With the dust finally settling after the nasty, protracted fight to forestall Judge Brett Kavanaugh from becoming Justice Kavanaugh, Democrats now see they have made a potentially catastrophic mistake. They managed to anger, nay infuriate, Trump supporters, NeverTrump “conservatives,” independents, and even some Democrats unwilling to see a man destroyed by an unsubstantiated, uncorroborated accusation. Kavanaugh’s impassioned defense, Lindsey Graham’s fiery denunciation, and Susan Collins’ quiet censure channeled what most of us were feeling. The “enthusiasm gap” favoring Democrats is gone, and they themselves eliminated it.
And now they need someone to blame. If they can point fingers somewhere else, they can then attempt to say “we didn’t do it,” and hope to dull the hostility that Democrats will otherwise face come November 6. So they have picked an easy target: Michael Avenatti.
It’s not that Avenatti is less than deserving. He brought Julie Swetnick’s accusations to the fore. He encouraged partisans in the Capitol and in the media to take seriously the likelihood that a college-age woman attended parties thrown by high school students, witnessed the gang rapes of multiple drugged girls, and rather than reporting this activity, simply went to more parties to see more of the same. When Kavanaugh said “the Swetnick thing is a joke, that is a farce,” this was no exaggeration.
There’s just one problem with the attempt to scapegoat Avenatti: he is not a member of the Senate, and thus could not sully the upper chamber of the United States Congress with ostensibly grave, deliberate consideration of this patently bizarre accusation.
Admittedly, pointing to Avenatti is an injustice that is not nearly on par with the moral travesty perpetrated against Kavanaugh, but it is still wrong.
It was not Michael Avenatti, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who called upon Kavanaugh to withdraw as soon as Swetnick’s story became public—referring to “multiple, corroborated allegations” that simply did not exist. It was Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who declared “there must be a full investigation of these allegations of criminal behavior, and Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination must be withdrawn,” placing the verdict before the trial.
Avenatti could not bring Swetnick’s tale into the Senate Judiciary Committee; that dishonor fell to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member. She, too, clearly equated Christine Blasey Ford’s seemingly sincere and painful account of a sexual assault with Swetnick’s salacious sickness, beginning her questioning of the nominee with: “Judge Kavanaugh, it’s my understanding that you have denied the allegations by Dr. Ford, Miss Ramirez, and Miss Swetnick. Is that correct?”
Every Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter calling upon the FBI seriously to investigate Swetnick’s claims. Not one Democratic senator, neither in committee nor on the floor, was willing to say what all Americans already knew: that this accusation, as obviously baseless as it was obscene, had no place in the Senate. They could not bring themselves publicly to acknowledge that its very mention had disgraced that body. It was senators on the Democratic side, and not Avenatti, who prompted Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to liken Kavanaugh’s confirmation process to “a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign” than “a solemn occasion.”
Avenatti responded to Democrats’ newfound negative evaluations of his contribution in a predictable fashion.
“It is outrageous,” he told CNN, “that these so-called Democrats would attack a sexual assault victim from coming forward. I guess their position is that she should have shut her mouth and remained silent? It is disgusting that these cowards blame my client and the other accusers from coming forward.”
Equating concern for facts and verification with disregard for victims—precisely the argument used for the past three weeks to smear Republicans.
The “failed leadership” of the Democratic Party was displayed not by their post-facto rejection of Swetnick’s charge, but by their earlier endorsement of it. They are not wrong to claim that Republicans used this ridiculous allegation to say that this was an “orchestrated smear campaign”—because this was true, and Democratic backing of the Swetnick charge provided overt, palpable evidence to anyone not crippled by partisan bias. The testimony was not provided by Avenatti when he brought it up, but by the Senators who carried it forward. The fact that Ford says she has no interest in pursuing her claims merely provides further proof.
To a degree that even the most ardent right-wing partisan could not have previously imagined, Senate Democrats ran to embrace the very standards of belief and proof that got Mike Nifong removed, disbarred and imprisoned in the wake of the Duke Lacrosse scandal. To Kill a Mockingbird will need to be removed from the curriculum—as it is not merely a clarion call against racial injustice, but a chilling description of the iniquity that can result when a single, uncorroborated account is given undue credence.
According to the new Democratic norm, there was no need for Rolling Stone to retract its article about Jackie Coakley’s account of rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia, much less for the magazine to pay $5 million or more to settle libel claims by an associate dean, the fraternity, and several of its members. Gregory Counts and VanDyke Perry should still be in jail, not cleared 26 years later for a rape they did not commit.
If the standard is to “believe all women,” there can be no exceptions.
The Democratic Party has incorporated an ethically vacuous hatred of men into its political platform. Come November 6, those who believe in the burden of proof, moral values and common decency—not only men, but their mothers, spouses, and daughters—will have the opportunity to express their opinion of the new Democratic position. And Michael Avenatti will not be to blame.
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