Short Take: Optics, But Substance Too

It wasn’t too long ago that Lara Bazelon wrote a great post about the difficulties women trial lawyers face, which makes it all the more surprising to find her arguing against the use of a woman doing the questioning.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s chairman, and his Republican colleagues have proposed ceding that important responsibility to an outside female lawyer or female aides.

I could have sworn that I saw a scold screaming about how it’s misogynistic to use the word “female.” “They’re women!”, she cried. Does that make Bazelon sexist? Well, the title of her op-ed doesn’t help, Man up, Grassley? I’m literally shaking.

Dr. Blasey and her lawyers have pushed back, demanding that Mr. Grassley and his colleagues question her themselves. They are right to do so. The Republicans’ attempt to outsource the questioning of Dr. Blasey is cynical, sexist and cowardly.

It’s always curious to hear someone “demand.” Or what? Light Grassley’s hair on fire, or maybe call him mean words like “cynical, sexist and cowardly,” and expect that to change anything? Well, Bazelon played the card in the same paragraph, but will she cause Grassley to writhe in pain and be goaded into changing his mind?

The chairman knows the optics are bad for him. Mr. Grassley and his 10 Republican colleagues on the judiciary committee are all white men. Their median age is about 60; Mr. Grassley and his colleague Orrin Hatch of Utah are in their mid-80s.

They don’t want to be seen grilling Dr. Blasey in front of tens of millions of Americans.

This is the optics problem, and it’s certainly a very real problem, particularly given the mood of a certain segment of society these days. Old white men challenging a “survivor’s truth”? Is there any way this could come off tolerable?

But the solution isn’t to remove men from the script. It’s to ask that they embody different characters: people who can pose respectful, probing questions, rather than bullies intent on shaming and demeaning the witness.

This would be a fine solution, but for a few of the inherent baked-in vagaries. Respectful? Bullies? “Shaming and demeaning”? None of these words provide any meaningful guidance. Each reflects the feelz perspective, as one person’s “respectful” is another’s “bullying.” But more to the point, you can’t demand the “search for the truth” while simultaneously demanding that “but only with questions that conform with my feelz so they aren’t too, you know, uncomfortable.”

Even if Bazelon had gone the next step, offered some examples of questions that met her personal standard of “respectful” but not “bullying,” would they become the standard for all people, for all women? Just because it aligns with Bazelon’s feelz doesn’t mean it’s good enough for the most delicate woman in America. That’s a problem. Bazelon either fails to recognize it, or prefers to ignore it. Maybe she hopes you won’t notice.

But there remains a second issue, entirely aside from the optics problem: senators excel at sucking the air out of a room when bloviating at great length, but they suck at asking well-framed incisive questions. This isn’t a partisan problem: they all suck at it. It’s not part of the politicians’ skillset. It should be part of the prosecutor’s skillset, but as conclusively proven by Kamala Harris, that ain’t necessarily so.

For the sake of that portion of the populace that’s not bound by their passionate emotions of love or hate, who might actually want to hear something beyond confirmation of their bias, a skilled examiner would be the best bet to gain some serious insight, including meaningful scrutiny, into the merits of Ford’s accusations. We want to hear what Ford has to say, but by solid and incisive questions. Is that cowardly?

Which brings me to my final point. Cowardice.

Republican senators have no problem trying Dr. Blasey in the court of public opinion.

This is disingenuous on every level. If Ford wanted to prosecute Kavanaugh, she should have done so. If she wanted her testimony to be heard in private, Grassley offered her the opportunity. She wants to testify in public at a confirmation hearing. She can do so.

Come on, gentlemen. Man up.

You too.

17 thoughts on “Short Take: Optics, But Substance Too

  1. Ken Mackenzie

    It’s a bit sad you hold no hope that a Senator could ask solid, incisive questions. I don’t doubt your assessment of them, but for me that’s the most telling symptom yet of the health of the institution.

    1. SHG Post author

      Competent examination is essentially antithetical to a politician’s existence. If there are words left to be murdered and they don’t murder them, their heads explode. It’s unattractive.

      1. Guitardave

        That was then, Mr. Offmyard.
        These days you must consider the objection AND feel my strenu-osity-ness. K?

  2. Richard Kopf


    The only reason that Ms. Bazelon, an experienced trial lawyer herself, does not like the idea of an experienced female trial lawyer examining Dr. Ford is that Bazelon understandably fears that Ford’s story will be gently taken apart bit by bit. Indeed, Bazelon’s terrific article for which you provide a link proves that exact point by retelling the winning cross-examination of a sympathetic female plaintiff by a great but understated female defense lawyer.

    Instead of the “Man up” formulation, Bazelon, intending to protect Ford, might as well have written “I am woman hear me whimper.” “Hypocrisy” thy name is Lara Bazelon.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      I took no comfort in this post, as I respect Bazelon otherwise, but it was entirely up to her to wield a sword that cut both ways.

  3. B. McLeod

    If the protocol had been to question her themselves, the same idiot would be attacking them for not delegating the function to a [professional lawyer. Whatever the committee does is an OUTRAGE, no matter what it is. To the shrill the hysterical and the unreasoning, that sort of simple construct takes the place of having to think.

    1. SHG Post author

      Her contention could never pass muster for hypocrisy, but she’s smart enough to realize that, suggesting she is either overcome with passion or assumes the readers are too stupid to realize that her argument was nonsensical.

  4. losingtrader

    I understand all this criticism is part of your campaign to personally do the questioning dressed in drag.

    Did they not offer to pay your rates?

      1. Jim Tyre

        Grassley now says that the Republicans have hired outside counsel to do the questioning, but he won’t identify her out of fear for her safety. Is he really talking about you? That would be fun.

          1. Richard Kopf

            OK Zir*

            * Zir is typically used (a) when a peron’s gender is unknown, and one wishes to avoid assuming the other’s gender, or (b) when the object of affection neither accepts male or female gender identification, making he and she (and also either/or terms like s/he or (s)he) inappropriate and potentially hurtful. God knows I don’t want to be hurtful.

            All the best.


            1. SHG Post author

              I prefer Kir to Zir, particularly when I have Chambord on hand and wish to make a delightful Kir Royale. As for person’s of unknown gender, the old school conventions still serve me well. Other’s excessive sensitivities don’t make me hurtful.

              Come to think about it, I have a bottle of Chambord in the cabinet. If I listen very closely, I can hear it calling my name.

  5. Billy Bob

    Cannot wait for this Kabuki dance to be over. PVP = Painful, very painful.

    Bill, what did I William Tell you about being the last one to comment? (My least inspiring comments come at the end of the day! I apologize profusely, Admiral of the Nebraska flotilla.)

    This is really quite tiresome. Just confirm the poor bastard, and be done with it. Another “qualified/unqualified”
    nominee will come marching down the pike, spouse in hand, in due time.
    Trust it!

    Did I mention that at BB Headquarters, we don’t give a rat’s ass for SCOTUS or anyone sitting there? (Not you, RBG!)

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