Let’s be clear: Republicans are to blame for the fact that Brett Kavanaugh is about to become the next justice of the Supreme Court. But that doesn’t mean that Democrats don’t have anything to apologize for.
Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by a string of women. The evidence of his excessive drinking, his temper, his elitism and snobbery, and his sheer personal repulsiveness grows by the day. He also displayed most of these tendencies on television, in front of the entire world, in a hearing in which he demonstrably lied, repeatedly. And, oh yes, he is an extremist, obviously partisan person who is about to pull the Supreme Court far to the right, possibly for decades to come. What I’m saying is, there’s a lot to work with here if you want to make a strong case against him.
Instead, Democrats put all their chips on an investigation by the FBI—an inherently evil organization which they have no control over. They could have gone right after Kavanaugh during his hearing. They could have questioned him, over and over again, about his drinking. They could have questioned him, over and over again, about the many allegations against him, or the many dubious characters swirling around him. They could have forcefully campaigned against him in public. But they decided to spend what felt like an eternity asking him why he didn’t want the FBI to investigate his case.
Well, they got what they wanted—and now Kavanaugh is going to the Supreme Court.
It has been widely reported that the White House deliberately narrowed the scope of the FBI’s investigation, presumably to benefit Kavanaugh. (The White House has said that the Senate set the terms of the probe.) Democrats made appropriately stern noises about how bad all of this was once the FBI’s investigation was shown to them, but it raised the very obvious question: Shouldn’t they have known this is how things might go before they blew all of their political capital on getting the FBI involved?
Regular people might not have been aware that the FBI couldn’t just go wherever it wanted during this investigation; I sure wasn’t. But that is precisely why we have elected officials. The whole point is that they know more than us about this stuff. Democrats either didn’t know that the FBI’s investigation could be curtailed, which is an insane level of political malpractice, or they did and hoped for the best anyway, which is an equally insane level of political malpractice. They put their fate, and the fate of the country, in the hands of a process they could only marginally influence.
Wavering Republicans like Susan Collins might have been persuaded to vote against Kavanaugh if it felt too politically perilous to back him. There are courageous activists hounding them every day. They’re under real pressure. The energy around stopping Kavanaugh is tremendous. But Democrats did their best to snuff out that energy, and handed Republicans the perfect excuse to back Kavanaugh. Democratic senator after Democratic senator made clear that their make-or-break issue was an FBI probe. Then Republicans called their bluff. Once the FBI came back and said, “nothing to see here,” there was nothing to stop Kavanaugh.
Democrats couldn’t even keep their caucus together in opposition to Kavanaugh, and they sent huge signals that they weren’t going to try particularly hard to do so. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez cheerfully said the party would continue to work with any senator who voted to confirm Kavanaugh. One of them, Joe Manchin, announced on Friday that he will. It seems safe to say he won’t pay any political price for doing so, even though any short-term gain Manchin can lend his party will be far outweighed by the longterm damage Kavanaugh will cause.
Republicans were on a very basic mission here. They wanted to do two things: first, to shift the Supreme Court decisively to the right, and second, to ensure that credible allegations of sexual assault should not prevent a powerful white man from claiming what he’s entitled to. They were proud to fight for these causes. They didn’t care how bad they looked while fighting for them. They used them to rally their base. And, unless something huge changes between now and the final vote for Kavanaugh on Saturday, they will win.
Democrats are, ostensibly, deeply opposed to all of these things. The stakes are sky-high. They, as usual, let everyone down. It was always going to be incredibly difficult to block Kavanaugh, but the Democrats barely even tried. If, by some miracle, Kavanaugh loses his final conformation vote, it will be because of the huge numbers of ordinary people who mobilized to fight it, not the politicians who so disastrously failed to match their righteous fury.
Here’s a classic quote from Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, whose tortured bromance with Republican Jeff Flake was the source of rhapsodic coverage this past week:
Truly, the words of a warrior. Flake is backing Kavanaugh, by the way.
We should expect nothing less from Democrats. They do this over and over and over again. They are terrified of real politics, of having to step out from behind the comforting fog of procedure to actually face people, to try and convince them directly. Their belief in the power of the technocracy—in the ability of Official, Dispassionate People to really Step Up And Solve This Thing—is so deeply entrenched, so pathologically wound around their psyches, that it blinds them to the reality of how power in this country works. Their chief ideological devotion is to the system and the process, to comity and norms and rules being followed. It is more important to them than making things better, or ensuring that people—like, say, Christine Blasey Ford, a hero whom Democrats failed profoundly—don’t suffer. They really are worthless.