The U.S. Senate is often referred to — sometimes in awe, sometimes with sarcasm — as “The world’s greatest deliberative body.”
But in recent days and weeks, as the Senate has been called upon to discharge one of its most important constitutional duties, there has been damn little deliberating in evidence.
The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court has resulted in a public blood feud that has covered no one in glory. High on the list of those who have disgraced themselves are Utah’s two senators — both members of the Judiciary Committee — Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee.
But, at least for a moment Wednesday, there was some thought, and some humanity, expressed by, of course, a senator who is not seeking re-election.
In a speech notable for its humanity, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake rose on the floor of Senate to remind us all that both Kavanaugh and the women who are accusing him of serious matters are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and decency, not made the target of automatic partisan responses designed not to enlighten but to vilify.
Flake noted that the charges against the nominee are serious and that those who bring them deserve to be heard. He objected to the rush to judgment now advocated by his fellow Republicans and he supported a full FBI investigation of the matter.
And Flake rightly singled out the president’s cruel dismissal of women who claim they have been assaulted because, even of not all of the allegations against Kavanaugh are true, a great many women and girls have been so abused and need to be supported, not demeaned, when they come forward.
“How uninformed and uncaring do you have to be to say things like that, much less believe them?” Flake said, calling a president of his own party to task. “Do we have any idea what kind of message that sends, especially to young women? How many times do we have to marginalize and ignore women before we learn that important lesson?”
But Kavanaugh, Flake noted, is also a person who, absent the kind of investigation that should now go forward, does not deserve to be labeled a repeat sex offender.
Thus do one senator’s remarks stand in sad contrast to the recent behavior of Utah’s own delegation.
Hatch, apparently having learned nothing from the days when he blindly leapt to the defense of now-Justice Clarence Thomas and cruelly attacked the credibility of Anita Hill, is popping off with uninformed and unkind assumptions about the woman — now women — who have, at great risk to themselves, come forward with charges of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.
Lee himself has been somewhat more, well, judicious in his public remarks. But his communications director, Conn Carroll, has joined the social media assault on Kavanaugh’s accusers, promoting theories about how it is all a case of mistaken identity or a liberal smear campaign of lies.
Kavanaugh’s supporters have decried the attacks on his character as depriving him of his right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. But, if the process is to be compared to a criminal proceeding, then the judge and jury — members of the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate — should also be keeping an open mind, not jumping to conclusions, not judging the credibility of either side, before the evidence is in.
Deliberation, judgment, consideration. That’s what U.S. senators are supposed to be doing to earn their pay.
Flake, like Hatch and Lee, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Hatch, he is not seeking re-election this year. Both Utah senators, and all their colleagues, would be well advised to listen to the senator from Arizona and take his remarks to heart.