For the past few weeks, many, if not most Americans have watched the destruction of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s reputation with horror and dismay. But for some of us, this is a repetition of an old mode, taken to new extremes. For myself, and my family and friends, watching the Kavanaugh drama recalled the painful memories of my own public calumniation.
On January 9, 1995, three days after starting my new job as historian of the U.S. House of Representatives, I was falsely accused on the floor of Congress, by multiple House Democrats, of being an anti-Semite. That evening Representatives Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) held a press conference calling my appointment a disgrace to the tens of thousands of their constituents who had survived the Holocaust and demanded that I be fired.
The Democrats insisted that a “confidential” grant review I was asked to write (for free) by the U.S. Department of Education some nine years before, was proof of their charges. The grant proposal I reviewed was for a program called Facing History and Ourselves, which, among other things, used role-playing as Nazis and Jews to teach history to children.
I suggested this was an inappropriate method of educating middle-schoolers, and in reporting this, a few sarcastic lines from the review were torn out of context and reported across the country, particularly this one: “The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view . . . ” My point was that education for the sake of learning the lessons of the past should employ critical thinking, not merely pre-packaged points of view that could come across like propaganda. If students were to understand why the Nazi point of view is dangerous, they first would need to understand why so many Germans were drawn to it.
Later, the head of the FHAO told me that my remarks were the only helpful ones she had received, and she had implemented changes in her program as a result. Reporters told me this information was known, but editors removed any facts that did not advance the official narrative.
The accusations against me spread like wildfire as they were breathlessly parroted by every national reporter and printed on the front pages of every daily paper; a New York tabloid called me “Newt’s Nazi Historian,” and my mother-in-law’s daily paper, the Austin American Statesman, called me “Newt’s Handmaiden.” Two of the leading accusers, now-Senator Schumer and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), are still in the news and are still practicing libel and defamation against political rivals.
Later, my husband and I confronted Schumer, who admitted he knew that I wasn’t anti-Semitic, but “your friends should have supported you.” He also indicated that he and his staff knew from the beginning that “my friends” would not. Why would he and the other House Democrats do this to me? Because they could. He and his aide, Anthony Weiner, seemed very pleased with themselves.
Newt Gingrich and I were colleagues as fellow professors before I was hired, so when he called me at 11:00 p.m. at my family’s home where dozens of reporters had set up shop and our youngest was crying, “Stay away from the windows—there are strange people with flashlights out on the lawn,” I was expecting support. Instead he asked me to resign for the sake of my family and myself.
I was shocked. In a long conversation that lasted until midnight, I tried to persuade him that the strategy made no sense. Why should I resign? I wasn’t an anti-Semite, and he knew it. I told him if Waters, Schumer, Frank, and their dishonest friends at the New York Times could get away with painting me as an anti-Semite, anyone could be falsely accused of anything. I also thought Gingrich was setting a bad precedent, one that he would regret if he let the Democrats, who lost the midterm election, tell him whom he could and could not hire.
Later on, after my good name was already tarnished by media assaults, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish and Israeli groups came to my defense. It was too late for my personal reputation—even if the media had given the equal time to my defenders that they had given to my detractors. Something very evil was being let loose in D.C., something that has worsened over time and grown into what we now see in the firestorm around Judge Kavanaugh. But it’s not new; Aristotle talks about defamation in the Nicomachean Ethics as deadly to the good reputation one needs to be happy in this life. Even Machiavelli argues that calumny is deadly for a republic.
Eventually, the then-director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, urged Gingrich to have my good name restored. A news conference for the three of us took place the first week of December 1995, to vindicate me and to announce plans to rehire me. Although Foxman did all he could, appearing on NBC’s “Today” and in other venues to support my being rehired, Gingrich, burnt by the incessant complaints of the Times and the Democrats, abolished the office instead.
If I had been rehired, it would have helped to clear my name; but one of the purposes of left-wing mobbing is to utterly destroy a person so she cannot function as a professional in this country ever again. It’s one of the Left’s “teachable moments,” meant to discourage anyone who isn’t one of them from entering public service. As Gingrich’s communications director said to me, “You know, you can never eat lunch in this town again.” That is still very nearly the case today.
I have lived the consequences of “they do it, because they can.” And I can tell you, I am no snowflake. Still, if not for a very supportive husband and many dear friends, I might never have recovered from that ordeal.
My friends and I have been praying Psalm 40 almost nonstop for the Kavanaugh family. Fortunately, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he and fair-minded Americans want Kavanaugh confirmed. Like me, Kavanaugh’s a good person and eminently qualified, but that is not enough to survive the wrath of Democrats inflamed about President Trump’s election and their loss of power. Kavanaugh’s excellent record and once spotless reputation can never be recovered. The effect on his wife and children will be immeasurably negative and unjust; the only way to mitigate this undeserved damage is by giving him the seat he deserves on the Supreme Court. Due to the corrosive effects of New York Times v. Sullivan, nothing else can be done to help him. Once the stain of Google shame is bequeathed, the truth must be searched diligently.
To their credit, perhaps led by the unflinching example of President Trump, this time around most of the Senate Republicans have rallied behind Judge Kavanaugh. They seem to have begun to learn that they must oppose these undemocratic tactics of personal destruction, not merely to save our own freedoms and our children’s, but also those of these twisted Democrats such as Schumer and Waters. They may not realize it, but they can’t take away the rights of some of us without taking away their own.
Our forefathers died to establish our rights and we have since fought to free all Americans from subservience. My hope is that this time, though the Judge’s name can never be fully restored, enough good senators will do right by him and give him the seat he deserves.
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