You Are Supposed to Lose 


Chuck Grassley made the announcement on Monday evening: the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chair, would hear testimony from Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges that the Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her when he was 17 and she was 15. In a statement that seemed to affirm the necessity of the hearing, which was scheduled for the following Monday, Grassley said that “anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard.” In its own statement that day, the White House emphasized Kavanaugh’s readiness to speak at a moment’s notice: “Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”

But by Tuesday morning, it had become clear that Ford had not been consulted in the scheduling of the hearing, and had not actually confirmed her appearance. Grassley was ready. “I would surely hope she’d come Monday,” he said during an interview on conservative talk radio. “She’s surely prepared. She hired a lawyer, I understand, back in August.” His office reiterated Ford’s apparent slipperiness, a contrast to their good faith efforts to hear her out: “Our staff reached out to Dr. Ford’s lawyer with multiple emails yesterday to schedule a similar call and inform her of the upcoming hearing, where she will have the opportunity to share her story with the committee. Her lawyer has not yet responded.”

Suddenly the timeline had become very important, and Ford had become very difficult. In response to mounting pressure around a hearing date they had not been consulted on, Ford’s attorneys requested a delay to make time for a full investigation—“the hearing was scheduled for six short days from today,” they noted in a letter to the committee—but it was rejected it outright. “The invitation for Monday still stands,” Grassley said. “Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”

Within the span of two days, the possibility that Ford might testify had gone from something she had offered to do—willingly, despite the full knowledge that she would face a hostile audience—to a threat being wielded against her. It was a quick transformation but an inevitable one: she was always supposed to lose.

The events surrounding Ford’s allegations and the Senate response have been framed as a lesson in contrasts to Anita Hill’s 1991 Judiciary Committee hearing. Whereas Hill faced a front-facing smear campaign in response to her testimony about now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s alleged serial harassment, the demands of a post-#MeToo political moment require a softer touch. Ford must be heard, as Grassley stated. (The White House, through Kellyanne Conway, agreed, adding that she should also be respected.) But after checking off those two boxes, things can, and must, proceed as planned.

Ford is now left with a constrained set of choices, all of them bad. She can go ahead with the hearing as scheduled and face a Republican-majority committee that has spent much of the last week seeding a message to undermine her credibility and preparing itself to dismiss her claims. (Lindsey Graham, who compared the allegations to a “drive-by shooting,” more or less revealed the perfunctory nature of the hearing—an extra step toward an inevitable confirmation—when he said: “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”) Or she can decline to testify, making her an even more unreliable narrator and leaving Republicans with plausible deniability about their bad faith and the appearance of a neutral system.

Either way, Ford loses and Kavanaugh emerges much the same as he was before, whether he is seated on the Supreme Court or remains in his current, and incredibly powerful, role as a federal judge. Ford predicted as much in her first interview after her allegations were made public: “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?”

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