But unlike the orange compost heap, he’s not a liar, right?
But, but conservatives will turn against him if the attempted rape charges are proved to be true, right?
[A] startling number of conservative figures have reacted as if they believe Ford, and have thus ended up in the peculiar position of defending the right of a Supreme Court Justice to have previously attempted to commit rape—a stance that at once faithfully corresponds to and defiantly refutes the current Zeitgeist. These defenders think that the seventeen-year-old Kavanaugh could easily, as Ford alleges, have gotten wasted at a party, pushed a younger girl into a bedroom, pinned her on a bed, and tried to pull off her clothes while covering her mouth to keep her from screaming. They think this, they say, because they know that plenty of men and boys do things like this. On these points, they are in perfect agreement with the women who have defined the #MeToomovement. And yet their conclusion is so diametrically opposed to the moral lessons of the past year that it seems almost deliberately petulant. We now mostly accept that lots of men have committed sexual assault, but one part of the country is saying, “Yes, this is precisely the problem,” and the other part is saying, “Yes, that is why it would obviously be a non-issue to have one of these men on the Supreme Court.”
The people who appear willing to believe Ford include Rod Dreher, the American Conservative writer, who tweeted, “I do not understand why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge.” The former congressman Joe Walsh tweeted, “If stupid, bad, or drunken behavior as a minor back in high school were the standard, every male politician in Washington, DC would fail.” An anonymous lawyer close to the White House told Politico, “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.” Bari Weiss, the Times opinion columnist, said, on MSNBC, that she believed Ford, and then asked, “What about the deeper, moral, cultural, like, the ethical question here? Let’s say he did this exactly as she said. Should the fact that a seventeen-year-old presumably very drunk kid did this—should this be disqualifying?” On Fox News, Ari Fleischer said, “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?” (Donald Trump, of course, called for the execution of the Central Park Five when they were teen-age rape suspects, and, as recently as 2016, continued to call them guilty, though they were exonerated by DNA evidence.)
What’s surfacing in these comments is something that has, up until now, mostly been dodged, or left unspoken: that it has traditionally been accepted for men to sexually assault women, particularly at parties, particularly when they’re young. But the fact that this behavior has been tacitly understood as permissible does not mean that people—even while young, even while drunk at parties—have understood it to be O.K. It’s true that our earliest sexual experiences tend to be messy and confusing, and that this is, to some degree, inevitable and natural. It’s also true that, even in the Reagan era, and even to a sloppy and inexperienced teen-ager, preventing someone from screaming in fear during a sexual encounter is a stunningly clear and universally recognized sign that something is wrong. (On Tuesday, a female high-school student tweeted, “the emergence of this whole ‘teenage boys should get a pass because they’re not mature enough to understand consent’ narrative is probably one of the most unsettling things I have ever witnessed.”) Kavanaugh’s defenders are putting plainly a previously euphemized message: white and wealthy teen-age boys have the right to engage in criminal sexual cruelty as long as they later get a good job, start a family, and “settle down.”