Audioburst Search

The Brett Kavanaugh Epistemological Crisis


I will not be intimidated withdrawing from this process. You've tried hard. You've given it your all. No one can question your effort but you're coordinated and well funded effort to destroy my good name and destroy my family will not drive me out in which you want to do is destroy this guy's life. Hold this seat open and hope you win at twenty twenty okay so I asked if you drink in high school and you said I like beer ten times leads me to the next question. Did you ever drink too many beer cool yeah hello and welcome to trump cast. I'm Virginia Heffernan. I know Oh that I recommended succession to you and it's still a great show. It's still in it's terrific second season Sunday nights on HBO and I'm still not schilling for it but but I do want to spare a thought for unbelievable which happens to have the advantage unlike succession of being released in full eight episodes every single telepaths owed on net flicks so you can just binged it's based on the story of a serial rapist as reported by PROPUBLICA and the Marshall Project and feminism awesome is not an angle on the show not a lens. It's the air the whole series breathes. I bring it up because we're going to be talking about Brett Cavanaugh today hey an unbelievable has managed to throw into relief a thought I had during his somewhat traumatic confirmation and that's like no other crime. One's relationship to rape seems to dovetail with one's relationship to truth. What I mean is sexual? Assault is an event that like it or not unlike armed robbery can be quarrelled over was bred cavenaugh waving his penis around at a party at Yale and even forcing it into faces and hands was that assault abuse immoral illegal. Does it matter what the context was or how insulted some people in the room were by it or or how many laughed it off and what if no one's traumatized by the wagging penis it is it a crime then we get into an epistemological project that has a dangerous dark dark side and that's the persistence of doubt about the testimony of victims male and female because the possibility of someone who wags his Dick Around at parties to him the possibility of him being thought an assailant almost our rapist is so important that to get that feeling away he and and I'm thinking of Red Cavenaugh himself here has to demonize the victims and call them opportunists and liars and no one in this whole mess seems capable full of giving just a dry recitation of the facts what happened between Brad Kavanagh and Christine Blasi fort what happened between Brett Cavanaugh and and Debbie Ramirez at Yale the women in the stories represent themselves as so traumatized that they have a hard time thinking clearly about what happened and I and Brad Kavanagh represents himself as so victimized that he clearly can't talk about what happened so we end up in a truth twister and everyone is flooded flooded with terror terror of sexual violence for those who identify with the victims tariff being found out by people who identify with the sexually aggressive purpose CBS unbelievable shows a wide range of responses to rape by both men and women. I've never seen anything like it and it reminds me of an extraordinary observation by one one of my mentors in graduate school. The philosopher land scary Elaine said to have pain is to have certainty to hear about pain is is to have doubt GonNa leave it at that and let that sink in as they say on twitter my guest today Robin Pogrebin and and Kate Kelly took an epistemological vacuum the one that opened up when Republicans in the Senate refused to vote for further investigation into Brad Kavanagh before they confirmed confirmed him so we didn't get the investigation then we were denied that investigation and that's where Robyn and cate came in they've given it to us now in their book took the education of Brett Cava. I'm so happy they're joining me on the show and what's a busy week for them. Welcome Robin and Kate Trump cast. Thank you for having us Sometimes I think there have been two kind of major reciprocal traumas of the past three years. the first was the the election in two thousand sixteen and the second was Brad Kavanagh. Now those are the ones that really like went into my dream life other little little things along the way didn't sink in so so deeply an horribly and feel like trauma to the country or at least to the women in the country but but that one I mean I don't know if you had the same experience but right after Cavanaugh was confirmed the people I saw the women I saw the friends I saw seemed like kind of hollow-eyed an empty and just defeatist and it really seemed like the world was upside down. We had heard Christine Bazi Ford. Give more than credible testimony money almost hard to doubt testimony like as much as you stretch your mind to disbelieve her. It was very difficult and then see the Senate and particularly Susan Collins blow past that and everyone else say no investigation and the performance of course of Lindsey Graham the fake outrage anyway. Was that your experience Kate and Robin and is that what inspired you to write the book I think the inspiration for the book came a little bit later than when the Christine Blasi Ford and then the Deborah Ramirez allegations came out. I think it happened when the confirmation vote happened on October sixth after a very abbreviated. TV AIDED FBI investigation the results of which nobody knew other than key members of the Senate and the White House and we felt like there were so many unanswered questions and wherever those answers would lead whether it would lead to additional corroboration of those women's allegations wins or it would lead to vindication for justice cavenaugh because the allegations weren't right we felt like we wanted a sense sense of closure just as human beings and citizens and curious journalists and we were pretty certain a lot of other people would like to have the closure and we thought let's take a look at this. Let's try to investigate this ourselves and see what we might be able to find in terms of the personal reaction to the proceedings. It was very gut wrenching I think for everybody and I think a lot of us have experiences or know people who have had experiences with sexual assault and that's always very difficult to hear. We've heard a lot more about it since the me too movement started so I think there's a lot of emotional reaction and there's a lot of sort of accumulated anguish over the stories that were hearing and that we know of at the same time justice cavenaugh then judge cavanaugh being frustrated aiden an angry left very searing image for a lot of us and on reflection interesting thing for robin and I was the fact that we tried to put ourselves in his shoes a bit and thank how we would feel if our son our our spouse were accused of something and believe the accusation was wrong on. How painful would that be for us as well as for him? There is this sort of moral outrage around it but the reason that I that it seems like cavenaugh. This was an important occasion for journalism is that there's also maybe sounds too rarefied but like an epistemological piston logical crisis because you heard Christine Blasi forgive this imperfectly empirical testimony not only. Did she know what she she knew but she really knew what she didn't know it sounded it was just it was so flushed out it felt like a real experience and then in response you got yeah. I like beer. Don't I'm falsely accused. You're wrecking my life but nothing that made sense of all the material evidence of the calendar of the of the slang and the calendar of the culture at Georgetown Prep and so it was I think part of the trauma which just being reminded of all all the experiences where you've been unable to get a straight answer both from this administration in the blur of contacts with with Russia and all kinds of other things they were they just kept strong arming us about obstructing justice about and in our metoo experiences. We just never got a hearing to say this is exactly what happened and journalism. Yes you say we must have been curious. You must have been curious to find out what happened here and I'm so glad that you jumped into the breach. Well thank you for saying that I mean I think that you know everyone we talked to and we certainly shared this view on some level felt a sense of things being unfinished. They felt unsettled. Take unsatisfied frankly that these events which were so highly charged flew by where you had journalists kind of frantically trying to kind of find find the facts even as this was on spooling at at a very fast rate and that was sort of this impetus the impetus for us to kind of go back at all of this in a more thoughtful considered way with the benefit benefit of more time and some perspective to really try to understand what happened here more about who these people were in a more three dimensional way and also so you know to frankly realize that actually it's because of the moment we're living in where there is this raise consciousness around sexual misconduct and we are so sort of politically klay divided as a country that people really this was kind of like a a roar sach test and then people just saw what they wanted to see without actually some some real kind have deep investigation and trying to kind of get to the truth quite frankly so let's start with the resignation of Justice Kennedy because we once had an expert on apartheid on the show Andreas do toy who still an activist in South Africa 'cause he had written a really interesting threads saying justice Kennedy's resignation reminded him of a moment before apartheid when a small seemingly administrative thing happened and it led led to autocracy and he thought this might be the same thing that there was something in that almost accidental completely spontaneous and unexpected effected event of Kennedy's resignation from the Supreme Court that then ended up putting cavenaugh in place. What did you learn about that resignation? I know they've always been questions about it did you. I think there was anything suspicious about it or at least opportunistic about it. What did you make of that moment? I mean there was definitely there. Were a lot of conspiracy theories you know in some way Kennedy had been coaxed to leave and he begins some guarantees about who would replace him. You know we were never able to actually pin that down but I think there was is the sense that we had that he was given some assurances that these particularly these these clerks who had clerked for him that at least with with cavenaugh that he was a very likely candidate to replace him and I think that Kennedy had an interest in sort of preserving his legacy with some sort of a known commodity and and certainly has very kind of fond feelings for cavenaugh and a close relationship so there was some sense that Kennedy had some sense that he was going to be leaving being his position in good hands but there is no nothing kind of dispositive that bears that out okay that's useful and so do you think it was true that there were a few front runners and the cavanaugh was among the front runners or was that was the fix in for Cavanaugh I mean I think that he was Don mcgann. Don mcgann was White House counsel at the time they had a history together in the Bush administration and just from Washington establishment circles and so I think he was it was somewhat mcgann's man and I think Megan certainly championed him but you know basically what it was interesting about. This court process was that you know even though trump tends to be a president is an who seems to have all the answers when it comes to picking judges. He seems to have a sort of it kind of acknowledged what he doesn't know and deferred to sort of contract contracted out to the Federalist Society which is the organization that kind of cultivates conservative judges so there was a kind of a federal society it list of potential candidates you know all of them kind of satisfied the basics in terms of conservative agenda some of them were more problematic automatic than others in terms of kind of confirmation potential but but what was interesting was that I from what we learned cavanaugh was not necessarily considered conservative enough by some people who were part of this process that he was a little too middle of the road little to establishment Washington figure and kind of more of a Roberts then let's say an Alito or a gorsuch when they were trying to secure kind of the right on the court and I think they also were frankly that he that his kind of he had too many too much of a document train he had had too many papers when he worked for President Bush and that might be a problem so he wasn't like he was a shoo-in but he was certainly strong a strong candidate. Is there something getting in the way of your happiness or that's preventing you from achieving eating your goals. Well better help online counseling. Is there for you. Get help on your own time and at your own pace bet your help allows you to schedule secure or video or phone sessions plus chat and text with your therapist bet your help has licensed professional counselors who specialized in depression anxiety navigating family conflicts and many many more subjects anything you share with the counselor is completely confidential and if you aren't happy for any reason and you can request a new counselor at anytime at no additional charge best of all. It's a truly affordable option trump. CUSS listeners get ten percent sent off your first month with discount code trump cast so why not get started today go to better help dot com slash trump cast simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get match with the counselor you'll love. That's better help dot com slash trump cast so let's talk about the proximity to mcgann this speculation. That Cavanaugh was to center the road. It seems to me that a McConnell figure only cares about abortion and just in the gross you know lines of these things just cartoonish representations of them and trump seems to only care about protecting himself broad executive powers so so on which of those two or what other things did cavenaugh seem to centrist Cavanaugh was always high on the White House list not don mcgann the White House counsel soul who had known cavenaugh for a long time and had worked with him previously was a fan and he had instructed his staff to Vet Brad Kavanagh Amy Kony Barrett and some others in advance of Kennedy's retirement as a matter of fact they were ready for it roughly a year before it actually happened because Kennedy ahead signaled that he might be retiring not long after Judge Justice Gorsuch was confirmed in terms of the Centrism Kavanagh's jurisprudence was actually a little more pragmatic and less ideological on the circuit court in DC then some of the more conservative leaning meaning textualist would have preferred so one of those examples was his ruling on obamacare which was kind of a down the middle ruling it was not not as conservative as somewhat of liked. Let me know how it's possible that Cavanaugh was considered to centrists in my cartoonish idea of this McConnell connel and rank and file Republicans care only about abortion when it comes to the Supreme Court and Donald Trump our president cares only about someone who will protect him and and assert assert his broad executive powers as bill does how did Brad Kavanagh seemed to follow foul of either of those in being too centrist or is it a total another issue altogether altogether that got him that reputation so Brad Kavanagh had very much put together his conservative Bona Fides along the way he had worked for a Republican President George W Bush he had worked on the independent counsel team for Kenneth Starr in terms of looking into Whitewater and then later the Monica Lewinsky matter her as a judge on the circuit court in DC for twelve years he had been sort of a pragmatic judge from time to time would surprise with his his opinions. One example of is there was a two thousand eleven case that challenged the legality of obamacare and although on the one hand he dissented from from the two to one ruling in Obamacare's favor he sort of muddied the picture by saying the judges had no jurisdiction to resolve the dispute over the legislation so that was something that was actually red flagged by White House counsel Don mcgann's team as they were doing the vetting of future potential justice cavenaugh they went through through his three hundred odd opinions from the circuit court and flag the ones that might be flashpoints in a debate in which he was framed or hoping to be framed as the go-to conservative choice one of them there was also a somewhat noted abortion case from two thousand seventeen gene that involved an undocumented immigrants in Texas who had crossed the border was pregnant and wanted to obtain an abortion and that was sort of a complex like set of issues but essentially he argued that this teenager should spend a little bit more time waiting to obtain that abortion and even though she had had a lower court say that she was entitled to one because of matters that related to her being seventeen years old and not of majority age age and needing to be with a so called custodian before that procedure happened so that was kind of a mixed result in conservative is on the one hand it imposed a delay or a restriction on the access to the abortion on the other hand though it didn't block it entirely what I guess I also want to know is how integrated rated is his thinking about the law with his temperament and character and life. You know way more about him now than probably anyone should he just doesn't frankly strike me whereas as a justice a jurist he seems like a different kind of guy and even when I hear Bedouin us really tried to persuade me that he was he's a conscientious insertive man of the law but he seems like a B. Student and a party hack you just doesn't have that Scalia or BG presence what's in T. Can you tell me why I'm wrong about that or maybe I am right. That's a good question. I think it's a little bit of both actually I don't think he was is a massive intellect. You know he certainly the people we talked to about him in college and Law School he was not sort of the the standout student who I'm kind of impressed people with his kind of his mind or his his ideas he wasn't the person kind of raising his hand and speaking up in class and the interestingly was doesn't even politically active at all which may have been strategic at the time I mean he did ultimately joined the federalist society when he was law school but he was kind of an every man you know many many people speak to the idea that he didn't make much of an impression which was really kind of interesting to us and you know now in retrospect it may look like that was by design because because you know he was uncontroversial somewhat but you know one of these grey lines is someone describing him as kind of ham on White was how they would talk about he was more about fitting fitting in than standing out and I think that was his. Mo and it ended up kind of serving him well because he wasn't objectionable didn't alienate people he just didn't sort of take strong positions one way or the other although he may have felt them he he certainly wasn't voicing them. and even you know interestingly George Priest who was oh at one of his law professors one of the few conservative law professors at Yale law school which is kind of typically known for having liberal bent he recommended him to judge Kozinski when judge Kozinski was looking for a clerk because George priest not said he wasn't wasn't because he was impressive in torts class of George Pre said to me but because he was kind of Nice Guy on the basketball court like basically had had good manners so it's sort of you get a sense that that was people sense of him was yes. He was Jock a party guy sort of a unobjectionable e- easy to be around but at the same time you know obviously academically distinguished so kind of like a covert student where he it was actually putting in the time and effort to to do well enough to get admitted to Yale law school. That's not something that people can easily do and certainly there are no connections we found down that would have kind of grease the wheels for him and then you know a series of impressive clerkship and jobs in the profession as well as talking to clerks of his who who who said how much how important it was to him that politics did not enter into his decision making in his consideration of cases which was interesting given kind of how oh kind of partisan people assume him to be given his writing the star report and kind of going after Clinton over the Lewinsky affair. It seems like his decision making I'm Ben was not influenced either by ideology or by intellect basketball court stuff it was that and it was wanting to be on the court. You wanted to be a judge. Yeah I think he you know and I do think he is kind of like a letter of law guy in a pragmatist in a way that is actually just kind of either it just less less ideological as you said in his own words. He's a prologue judge pro that was what he said more than once during the proceedings last year unlike like the studiously anti law judges that the world you know all about so the beginning of the book you visit his his Georgetown prep reunion in the very start start the homecoming at Georgetown and there's a really interesting where us there the crowd is talking about some of his old classmates are talking about a letter that surfaced. You may have to remind me of all this. It's something that he wrote about like the House rules when he was with his party Buddy's. Tell us about that because you what you say is not only only does it have that party language that Matt Damon satirized so well the references to heavy beer-drinking all that but it also has some little kind of annoying rules about how much everyone does for this summer house or this share whatever they're getting and a few other things and you use the word persnickety when and which is is not how we think cavenaugh but that's another side of him so tell me about persnickety yeah I mean we got this beach week. Letter so called letter that's right New York Times about a year ago and we wrote about it in the paper and then I sort of expanded on it in writing this portion of the prologue yes and essentially what it was was that a a letter that cavenaugh had written in the late winter of nineteen eighty-three when he was a senior in high school and he and his friends were preparing for beach week now beach week for the uninitiated is a week long retreat that occurs among sort of the more affluent students in the DC area. You humanity like a lot of fun. It's I'm getting. I'm getting to the dark side of each week so it's a week long beach vacation in ocean city Maryland and Rehoboth and I'm sure do we. I'm sure people go to different places on the Delaware shore but in this case I think the focus was on ocean city and essentially essentially barely chaperoned or even UN chaperoned young people get together in these condominiums and drink their faces off and hook up and go to the beach then get into all kinds of shenanigans cabin on his group of friends went multiple years and much has been written about this for your listeners who are interested by Mark Mark Judge his classmate who's written several books about his high school experience and beach week factors in but anyway Brett wrote a letter to help organize beach week and he he told the Group of friends that they needed to put together three hundred ninety eight dollars as a deposit for the condominium and that they would have to handle this because he was going to be on vacation during the week where it was due and he provided information about that but he also talked about how they hoped that girls would come and stay with them and that there was more than enough room for girls but that they had to limit the access of others because they only had so many beds and they should maybe warned the neighbors that they were obnoxious and prolific Olympic puke was his word which later became sort of salient because it came up during the Senate confirmation hearings that he has a weak stomach and was known back in the day day for bombing when he was drinking too much and once again mark judge has written about cavenaugh with sort of thinly-veiled Avatar known as Bardo Cavanaugh aw for passing out and puking in someone's car so to make a very long story short. This letter was resonant for some of the Georgetown Prep Alumni who were talking about the New York Times story we had written on it at the Georgetown Prep Reunion last October and they thought it was classic Brett it was on on one hand his organizational side and his eye for detail and on the other the sort of party side and the puking the invitation for Girls US etc yes first of all I love your son of emotionless summary of this thing which is just obviously you know that absurd spring break stuff that used to get advertisers to us every in the eighties Fort Lauderdale and whatever I never was lucky enough or unlucky enough to be invited but it was definitely a phenomenon coming on in the eighties it's weird because Elena Kagan is roughly the same age is bred Kevin. I don't remember her her beach week stories do you do you guys on this haven't heard anything about that but she from the DC area. I think she's from New York. Is there a beach week. In New York. Robin we don't we don't do beach week in New York City but go out to the Hamptons and Bruce so so a and and that may thinking about Elena Kagan in the same breath as Brat Cabina is the kind of thing. I feel like we've been doing for three years. It used to right around the time stormy Daniels News broke. I just tried this thought experiment of Hillary Clinton is paying off guys them the thunder from down under and you know male strippers chippendales dancers or whatever and we've just learned about it and taking not in it's just it's just very hard in some ways to think that these two genders there's and people from such contrasting cultures can now. I'll be in Washington together and again and indeed running the country at the court at the same time I hear that Robin and how you summarize Kavanagh's life it's it's almost just a completely alien so catholocism. That's something I wanNA lean on my my colleague. Dolly Olympic did a really interesting to you in with Elena Kagan and she was talking to justice Kagan about religion on the court and apparently just as gorsuch. I I think is one of the few or maybe Clarence Thomas are they're. They're very few Protestants on the court now that it's it's really dominated by these by Catholics and Jews and religion does inflict decision making at the level of the court. I mean you know if it would be almost impossible to think of something like abortion without it. Being in the context of Religion Brad Kavanagh story obviously had a lot of religion to it there were sort of virgin whore paradigm and they're all in Catholic school together and you know I was kind of surprised to hear Christine Blasi Four. He's not that much older than I am talking in that you know honestly the Catholic Matrix of about her inexperience inexperience and cabin talked about his sexual inexperience. It's just very different from hearing people from other parts of life talk about sexuality. Tell me about his catholicism awesome so I think Brad Kavanagh and his current family his wife Ashley and his daughters but also his family of origin Martha and Ed and him his his parents and he were very religious and he continues to be he goes to church every week. He's elector every five weeks I believe at blessed sacrament which is a large church in Chevy Chase he's done some charity work for local Catholic charities and it's a big part of his life he was an altar boy growing growing up at this church called little flower just outside of DC so I think that tradition is very real for him. Georgetown prep which was his high school is a Jesuit high school and the jesuits within the Catholic religion are are sort of the progressives relatively speaking and they're of course known for their educational national tradition. I think there was something of an absence of much sexual education at Georgetown Prep based on the interviews that I've done with people who attended in the late nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties which is when Cavanaugh was there. I think that there was a real emphasis on on religious history and there was a mandatory chapel service every week and there was some time services before football games on a Saturday and prayers whereas before every class prayers before every game so there was a set of rituals and a set of traditions that sort of ran through the school curriculum along with religion class itself was all part of the backbone and in some ways it ended up in a sort of interesting direction like there was an extra racism course that was taught as part of religion to the freshman by a priest who specialized in exorcism and would play tapes apparently Lee of a possessed young child that is a memory that sticks out for a lot of people are just debates over religion and the meaning of being Catholic Click and the idea of forgiveness and all of these things that were had on a regular basis at Georgetown prep so I think they had like a pretty vibrant intellectual LECTU and spiritual rigor to their program yeah when it comes to sexuality what I gathered from all these interviews is that there really was a sense of casual misogyny. That was a word that one of the alumni in Kavanagh's class used a sense that you could sort of dismiss women make fun of have them talk about them as sexual objects and that was kind of an accepted thing one example of that that we've seen was this Rinat oughta thing the fact that in the yearbook all these boys talked about this young woman named Renata who was a friend of theirs and someone in their social circle and apparently kind of an attractive young girl that some of them are probably had crushes on and did take to dances and so on and spend time with his friends but they would talk about her as if she was a sexual conquest and kind of talk about their sexual experiences with her none of which were real based on the reporting that we've done including statements from her she was friends with them went with them to some dances and things but there was no sex that went on the idea that you could joke around about your sexual actual behavior from over the weekend and drinking behavior and you could speak in this sort of disparaging way but at the same time really care about a young woman you knew those two do things coexisted and one more example of that is in the underground newspaper that Mark Judge ran along with some other classmates though not cavenaugh there was very misogynistic talk in that paper about Holt narms which was the high school that Christine Blasi Ford went to Pristine Blasi at the time and there was talk talk about all it takes to score with a girl from Holden is a Montgomery County library card and among other things so you can kind of get a flavor of what I'm talking about. There is actually does that mean because then you seem smart or is it then you have access to the very erotic stacks or something I don't. I don't get it. I don't I know if it was that well thought through. I'm not sure where they were going with. Them actually tried to reach the woman that was referenced in that column and was not able to so. I wasn't able to Asker Oscar yeah. Guess what been what Nicole steak kit is back so excited because this time we yes. I can't wait to get started Thursday kid. This is a little bit about what we do right. We we are explorers in a what that means they call that we were caught culture and we look Zion think about the ways in which the to our listeners old and new that means we're going to stick with our classics like fantastic wars and thorough discussions about the ways pop pop culture shapes desire and of course we are going to have guests and also some new voices and we can swing. Maybe even a celebrity or three sinus first aid kit where we left out loud back Thursday September between six here on slate. I was watching not long ago and old episode of Charlie Rose about date rape and campus sexuality and and Christopher Hitchens was on it and I was inclined to sort of shut him out because he was saying the opposite of what I wanted to hear but what he said stayed with me and it reminded me of certain things that Cavanaugh said when he was testifying namely that male sexuality is so unstable and has so much shame associated with it and so much performance anxiety and so much having to prove yourself yourself that Hitchens essentially said that he felt to like a victim of patriarchy all he was thinking about was would he be able to perform would he be able to manage himself sexually manage his sexual aggression and his sexual fears and there was there was a little bit of that and I promise I'm not trying to show compassion bashing for Gavin ah but there was a time when he was talking and saying believe me I didn't have sex when I was in high school that he almost seemed to be looking back to this very the insecure high school kid who just didn't know what he was about and I almost saw that there was an opportunity for him to say which might have cleared him. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I was a big drinker and all I wanted to be able to kiss girls and I couldn't and I was awkward and I was weird and I thought Christ I thought Christine wanted this and it was in the habit of kind of trying to kiss people when they didn't WanNa be kissed and I am so sorry and I really expected what would it cost him to say that but he couldn't right I mean I think there are two things I mean. First of all I do think you're onto something that that certainly our book does flesh out and that was partly Wiley revisited these early years yeah was they do kind of show us a picture of a kid that that you did kind of see testifying and kind of talking on Fox it's news. This is not a guy who had the moves and got the girls yeah this guy who stayed by the keg and maybe said some kind of disparaging things that sounded kind of blustery like I'm GonNa get that girl in fact you know there wasn't a lot of follow through and actually nobody remembers him having a girlfriend in college or you're in high school for that matter on even though he may have I mean it just he was not you know he was clearly someone who's maybe was really uncomfortable around women and perhaps resorted Talca Hall as a way to feel more socially eighties. I think there's really something to that and he clearly on national television said I was a virgin through college yet. Oh that's right earn something. That's true you know. This is not somebody who was kind of just not putting notches on his belt at the same time. I think there are a lot of people who have suggested did sort of this middle ground where he could have acknowledged some sort of earlier behavior. He's not proud of and perhaps a apologize to those. He may have hurt along the way in sort of being this sort of Ham handed bungling adolescent yeah and I think that the consensus what we really came to is that in this in this era of trump where his playbook is to fight back and give no ground and you know denied deny that you know basically Cavanaugh was performing for an audience of one that being trump trump who you know even though the Senate has an advice and consent roll it was really up to trump to you he could pulled his nomination at any time and you know he really needed needed to kind of satisfy the president and the president's emo. Is You know quite different in fact you know it really got was communicated to cavenaugh that that the president was not pleased with Kavanagh's a performance on Fox because he felt it was too tepid and sort of didn't have enough fighting and indignation in him then so he certainly made up for it in his final day of testimony I get that and he came out swinging Lindsey Graham came out swinging and it looked definitely was a trump performance. The denied denied did I did I N attack and it worked but one thing he said that you know the one of the most cool lines of his whole aria of the jury and hysteria one thing he said that I thought trump wouldn't have liked was his sort of hymns to beer. You know trump prides himself. He's had an alcoholic brother died right prides himself on not during non drinking and I mean I guess the beer was an effort to make cavenaugh seem like an every man in be beer in particular but also Virginia to be accurate at least like you know we know that he drank a lot right. Yes if he's trying to be someone who'd actually doesn't technically Lee lie then saying I had some times I had too many beers covers that ground even though it you know our reporting shows it understates it right I mean that was a key concession. It was very lawyerly and it didn't elaborate on whatever he may have done when he was drinking or how much he drank or how regularly but it wasn't acknowledgement sometimes James I had too many beers and in doing so he's saying it's true that there were times that I was under the influence and perhaps too much so so but he says no more than that right. He didn't blackout and he didn't he said not right but then again you know that's the whole question of. How do you know you in blackout? If if you were blacked out you you wouldn't remember but you could tell that that was a hot button because those were some of the most venomous moments of that September twenty seventh hearing that was full of venom but there was an interaction with Sheldon Whitehouse over various civic. Yes there was an interaction with Rachel Mitchell where he kind of seemed to almost be scoffing like he thought it was almost a ridiculous dickey's questions she was asking things like did you ever wake up somewhere other than when you lay down and went to sleep Brunen you ever wake up in different clothes and he seemed to find the question ridiculous and original Mitchell was the prosecutor. I'm sorry she was the person who was asking questions on behalf of the Republicans for part of the day until they took back over and then there was is the infamous exchange with Amy Klobuchar where she asked if he had ever blacked out and he got really angry and said you know I like beer. Do you like beer have you and that became became sort of kind of the apex of the hostility if you will. I'm glad you got to Senator Klobuchar because she has written about her alcoholic father. I think think of eventually got sober yeah. She talked about that at the hearing that she talked about that at the hearing and you know I it is interesting because you know the rule of I that alcoholism is self diagnosed but you know anyone who looked at that. I mean I think just he looked like an alcoholic. A key sounded like an alcoholic. Even the denial sounded like it if someone's caught drunk driving even if it just happens to be the one time that they had now four beers instead of their usual to you usually can infer that something's going wrong. It's like a spot test right. Do you advise US anything adds to our understanding tending to think of him as someone who's a problem drinker. That's a really interesting question and you make a very good point about how alcoholism is self diagnosed and I certainly don't think he considers himself. Alcoholic Golic not that I have asked that question or heard it asked directly but based on everything he said that does not seem to be his stance so this is a purely purely theoretical conversation here but my sense is that alcoholism is a progressive disease many gets much worse and worse as the the alcoholic goes on so while you have what appears to have been binge drinking at a point earlier in Kavanagh's life and we write a lot about the presence presence of alcohol and its impact based on people who knew him back in high school and college in Kavanagh's life it's not an uncommon thing at that age a a Lotta people over drank at that age or use drugs and I'm not saying that he used drugs but many people do and it's time of experimentation and pushing boundaries. That's nothing in new it's going on today. Some people think it's actually even worse on campuses at least in college now than it was in his day so that's all kind of a piece with American evolution of young people yet and later on he's seems to be an extremely hard working and accomplished a person who has positions of power in the White House on the independent counsel's team he does stints as a partner at a major law firm and then of course he becomes circuit good court Judge for twelve years in a Supreme Court Justice Cavenaugh as an adult has been a highly functional hard working family man who has a lot of things he does with his time in addition to being a judge coaching basketball participating in professional events having a social life with friends. He's run marathons marathons. He does mentoring he does all of these things although he still does drink and he talked about that and we know that from our reporting it would seem team that whatever his drinking was back in the day it's very different and certainly much more manageable than it was then now yes I mean if if he had acknowledged that he had a problem with drinking and stopped drinking or at least had a moment in his life like George W Bush or or you know maybe Obama when he put down something he might be able to say right that happened. This high school thing happened before I kind of grew up and understood the La- world a a little better and change my ways and that might have made sense but instead because the through line of I like beer is still there for him. He can't disavow the other thing or he can't he can't he must disavow the other thing because he hasn't changed. I mean that's what seemed to be the problem. I did kind of feel for him that he who is really locked in this commitment to not acknowledging his humanity you know that not acknowledging that he was like most of us a Klutz Klutz with the opposite sex at that age and put drinking on top of that and a culture of beach week or whatever the fact that he couldn't acknowledge that is what convicted acted him in my mind so I think you raise a really important point and it's a story of our times the fact that it's really hard to admit being a human being right now so in this moment in Life Robin I have wrestled with this and written about and we've talked about it a lot. You have a series of cross-currents here. You have the metoo movement which which at the time that we're writing about talking about was a year-old. It's now two years old. That's obviously been a very powerful movement. That's been a Cathartic for many women and and also some men but there's also a backlash to it where people feel like innocuous experiences and touches and comments are now being weaponized is against other people. You've got the trump administration which is one of fight fight fight and when it comes to issues of allegations of sexual harassment deny deny deny and you had a president who wanted to see justice cavenaugh fight back and take a much more aggressive stance than he did in the Fox News interview where he seemed cool calm steady and kind of emphasized his virginity during high school and into college and his desire for for a fair hearing as opposed to strongly worded denials. You've got the partisanship and politicization in the country that seems to be pretty bad right now you've got got these cultural differences between the red and blue states and those on both sides of the abortion debate or the gun debate and many other debates and and you've got social media where you can say sort of any horrible thing about anyone and it seems to be acceptable so all of this comes together in the cavenaugh confirmation Yup. There seems to be no room for Justice Cavenaugh to say I'm a human being there were points when I drank too much and and if I ever heard somebody along the way I'm terribly sorry as Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out it does go to the fact that he can't technology out of blackout the fact that he can't acknowledge that some of the code that he used with his friends described more raucous behavior than he pretended pretended it did or probably defy the trump probably referred to those kind of behaviors made it seem like it just seemed like he was being dishonest with himself and awesome wasn't acknowledging for fear of you know calling himself an you know hell bound demon child who needed to be an extra schism. He wouldn't even acknowledge that he'd ever slipped up and that was I think really maddening to watch I mean he he certainly countered. I heard a lot of the questions he was getting with. You know I worked my ass off my off went to great schools you know as if one thing answered the other but I think actually do conclude in our book. This is ultimately a very human narrative. where there's is a flawed person who basically couldn't admit to that to that imperfection to be buried just put yourself in what may have been his shoes for a moment and I say may have because of course we're not in his head. We have no no I dea what he does. Remember if anything and what he's thinking but based on our reporting and what we do know. Let's imagine that you are in his shoes and you truly. I really don't remember the forward scenario. You don't remember it you. Maybe remember her vaguely. Maybe not you certainly remember your friends mark and pj a and you certainly remember the heavy drinking in high school but you don't remember this thing and you have reason to believe it never happened how shocking to learn about this publicly when you're this close to getting your dream job and you're aware of all the cross currents that we've talked about in this conversation yeah and all the lack of margin for being a human being an admitting any frailty it. It's a terrible terrible conundrum and yeah yeah I mean I love this thing that they're admitting any frailty is just disallowed right now. There's just no room to maneuver when everything seems so binary that's right drive a truck through it. You can drive a truck exactly you're either a monster or total victim. Cabinet cavenaugh talked about the binary nature of the position that he was in at the hearing. I mean he was saying because of you. I guess meaning the Democrats I may never be able to teach law again. I may never be able to coach basketball again. Etc Etcetera and and are thought is there's something to that I mean he was sort of either on a trajectory to be on the Supreme Court and be able to continue doing all the things he was doing wing because it would have been accepted that either this didn't happen at all or there was not enough evidence to prove that it happened therefore we can't assume that it did happen and therefore he's confirmed or the opposite you know there's a belief that these things did happened and he may have lost all the positions that he did have again because of this lack of tolerance for human frailty or any sort of idea for forgiveness reckoning this kind of interesting notion of duty the of repair which is something I read about from a an author named Sarah Schulman during this process what's duty of repair. She talks about in this book called conflict. Conflict is not abuse which is in itself is sort of a controversial sentiment but an interesting one the idea that we have gotten into this sort of cancel culture and when we have conflicts with other people there's a tendency now to shun them ostracize them brand name Aligarh or a freak or whatever ever rather than engaging with the conflict that has arisen and try to resolve it right yeah and this is the whole the whole like everyone's ex wife or husband even was an irredeemable narcissist with you know psychosis rising or whatever the giant needs to be damned rail instead of someone you had human when conflicts with that is extremely interesting. Robin Pogrebin is a reporter on the New York Times Culture Desk. She covers the art world and cultural institutions exploring internal politics politics at some of these organizations Kate Kelly is also reporter for the New York Times. She covers Wall Street. There Co written book is called the education of Brett Cavanaugh Cavanaugh. Thank you very much thank you. That's it for today's show. What did you think you know how to reach me? Come on twitter. At page eighty eight the show is out real trump cast and then make your way over to slate plus and become a member really today's the day if you're not asleep plus member you're missing out on all sorts of perks including acid ad free and bonus episodes discount

Coming up next