Gehrke: Kavanaugh hearing likely to be more about politics, not uncovering the truth

(Evan Vucci | The Associated Press) Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh meets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Washington.

I’d just started college when the infamous Clarence Thomas hearings kicked off, and I remember spending hours watching in utter amazement as the drama unfolded.

It was, in many respects, a national embarrassment — with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch squarely at the center of it — and it sliced the country wide open.

At least we never will have to go through that again. Or so I thought.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Robert Gehrke.

The parallels between those 1991 Anita Hill hearings and the inquest scheduled for next week, where Christine Blasey Ford is expected to detail how nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly attempted to rape her when they were in high school, are glaring.

Neither of the accomplished women wanted to be thrust into the spotlight, yet here we are.

But if you thought the Thomas hearings were bad, brace yourself. Imagine those hearings in a world with social media sniping and attacks, in a country where political polarization already has us held together by thin threads, and where we haven’t seen decorum and comity in Congress since before Orrin Hatch’s hair went gray.

Half of Utah, it seems, is burning this week. That’s nothing compared to the dumpster inferno we are in for next week.

I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be a hearing. Senators and, frankly, the public deserve to hear from Ford and Kavanaugh, and ignoring the alleged assault of a teenager by a Supreme Court nominee would be a serious dereliction of duty.

Personally, I’m inclined to believe Ford’s account. It’s a familiar story, told with specificity and, based on the memoir written by Kavanaugh’s high school buddy Mark Judge (who denied Ford’s story), fits the boys-will-be-boys culture in which they grew up.

Ford’s recounting the experience to her husband and a therapist and passing a lie detector test bolster the allegation.

Perhaps most persuasive is that the alternative — that she made up the tale and is dragging herself and her family through this hell for political reasons — is too mind-boggling to comprehend, just as it was in Anita Hill’s case.

Still, I’m not sure any of that matters. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this charade will be about trying to uncover the truth any more than the Thomas hearings were about senators seeking the truth.

(Willy Sanjuan | Associated Press file photo) In this Dec. 8, 2017, photo, Anita Hill speaks at a discussion about sexual harassment and how to create lasting change from the scandal roiling Hollywood at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Anita Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University (and scheduled to speak at the University of Utah next week), wrote this week about how the Judiciary Committee could avoid repeating history: Rely on experts in the field of sexual violence, call Ford by her name to acknowledge she is a human being and not just an accuser, do a thorough investigation, and don’t rush through the process just to have it done.

The committee is, unsurprisingly, failing on each count.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a body less equipped or interested in discerning the facts than the United States Senate.

If you doubt that, look at what Hatch has already said — that he believes, before hearing her testimony, that Ford’s claims are not legitimate.

“I think this woman, whoever she is, is mixed up,” he said this week. Note how he didn’t bother to use her name. This woman. Whoever she is.

Even if what Ford said did happen, he said Kavanaugh is a “good man” and deserves to be on the court.

For Hatch, this will likely mean he will close his Senate career with a reprise of one of his most shameful performances, attacking a woman who said she was the victim of an attempted rape and carried the scars of that assault for decades.

You can bet that Utah Sen. Mike Lee, if he’s not asking probing questions about whether Ford uses a Sharpie marker to take notes, as he did with Kavanaugh, will likely play junior bulldog.

By the way, don’t count on Democrats to be much better when it comes to shameless grandstanding, and the over-under on the number of times members of Code Pink protest group interrupt the hearing is 27.

And what will it all yield?

If we’re lucky, maybe, as the Thomas hearings did nearly 30 years ago, it will build on the national dialogue about sexual violence that was sparked by the #MeToo movement.

I worry, though, it could have the opposite effect. I fear the process will politicize an issue that shouldn’t be political, dividing us where we should be united and liberating the doubters to more brazenly challenge survivors.

And, given the time that has passed, it’s unlikely that we will get any definitive answers and we will probably end up with a Supreme Court justice who may — or may not — have tried to rape a teenager.

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