplessly, as Democratic Senators delivered their blows from just a few feet away. Senators bloodlessly asked a man whose biggest moral failing until last Thursday had been purchasing expensive baseball tickets about allegations that he took part in gang rapes in high school. They asked him if he drank to excess. They suggested that a calendar he kept as a teenager to record beach trips and weightlifting sessions was actually a diary of his crimes.
And because Jeff Flake, the cowardly lion of the Senate, got accosted by a woman in the elevator, Kavanaugh and his family will have to endure more scurrilous and defamatory accusations for a least another week.
The Kavanaugh family’s lives will soon become unspeakably more difficult. The joys of coaching his girls’ basketball team or attending Nationals’ baseball games with his friends are gone forever in the flash of Ford’s hippocampus. The Justice won’t ever again be able to take his wife to dinner or sit among strangers without looking over his shoulder for someone from the so-called “Resistance” to attack them mid-bite a la Ted Cruz or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Their lives will never be the same. The saddest part is that the total bill for the things they’ve lost hasn’t yet been tallied.
And yet, knowing what was at stake - his family, his professional reputation, his life’s work, his quality of life, peace of mind, and his honor - Kavanaugh entered the hearing room and took his seat.
He could have just as easily demurred.
Knowing the political tide was rising against him, it would have been completely understandable if Kavanaugh chose instead to return to his chambers on the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, arguably the second most influential court in the land, and continue his life’s work from there.
But he didn’t. He stood his ground. Standing alone, he did not cower under the klieg lights or wilt before the television camera’s unblinking eye. A man whose profession deals in words and language arranged his in the most forceful way he could to refute the accusations of a cabal that was purposefully trying to destroy him.
This was courageous.
Hemingway, influenced by his time with soldiers and admiration of Spanish bullfighters, thought that courage was grace under fire.
Plato, in the Socratic dialogue Laches, examined how to define courage with two Greek generals. Questioning them, Socrates and the generals eventually reduce the virtue of courage to its essence - “wise endurance” or “endurance of the soul.”
Whether you like Hemingway’s definition or prefer Socrates’, the virtue of courage is obvious when you see it, and Kavanaugh put it on display last Thursday afternoon before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He did something that was more difficult than most people can even imagine, and that few in his position would choose to do. He publicly refused to submit to injustice and defended his name and his honor at great personal risk.
This was courageous. It exemplifies endurance of the soul.
And true to his chosen role in our Republic as a jurist, by steadfastly defending himself and his family he has also defended the primacy of the Rule of Law.
Admittedly, truth and falsity were beyond the scope of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proceedings, but evidence and facts must still matter. Ours is a nation of laws, not men, regardless of who the man - or woman - is. Even in the court of public opinion there must be more than mere J’accuse and unverifiable accusations. The angry mob cannot carry the day, even in the world of politics. Especially in the world of politics.
But the mob is howling, and Kavanaugh knew what awaited him and still chose to enter the lion’s den.
In the days and weeks to come we should all hope that Brett Kavanaugh will continue to face the mob with wise endurance. It isn’t hyperbole to say the future of our Republic depends on it.