Editor’s Note: SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of “SE Cupp Unfiltered,” covering contemporary issues on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The Kavanaugh confirmation controversy’s ripple effect is certain to make it one of the most consequential Supreme Court confirmation hearings at least since Robert Bork’s in 1987. That’s because with every passing day the impact it is having on the American social, judicial and political psyche is growing more considerable.
In particular, the Kavanaugh accusations are exposing just how flawed and unprepared we are as a society when tasked with ethically and responsibly addressing sexual assault or harassment charges when politics is involved.
We’ve never been particularly good at it – feminists like Gloria Steinem unimaginably came to Bill Clinton’s defense in the 1990s to excuse his awful behavior and smear his accusers; former Senator Joe Biden even today regrets the way he mishandled Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas; there were virtually no elected Republicans calling for Donald Trump’s multiple accusers to be heard when he was the nominee for president.
Now, it seems we’ve learned precious little. There’s plenty of bad opinion on the right – the President was exhibit A when devolving to that worst of defenses, that Christine Blasey Ford is not credible because she didn’t report the offense at the time, 36 years ago. That, as we know, is not and should never be the test of credibility for victims who are often too afraid to come forward right away.
But on the left, some are, in weaponzing the #MeToo movement, threatening to unravel it entirely.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat of Hawaii who is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the Kavanaugh hearings, has single-handedly (though unintentionally I assume) moved the bar for current and future victims to an impossible height. And all because she believes that keeping Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court is more important than protecting victims and due process – two things that cannot and must not be done at the expense of one another.
On Sunday, Hirono indicated to CNN’s Jake Tapper that Kavanaugh does not deserve to be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty. Why? Because of the way, she says, he’s handled past cases as a judge. When asked whether Kavanaugh has the same presumption of innocence as anyone else, her response was: “I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases.”
Of course, this framing is absurd on its face. For one, she’s making a nakedly political argument. She doesn’t like the way he interprets case law, which obviously has exactly nothing to do with whether he’s guilty of attempted sexual assault 36 years ago.
For another, surely she isn’t suggesting that anyone accused of a crime should have their professional decision-making be used against them to determine what kind of person they are. This sounds like something out of Kafka, not the Constitution.
Worse, though, she has since doubled down, and set a dangerous precedent for how we should handle allegations like these. When asked by NBC’s Hallie Jackson to clarify, Hirono said, “Look, we’re not in a court of law, we’re actually in a court of credibility at this point. Without having the FBI report or some semblance of trying to get corroboration, we are left with the credibility of the two witnesses.”
This is not only intellectually unsound and politically self-serving, but it can only hurt current and future victims of sexual assault.
Hirono, remember, has already decided Kavanaugh is not credible – “His credibility is already questionable in my mind,” she told Jackson, because she doesn’t like his politics. In a democracy like ours, someone’s politics should never, ever be used against them to determine their guilt or innocence – by a sitting lawmaker of all people.
But also if credibility – this capricious and subjective thing that Hirono has withheld from Brett Kavanaugh but bestowed upon Christine Blasey Ford, a stranger whose politics she favors and whose accusations she sees as politically advantageous – is THE standard, this disadvantages any victim who accuses a powerful person of sexual harassment or assault.
In fact, this is exactly the kind of paternalistic and chauvinistic mindset on sexual harassment that kept so many victims silent for so long. “Who would believe me, a nobody, over him, a boss?” It’s what kept so many victims of Harvey Weinstein in fear of retribution for telling their stories. It’s why Monica Lewinsky was shamed and bullied and maligned for years after her story became public. And it may be why Kavanaugh’s accuser waited as long as she did to tell her story. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder, and it usually favors the powerful, not the powerless.
Mazie Hirono doesn’t know what happened 36 years ago. Neither do I. I’ve said from the beginning Ford or anyone accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct deserves to be heard, and we should hear his account as well.
But weaponizing #MeToo to take down a political appointee, throwing due process out the window, deciding before anyone has been able to testify publicly that one person is credible and the other isn’t, and setting dangerous standards most victims will never be able to clear isn’t a good way to protect our country from the court. It’s just a good way to dilute democracy, diminish the important strides #MeToo has made and imperil every future victim of sexual assault.
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God help them all if Hirono actually believes what she’s saying. We know better, and despite the emotionally-charged nature of this high-stakes confirmation, we can’t allow the politics of either side to corrupt better judgment. There’s simply too much at risk.