I have, so far, had an odd exposure to today’s testimony. I had to be out of the office and offline for most of the late morning, notwithstanding the gravity and newsworthiness of the day. I saw the first fifteen or twenty minutes of Blasey Ford’s testimony. Then I returned for the last round of questioning of Blasey Ford from Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona.
Everything I’ve heard about what came between confirms me in my reaction to those two portions of the hearing.
I’ve always thought it odd the way we talk about ‘credibility’. It means believability. That we experience someone as believable doesn’t mean they are believable. Or rather it is clearly rooted in a mix of personal experience and experiential cues that suggests believability. An odd thing. Still, from the moment I heard Blasey Ford speak, even though it was a story we’ve now read more or less in these details, I had a virtual certainty that she was telling the truth, that she was in a position to remember the key details she describes and that the incident she has described happened as she has described it. For all you can glean reading the details, seeing her describe those details was game changing.
Then I came back and heard this jarring and vaguely bizarre cross-examination from Rachel Mitchell, asking minute details about her polygraph exam, clearly trying to catch her out on some contradiction or detail and stumbling on to a family funeral.
I had a sense in advance that Mitchell might come off as a cross examiner, scrutinizing details of Blasey Ford’s testimony and utterly missing the moral or emotional context of the hearing. But I could not have comprehended it would be that bad.
I watched and couldn’t imagine what Committee Republicans were thinking if they thought this was accomplishing anything good, whether substantive or political. It wasn’t just that she didn’t lay a glove on Blasey Ford. It was more the jarring mismatch between the two people. Here you have a cooperative, sympathetic and seemingly guileless (in the good sense of the term) women getting questions the clear focus of which was to catch her out on some fatal contradiction. It was harsh and forensic. For all that, it was even more hapless because Mitchell clearly didn’t know the answers she was going to get. So she failed even in her probably impossible task.
I watched this brief interchange and thought: this is more catastrophic for them then I really could have possibly imagined. We all get why the older men on the committee didn’t want to question Blasey Ford. But gender isn’t the only factor here. A woman treating her as a hostile witness and apparently being tone deaf to how the testimony had already gone is just as bad and maybe worse. Especially when everyone knows she is there as a stand-in for the Majority’s moral cowardice. It was so bad I even felt bad for Mitchell. After all, she’s only had a few days to prep and in the nature of things lacks the authority to shift gears from her brief.
In substantive and societal terms this is a powerful, morally healing moment. In political terms, for the Majority it seems like nothing short of a catastrophe. What’s more it is something the Majority one hundred percent brought on themselves: first attacking Blasey Ford’s credibility, then trying to bluff her out of testifying, later trying to rush the vote and finally in thinking anything good would come of having their question time used as a hostile cross examination.
It is hard to imagine how this could have gone any worse for Kavanaugh or the Majority.