Lindsey Graham is, to my mind, one of the five best senators in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Agree or disagree with the South Carolina Republican, but he is transparent about his views, open to listening to views other than his, optimistic about what politics can and should do, and self aware enough to be able to laugh at himself.
Which is why what Graham said about the coming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, is so disappointing.
Here’s Graham talking to Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” about Ford and Kavanaugh:
“What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation? I’m just being honest. Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this. But she should come forward. She should have her say. She will be respectfully treated.”
Just in case you wondered whether Graham might have misspoken, he emphasized that his mind was largely made up again. “I will listen, but I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life,” Graham noted. “‘Cause if nothing changes, it won’t with me.”
Here’s what Graham, one of the 11 Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, is saying in both of those quotes: My mind is made up. Period. I’ll listen to Ford tell of her alleged sexual assault but, unless she says something new about her experience with Kavanaugh, it’s not going to change my mind.
That is, literally, the opposite of what we would want out of a senator sitting on the Judiciary Committee in a moment like this. Of course Graham has his views – including a desire to help confirm the court pick of the president of his party. And, yes, there’s no question that he is entitled to believe that Brett Kavanaugh – based on his study of the judge’s life and the conversations between the two men – is not the sort of man who would do what Ford is alleging.
But, if the very people who hold in their hands – and votes – the power to make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination are admitting publicly that almost nothing Ford says will change their mind, isn’t that the sort of rank partisanship that has gotten us into this morass in the first place? Imagine if Graham had said this instead: I know Brett Kavanaugh personally and don’t believe the man I know is capable of what is being alleged. That said, I will go into Thursday’s hearing with an open mind. I will listen closely to what Professor Ford has to say, and I will ask questions where I deem it appropriate. Then I will make a decision about what my vote will be.
Or even if he had said exactly what Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said to reporters on Tuesday: “I’m going to look at this openly minded on Thursday, but again, I go into it with positive feelings (toward Kavanaugh).”
The point here is this: Graham is not someone who has been an inflexible partisan in his time in the Senate. His willingness to speak out against his party (and its leaders) has repeatedly endangered him politically back home in South Carolina. But, his comments about Kavanaugh are a break from that reputation. To assume that nothing you hear – especially when it comes to testimony from a woman speaking about an alleged sexual assault – could possibly change your mind is the opposite of the person Graham has, largely, been in the Senate.
Which is surprising. And disappointing.