The Last Picture Show

I can still remember snippets of watching Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas testify 27 years ago. At the time, Hill’s stoicism under fire was impressive. She didn’t devolve into a puddle of tears, but held her own under fire. Thomas’ scorched-earth response, “a high-tech lynching,” was his only way out. The rest is history.

The reopened hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, on the other hand, happened at a different time in history, a time when a confluence of influence created the worst possible moment to discern the hearing’s putative goal, to determine whether Kavanaugh, as a teen, sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. Not only was Kavanaugh feared as the justice who was hated as he would “cause women to die,” a nominee of a president who was “literally Hitler,” but at the junction of #MeToo and a national need for emotional catharsis.

The hearing was a botch, as anyone who wasn’t married to the mob knew it would be. The “scary sex prosecutor” questioning Ford was a dud, scoring no points and floundering through the examination with no discernible purpose. In fairness, the mechanics of five minutes of question, following by a Democratic senator giving a speech about beatification, wasn’t conducive to meaningful questioning, but it was still Rachel Mitchell’s job to find a way to make it happen. She didn’t.

Notably, Mitchell was unceremoniously jettisoned in the second half of the hearing when Sen. Lindsay Graham came out on fire, attacking the attack on Kavanaugh. How that could be, after having ceded his time to Mitchell, remains a mystery of politics.

And politics it was, in its most perfect, and thus most horrible form. What’s shocking about this is the depth of naivete on both sides of the question. Or perhaps rather than naivete, delusion. Not only have we failed to mature sufficiently as a nation to grasp that our reliance on a universe of excuses is ineffective to convince anyone who isn’t already inclined to agree with us, but there is no skepticism at all.

The hearing was a show. It was put on for the benefit of public consumption by the groundlings, choreographed by its respective teams. And the unduly passionate of both sides ate it up, believing this melodrama was real. Every tear was their tear, every pain was their pain, and the teams mustered their most mindless passion in support of their hero or heroine. If ever people proved themselves undeserving of the respect of reality, it was the reaction to this hearing.

There was neither winner nor loser, nor was there any chance there would be. Neither side was taking any chances their lead actor would blow the game, and each played their role with the dedication that would make Oscar smile. Wait, you say. These weren’t just spontaneous displays of raw, totally justified human emotion happening right before our eyes? Grow up.*

This doesn’t make either witness a liar or insincere, but if for a moment you think this dance wasn’t completely choreographed, you’re deluded. Nothing was left to chance. Nor should it have been. To have done any less would have been insane and incompetent. To not realize this, however, is childlike. We are a nation of blubbering fools, believing what they put on the TV screen is real.

Did it work? The question for the senators was whether the hearing gave any Republican cover to back off confirmation of Kavanaugh. The question for the public was whether their side’s tears were saltier than the other side’s tears. The American Bar Association backed off its endorsement of Kavanaugh, to whom it gave a “well qualified” rating, but that moves no one. Editorial pages sided where they usually side. Nick Gillespie at Reason asked the question that no show hearing would answer.

We know where political partisans stand, but what about the rest of us who do not identify primarily in partisan terms? The latest Gallup poll on party identification finds just 26 percent of us identifying as Republican and 27 percent as Democratic. Forty-four percent call ourselves independent, a near-record high.

But there is a different problem, raised in the switch in time of American Magazine, which had supported the Kavanaugh confirmation before. Now, it does not.

What is different this time is that this nomination battle is no longer purely about predicting the likely outcome of Judge Kavanaugh’s vote on the court. It now involves the symbolic meaning of his nomination and confirmation in the #MeToo era. The hearings and the committee’s deliberations are now also a bellwether of the way the country treats women when their reports of harassment, assault and abuse threaten to derail the careers of powerful men.

While acknowledging that this hearing was no substitute for an adjudication of the allegations of sexual assault, they nonetheless recognize that it’s no longer about a judicial nomination either.

If this were a question of establishing Judge Kavanaugh’s legal or moral responsibility for the assault described by Dr. Blasey, then far more stringent standards of proof would apply. His presumption of innocence might settle the matter in his favor, absent further investigation and new evidence. But the question is not solely about Judge Kavanaugh’s responsibility, nor is it any longer primarily about his qualifications. Rather it is about the prudence of his nomination and potential confirmation. In addition to being a fight over policy issues, which it already was, his nomination has also become a referendum on how to address allegations of sexual assault.

Should this be a referendum on how to address allegations of sexual assault? If so, then should the answer not be that accusations be brought to the appropriate forum, the legal system, where they can be treated seriously and decided as effectively as we can? Apparently not. We’ve abandoned the means by which society has established must be used to decide such questions.

Who knows where those who call themselves “independent” stand anymore. The discourse has become so convoluted, so filled with emotionalism and rationalization, that we’re overcome with vehement cries of outrage from the passionate from both sides.

The television show was a winner, “entrancing” as a law prof said, capturing a nation’s need to vent its feelings. There is no place anymore for dispassionate thinking. Maybe it no longer matters who’s on the Supreme Court, as no one will  be persuaded by its opinions anyway. The battle has been joined and the tears won, no matter which side you’re on.

*I made the terrible mistake on the twitters of offering the banal observation that Ford was weepy through her opening statement (although she managed to make it through her testimony without a tear), which was surprising if it was tactical (and surely her lawyers fully prepped her on how to effectively deliver her prepared script).

I was wrong not to realize how hot passions were running, but the reactions reflect not merely the depth of tribalistic disagreement, or even the inclination to impute the worst possible motive, but the compulsion to attack as if a twit was the end of the world.

43 thoughts on “The Last Picture Show

  1. B. McLeod

    I was busy yesterday, and did not spend any time watching this “hearing.” Based on the post hoc media coverage, it appears to have been the predictable shitshow. The main utility in the entire event may end up being the ABA costing itself a few thousand more dues-paying members, as it proved once again unable to resist weighing into the fray as a virtual Democratic Party adjunct.

    1. Nemo

      The ABA managed to distinguish its endorsement by withdrawing it the moment the PR/fundraising winds started looking unfavorable.

      Their message, to those with the wit to read it (not those in charge of the ABA, obviously), is that their endorsement is nothing more than a PR move; if the PR looks bad, they say “just kidding!”, and pray for amnesia.



      1. B. McLeod

        The ABA’s pretense to evaluate candidates on an objective and non-partisan basis has been shaky for years. Now it has reached the point that every attempt by ABA to makes that claim simply detracts that much more from its already sagging credibility.

        On the ABA Journal’s website, some members openly questioned whether Bob Carlson’s letter calling for an FBI investigation was actually an “ABA” position, or only Bob Carlson’s personal political opinion. One commenter posited that as ABA’s “chief executive,” the current sock-puppet has authority to commit ABA as a whole to any political position, and that the membership’s only recourse is to remove him if they disagree. Being no longer a member myself now, I will let whoever still is try to sort that one out, but it doesn’t sound like a very wise rule to me.

        1. SHG Post author

          David Bernstein at VC asked the ABA spokesperson whether the decision to reverse the recommendation was made by the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary or by the president. The response he got was classic ABA.

          1. B. McLeod

            But the response he got from the standing committee was informative, and whoever the ABA member was who opined that the authority to take political positions lies with the Board, that is also useful. Still concealed by the ABA response is whether Carlson actually took the consultation or obtained that authority. The continuing ABA concealment suggests not, and the ABA Journal ignored reader comments raising the question of Carlson’s authority. There would be no reason to hide the ball like this except to deflect embarrassment over Carlson having taken an unauthorized action and ABA Journal having published it worldwide as an “ABA” position. Carlson will likely get the Board to “ratify” what he has done, and ABA will never come clean on any of these questions.

  2. Ken Mackenzie

    If this was the work of choreographers, Judge Kavanaugh should sack his. Or was it him? Too whiny, too much about what a good boy he is, too much about The Left and politics, and far, far too long. He sounded like a man defeated, resigned to not having the votes, cornered, lashing out, determined to go down swinging.
    There’s that old saying about a lawyer who acts for himself.

    1. SHG Post author

      I anticipated his tact to be “anger and outrage,” but I was appalled by his weepy moments as well. If that was the plan, it was the worst plan imaginable.

  3. Richard Kopf


    Although I have terminated my Twitter account (as you know), thanks for linking to yours in the post. I clicked on it and read on. I particularly liked the fellow who hoped that you would be slapped with an open hand or the person who told you that your mom would have been mad at you.

    I now think I may have made a mistake quitting the Twitters. While it is an enormous time suck, watching the world end not with a bang but a Tweet may cause me to reconsider. After all, if a huge meteor was hurtling toward earth I would not avert my eyes.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      I was similarly informed by quite a few of the unduly passionate that I have no soul, as if I didn’t already know that. This is how the battle will be fought by the idiocracy to ratio the hated. But you already know this.

    2. wilbur

      I was surprised by the number of references to SHG’s mother, but then I usually only look at Twitter when it’s linked here or somewhere else.

      And “Vocal fry”??? What the hell kind of a response is that?

        1. SHG Post author

          Lol. Let them try. Somebody already put my name in for home loans with a bunch of online lenders. I’ve gotten a number of calls from salespeople about it, and they don’t seem to take no for an answer as I nicely tell them they’ve been pranked. On the bright side, I’ve yet to be SWATted.

        2. B. McLeod

          ABA can’t disbar anyone. It is a pointless and ineffectual clique of busybodies with an inflated sense of self-importance. Only about 12.3% of the country’s lawyers are dues-paying members, and I sense that percentage is in the process of dropping once again.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              Blind side confirmed. Next test: how long will subject remember?

              Auxiliary question: will subject ever deduce that Randy is an attorney?

      1. Guitardave

        They should thank you for giving them such clearly reprehensible target to practice their amateur hour venom spitting on. What worries me most about them, is their utter lack of creativity in crafting a good insult….totally witless and un-funny. These are the ‘outside-the-box’ creative thinkers our future relies on….yay!
        PS; Not to sneeze on your maple bacon doughnut, but being a gangsta to a bunch of….never mind.

  4. Raccoon Strait

    Aren’t new precedents exciting? Mere accusation and the entire Senate Confirmation process is derailed. Thank you Senator Grassley for your outstanding handling of this situation. You have made history by changing the way these hearings might proceed far into the future. Not that they weren’t the saddest of political exhibitionism in the past.

    1. John Barleycorn

      Holy Keg Stands Batman, Chuck cuts Teds rant short and Chris goes there with the future “legitimacy” of the entire Supreme Court if a justice with an asterisk is seated.

      And still nobody has gone on a beer run yet???

  5. Fubar

    The discourse has become so convoluted, so filled with emotionalism and rationalization, that we’re overcome with vehement cries of outrage from the passionate from both sides.

    From my latest treatise “What to do when there is no place to arise and go to”:

    A lama who lives in Tibet,¹
    Said “Remember to always forget
    That playin’ ‘yo mama’
    For grand melodrama
    Is a dumb move you’ll always regret!”

    FN 1: Humblest apologies to Ogden Nash²

    FN 2: Who owes William Butler Yeats, but they ain’t makin’ lake isles like they used to.

  6. Jake

    Brett Kavanaugh is yesterday’s news. I want to know more about Bart O’Kavanaugh! Sadly, Mark Judge’s gin-soaked memoir is all sold out. :sad panda:

        1. OtherJay

          Your posts indicate that you support Ford’s claims, yet you are accusing Judge of malingering, faking his illness? Or are you passively suggesting something else?

          That is amazing to me, that you are so sure of yourself when you shit on some while ignoring others.

          1. SHG Post author

            Mark Judge’s testimony isn’t wanted for what he saw with regard to Ford. They know what he’ll say. They want him to question about the broader questions of him and Kav being general drunken rapists. At minimum, they will tar Kav by association. As for Judge, he gets nothing out of this except to be destroyed and humiliated publicly.

            1. B. McLeod

              And if the FBI “investigates,” he doesn’t have to talk to them. Nor does anybody. Nor do they have the authority to require Ford to disclose any of her treatment records. FBI “investigators” will only get what the partisan witnesses on each side want to give them. It is patently silly for anyone to suggest that an “FBI investigation” can or will accomplish anything but additional delay.

          2. Jake

            I don’t support Ford’s claims. I support the, apparently quaint and naive notion that every stone needs to be overturned so Bart O’Kavanaugh can wear his robe without a scarlet asterisk.

            And I’m not naive. While the Repubs cry delay and obstruction, the Dems have every reason to cry right back with rush and cover-up. But I’ve been around long enough to know the score. Kavanaugh, like Clarence Thomas, wasn’t nominated to overturn Roe v. Wade. He’ll do his duty for the party. It would just be a lot easier to keep the unduly passionate at bay if this wasn’t all so poorly executed.

            1. OtherJay

              First, there is nothing that could happen which would prevent ‘the asterisk’ from already being applied. You know this, but you seem to enjoy playing dumb.
              Second, you also regularly imply without specificity, which makes you appear quite naive. If you aren’t as you say, then you are being purposefully ignorant or you’re trolling the old man to ban you from his yard. Either way, my opinion is worthless to you, as your explanations are to me. Your posts speak for themselves.
              Last, I know what the word means, and I assumed that definition based on your post. If you meant something else, perhaps you can clarify. It’s not my fault you are assumed to be a simpleton. Do you think there is any possibility of any outcome other than more accusations, creating more calls for delay, etc etc? DO you expect any other outcome than more accusations at the new deadline?

              PS- I am not in a position to judge, but your word use and sentence structure say you have no room to look down your nose at anyone. I don’t know if bookface and twatter have empowered such ignorance but it’s completely unsurprising when you throw temper tantrum’s when our host or someone else puts you in their place. We’re probably about the same age and you’re making an entire generation look like complete fools.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Well, he was the topic of the first motion of the day and has been named at least 16 times this morning by both sides of the isle and they haven’t even taken a break yet- probably because they didn’t bring any beer- but just saying….

  7. Mario Machado

    I could hear Johnny Cash’s “Cry cry cry” instead of Mrs. Joplin as I tried to watch the sobfest. I find it more apropos given its more somber tone, given the state of affairs.

    Trump’s presidency began with cry-ins all over. Who would’ve thought that that practice would spill over to a SCOTUS confirmation hearing, with the nominee as a participant?

    What’s next? Unduly passionate lawyers who are incapable of zealo… oh, nevermind. Sweet meteor, do as you must!

  8. Lee Thompson

    As Nick Gillespie pointed out in the article you linked, the SCOTUS nomination process can’t be fully separated from politics. While technically Kavanaugh’s nomination could be put on hold pending an investigation (the more appropriate forum, to be sure), realistically doing so would crater the nomination and cause a new nominee to be put forward. Granted, given Pres. Trump’s love of chaos perhaps it wouldn’t, but the GOP senators know the history of SCOTUS nominations, and the idea that delay equals defeat is not a new development.

    Even if you take the screaming weasels on the sidelines away, I don’t see how this could have *avoided* being a vote on how sexual assault allegations are handled. No matter how the votes fall, a precedent will be set and a message delivered. Really, the Clarence Thomas case was a vote on it, too–he was just able to change the narrative enough to give the Senate cover to vote him in. We’ll see if Kavanaugh was successful in repeating the feat, or whether the referendum will be laid plain one way or the other.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s a problem here, if this is a referendum: this forum can only address allegations, not conclusions. The FBI investigation could possibly end the accusation, but couldn’t prove it. That requires a trial, witnesses, evidence and constitutional right. None of that can be accomplished in a Senate hearing.

      So if this is a referendum, it’s a referendum on the failure to bring this issue to the forum appropriate to decide it. If it’s just politics, then the referendum is on “believe the victim.”

      1. John Barleycorn

        Not to scuff your loafers, esteemed one, but as far as SJC affairs go Lindsey thinks it is best for all the other lawyers on the committee, and the entire citizenry of the country for that matter, to yield to him on the “legal stuff” because he was once a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney AND a judge. He said so with such conviction too….

        So, if you want Ruth’s seat it might be a good idea not to steal any of his thunder seeing as how he went out of his way this morning to remind all the members that he will be the next Charmant of the Senate Justice Committee if all goes according to plan.

        He didn’t even cry either. Go figure?

  9. ShootingHipster

    I like how you say Mitchell was unceremoniously jettisoned. While reading your tweets yesterday I had to step outside for some fresh air. That’s when I heard a whooshing sound overhead and when I looked up saw a faint object streaking across the northern sky. I’m guessing it was Lindsay Graham who pushed the launch button?

    1. SHG Post author

      It wasn’t necessary. When Graham opens his mouth, this weird wind-like thing happens forcing everything in its way to shoot for the moon.

  10. Jake

    Somebody actually got to flakey Flake with wailing pleas to “Think of the children!”.

    “This sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it!” -Cotton in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

  11. Joe

    How long until the people who unfollowed you realize they’re only hurtling themselves deeper into the echozone? Oh who am I kidding.

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