Chris Churchill: Ka­vanaugh fight deep­ened na­tional chasm.

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ■ Con­tact Chris Churchill at 518-454-5700 or email cchurchill@time­sunion. com

Fifty years ago this week, Ge­orge Wal­lace came to Al­bany. The fiery seg­re­ga­tion­ist, then the gover­nor of Alabama, was run­ning for pres­i­dent in 1968, and his rally on the steps of the Capi­tol was as tu­mul­tuous as you would ex­pect. Among the crowd of 5,000 were pro­test­ers gath­ered across the street at Acad­emy Park.

“Sieg Heil!” they chanted. “Down with Wal­lace!”

The man with the slicked hair didn’t let the taunts go unan­swered. “You are through in this coun­try when I’m elected pres­i­dent,” Wal­lace bel­lowed dur­ing a speech in which he claimed polls show­ing Richard Nixon ahead in the race were “rigged” by the “east­ern money es­tab­lish­ment.”

The more things change... If noth­ing else, the an­niver­sary of Wal­lace’s visit is a re­minder that the divi­sion and ran­cor of the mo­ment are hardly new. Given

that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were as­sas­si­nated in 1968, and Wal­lace him­self was shot four years later, you could con­vinc­ingly ar­gue the an­i­mus was much worse then.

But it is bad now. Re­ally bad.

The fight over Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion was a na­tional black eye that made our chasm ob­vi­ous and deeper. With the sex­ual-as­sault al­le­ga­tion by Chris­tine Blasey Ford viewed en­tirely through par­ti­san lenses, few in­volved were fair-minded — least of all Democrats who as­sumed it must be true, despite the lack of cor­rob­o­ra­tion, largely be­cause they ob­jected to Ka­vanaugh’s ju­di­cial phi­los­o­phy.

Just in case Ford’s tes­ti­mony might not be enough to fin­ish Ka­vanaugh, the al­le­ga­tions shifted to­ward the triv­ial. He once threw ice at some­body! He joked about puk­ing! A class­mate may have seen him sloppy drunk! He was no choir boy!

The stuff from decades ago, much of it here­say, was re­peated glee­fully on CNN and MSNBC, but was ir­rel­e­vant to Ford’s al­le­ga­tion or the Supreme Court. It was char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion.

Ka­vanaugh was also ac­cused of lack­ing the proper ju­di­cial tem­per­a­ment, given that he had an­grily de­fended him­self. Here’s a ques­tion: How would for­mer Supreme Court jus­tices — An­tonin Scalia, say, or Earl War­ren — have re­acted to be­ing ac­cused of sys­tem­atic gang rape, as Ka­vanaugh was by Michael Ave­natti’s un­re­li­able client?

Thank­fully, we will never know.

Some of the at­tacks worked to Ka­vanaugh’s ben­e­fit, be­cause they drew at­ten­tion away from Ford’s al­le­ga­tions and made the whole process seem sus­pect. Oth­ers tainted the at­tack­ers far more than the nom­i­nee.

Con­sider that the ACLU, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has long de­fended due process, spent $1 mil­lion on ap­palling ads that com­pared Ka­vanaugh to Bill Cosby, a con­victed sex­ual preda­tor. What in God’s name has hap­pened? Has ev­ery­body for­got­ten At­ti­cus Finch?

You don’t have to like Ka­vanaugh or the man who chose him to be trou­bled by all this. You can sup­port the #Metoo move­ment and think the group­think aimed at Ka­vanaugh was largely un­fair. You don’t have to be­lieve Ford was ly­ing to con­cede that she could just pos­si­bly be wrong.

Our mem­o­ries, af­ter all, are fal­li­ble. We are hu­man.

The di­vide isn’t the fault of Democrats alone, of course. Pres­i­dent Trump sprin­kles gaso­line on the fires of divi­sion daily. He mocked Ford’s tes­ti­mony, despite the ev­i­dence of her pain. It was mean, un­nec­es­sary. And some in the crowd laughed.

I’m writ­ing this on Fri­day evening, not long af­ter Su­san Collins, the mod­er­ate and prin­ci­pled se­na­tor from Maine, all but as­sured Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion by an­nounc­ing she would vote for him. Collins did so only af­ter im­plor­ing us, in her ra­tio­nal and re­mark­able speech, to be more civil, to take sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions se­ri­ously and to re­mem­ber our long-stand­ing val­ues.

“The Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion process is not a trial,” Collins said. “But cer­tain fun­da­men­tal le­gal prin­ci­ples about due process, the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence and fair­ness do bear on my think­ing and I can­not aban­don them.”

Collins said what had be­come ob­vi­ous: There wasn’t ev­i­dence to back Ford’s words.

“The four wit­nesses she named could not cor­rob­o­rate any of the events of that evening gath­er­ing where she says the as­sault oc­curred,” she said. “None of the in­di­vid­u­als Pro­fes­sor Ford says were at the party has any rec­ol­lec­tion at all of that night.”

It would have been nice if ev­ery­one had paused when Collins was done to think about what she’d said and con­sider her points. Of course, that isn’t what hap­pened. The Twit­ter mob brimmed with rage.

“Never let Collins have a mo­ment of peace in pub­lic again,” wrote a per­son who should know bet­ter.

“She’s a traitor to her coun­try and her gen­der,” tweeted an­other, a man re­peat­ing a com­mon re­frain.

A traitor to her gen­der? Isn’t it a bit sex­ist for a man to sug­gest that all women must think alike?

It is easy to be pes­simistic about where we are headed. The poi­son in our pol­i­tics is mak­ing ev­ery­one sick. It might not be as bad as 1968, but it is close.

An­drew Harnik / As­so­ci­ated Press

Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton on Sept.27. He was con­firmed by the Se­nate on Satur­day.

Chris Churchill

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