December 12, 2018

The Kavanaugh Fiasco: Winning at all Cost

Suissa writes, "Who were they kidding? This was hand-to-hand combat where no one took prisoners."

I was never this cynical. If anything, I like to believe people, even politicians. I’ve met some amazing politicians who work very hard and have strong convictions. I know they don’t have an easy job.

So why was I disgusted with the political spectacle of the Brett Kavanaugh Senate committee hearings? For a number of reasons, but one in particular: I felt as if I was watching a UFC championship fight. Two combatants locked in a cage ready to do absolutely anything it took to crush their opponent.

Whenever the combatants pretended to be part of a procedural debate rather than a cage fight, I just rolled my eyes. Who were they kidding? This was hand-to-hand combat where no one took prisoners.

Before the hearings even started, before anyone had even heard the name Christine Blasey Ford, one side had already announced that the candidate in question, Brett Kavanaugh, was evil and must be crushed by any means necessary.

In fact, a few years earlier the other side wouldn’t even allow a hearing for another candidate, Merrick Garland. Why? For the same reason the latest candidate was called evil: because one must do whatever it takes to win. Nothing else matters.

The crazy thing is, I’m not saying anything new. We’ve always known that “partisan politics” is a contact sport where people fight over power. So why has this episode disgusted me so much?

“Our politics have descended all the way down to the UFC cage.  Actually, they’re lower. At least with UFC, no one is pretending to have a conversation.”

Maybe because I don’t recall it ever being so viciously and shamelessly blatant. It’s possible that the stakes were seen as so high — a majority in the Supreme Court for years — that the combatants threw every scruple out the window. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve had battles over high stakes. Somehow, this one felt different.

“This does feel different,” Gail Collins wrote in The New York Times, in a conversation with Bret Stephens. “I’m wondering if it’s the internet. Back in days of yore the media was mainly TV networks and big newspapers that wanted to communicate with a large audience. Now the stars are — people who yell. Blogs, Twitter — we’ve been painfully aware since 2016 that power belongs to whoever can get their followers really, really worked up.”

Stephens responded: “I think the difference is that the fights aren’t really about policy. They’re about our personal experiences and deepest fears. Christine Blasey Ford was electrifying because so many women said: She’s me; her suffering is so much like my own. And, at the same time, a lot of men fear that their careers could be upended by an allegation from long ago, unprovable but devastating. So we’re not just arguing about the best course for the nation in the abstract. We’re fighting for our own corner.”

“Why are we not jumping into the fray and swinging away like everyone else?”

So, this is now the state of our union: We’re all fighting for our own corner. Not debating or arguing but fighting, clawing, scratching, screaming and kicking for our political tribes.

Our politics have descended all the way down to the UFC cage. Actually, they’re lower. At least with UFC, no one is pretending to have a conversation. They’re only there to fight. The Kavanaugh hearings were UFC without the honesty.

In our cover story this week, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach does a deep dive into all this madness.

“There is something rotten in America,” he writes. “We all feel it in our bones…. A gnawing feeling that something is desperately wrong. But we can’t quite put our finger on it.”

Deep partisanship and the abominable hatred between left and right, he adds, are merely symptoms of a deeper disease.

“What has died in America,” he says, “is truth itself … because we have forgotten that no one party or individual ever has the truth.”

Truth, he writes, is “not monolithic but complex. It is not singular but multifaceted. It is not masculine or feminine but created through the synergy of both. Truth is comprised of right and left joining together and enriching one another to create a higher, more colorful whole.”

“Why are we taking a step back in the middle of this national brawl to reflect on the deeper issues of truth and  humility?” 

Such idealism must sound downright naïve at a moment of such societal rancor. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of the Kavanaugh fiasco. Since he’s been sworn in, the bitterness and polarization have only gotten worse.

Why, then, are we taking a step back in the middle of this national brawl to reflect on the deeper issues of truth and humility? Why are we not jumping into the fray and swinging away like everyone else?

For the simple reason that, in our view, what this country needs right now is not another round in the fighting cage but a little timeout to recuperate and see a bigger picture.

That timeout alone would be a victory.