Good Character and Decent Men 


“I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect,” Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh told Fox News’s Martha MacCallum on Monday night. It was a phrase Kavanaugh used roughly four times in the friendly interview; a chorus which Kavanaugh, accompanied by his wife Ashley, repeated with flat insistence.

Kavanaugh’s good character, especially his respect for women, was one of his primary concerns during the interview. He again denied the two allegations of sexual assault—one by Christine Blasey Ford and the other by Deborah Ramirez—as well as unreported allegations cryptically tweeted by Michael Avenatti. (Kavanaugh called the Avanatti allegations “false and outrageous.”)

On the Ford allegations, Kavanaugh reiterated much of what we have already heard. He insisted that he was not at the 1982 party where Ford alleges the sexual assault took place. He added that while he “may have met” Ford, they did not “travel in the same social circle, she was not a friend, not someone I knew.” In a likely preview of the hearings that will take place later this week, Kavanaugh drew attention to “Dr. Ford’s lifelong friend”—Leland Ingham Keyser (neither MacCallum nor Kavanaugh used her name). “Dr. Ford’s lifelong friend has said she doesn’t know me and never remembers being at a party with me at any time in her life,” Kavanaugh said. “No one has corroborated the story that [Ford] has told, as you accurately point out,” MacCallum began the followup question. Neither bothered to mention that though Keyser does not remember the party, she emphasized in a call with the Washington Post that she believes Ford.

But these details were unimportant in an interview that was focused on demonstrating Kavanaugh’s good character and advocating for “fairness.” (By my count, “fair” and “fairness” were used over 20 times). “I just want a fair process where I can be heard,” Kavanaugh chanted with the same flat tone that he stated his “dignity and respect for women.”

As with the Ford allegation, Kavanaugh denied the Ramirez allegation reported by the New Yorker this weekend. “I never did any such thing,” Kavanaugh said, characterizing the allegation as “inconceivable.” He again reiterated fairness and character, telling MacCallum, that he wanted a “fair process where I can be heard and defend my integrity.”

And yet, in his call for fairness and his insistence on his fine character, Kavanaugh again seemed uninterested in the details of his own case. (This lack of curiosity is a common enough condition.) “Are you surprised that the New Yorker published this account?” MacCallum asked. “I’m not going to comment on the New Yorker’s journalistic practices,” Kavanaugh responded. “The New York Times said they could not corroborate this story and said that the person making the accusation had been calling around last week to other classmates, indicating her uncertainty about whether I had ever done such a thing.” Both Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow characterized the claim that the Times declined to publish as inaccurate.

Kavanaugh also dismissed two Yale classmates, including his roommate, who told the New Yorker that they believed Ramirez. “I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect. He [Kavanaugh’s roomate] does not corroborate the incident at all. The incident did not happen,” Kavanaugh told MacCallum. When asked why his former roommate would “say that,” Kavanaugh responded: “I’m not going to speculate about motives. I know I never did that. If I had done that, it would’ve been the talk of campus, and we have the reports saying that, even as late as the few weeks, she was calling around and not certain.” (During an appearance on Monday morning’s Today show, Mayer said that Yale alumni were talking about Kavanaugh’s behavior as early as July; Ramirez did not approach the New Yorker.)

Kavanaugh continued: “What I know is I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect. Listen to the women who’ve known me my whole life. A letter from friends I knew in high school, produced overnight, 65 women who knew me in high school, women I knew in college who said how I much I support their women athletics.” Shortly after Kavanaugh’s interview with Fox concluded, the New York Times reported that one of the women who signed the letter, Renate Schroeder Dolphin, was named on his yearbook page, part of a group of football players’ “unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests,” the Times gently put it.

But the details of both Ramirez’s and Ford’s allegations were not the point of the interview. Rather, it was to reassure supporters that he was a good man of outstanding character who deserved fairness. He assured MacCallum that, even as a young man, he had never gotten blackout drunk and noted that he was a virgin for many years after high school. While the internet joked about his admission of virginity, his willingness to disclose such an intimate detail will likely appeal to Catholics and Evangelicals—very much an intended audience with this nomination—who value the so-called restraint of sexual purity. With his wife sitting at his side, the details of his sex life were part of his demonstration of respect—for his wife, for marriage—as well as his self-control, a character value that a man who would sexually assault two women surely does not have. It was another testament to not just his religious values, but to his value as a man. He’s promoted women; he coaches a girls’ basketball team. If you need a character reference just, as Kavanaugh said, “ask the moms.”

Kavanaugh had little to say about the two women who have accused him of sexual assault. The question of whether or not Ford was a reliable narrator was given to Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley. “Do you sympathize with the idea that some women would suppress a memory or wouldn’t want to share it or would not be able to talk about it until many years later?” MacCallum asked. It was a softball question but Ashley, who appeared either nervous or emotional or, perhaps, both, struggled with it. “I don’t understand… I don’t know what happened to her,” Ashley struggled, before adding, “I feel badly for her family. I feel badly for her through this process. This process is not right.”

But if Ashley was there as another testament to Kavanaugh’s character—proof that, like the girls’ basketball team who sat behind him in a neat line during the first day of his hearings, he respected women—then she did her job. She told MacCallum that she’s never doubted Kavanaugh, never questioned the man she married 17 years ago. “He’s decent, he’s kind, he’s good. I know his heart. This is not consistent with… Brett.”

If Monday’s interview was a preview of the hearings scheduled for Thursday, then the coming days will likely be a referendum on character, particularly on the concepts of the “decent man” or the “good man.” They are phrases—like “respect for women”—that are so obviously hollow yet retain a nostalgic, rhetorical cache. It is important to be a decent man; it is equally important, the line of argument goes, that a decent man is not “smeared.” It’s clear that Kavanaugh and his supporters truly believe in these phrases and the importance they signify; it’s telling too that as sexual assault allegations carry new weight, that there has been a deep reinvestment in preserving the very concept of the “decent man” even as it’s increasingly rendered more and more meaningless.

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