The Senate recently voted on whether the disgraceful new chapter in confirmation hearings that America has been living through for the past few weeks would become the new normal.
If it had not confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, we would all — women and men, victims and the accused — have been worse off. We would have abandoned an objective standard of justice in favor of a reputation-destroying public firestorm.
The stakes were high: In Kavanaugh we have a man whose decades of model public service were in danger of being wiped out by a bare allegation, made about events that took place when he was 17 years old, and contradicted by the only named witnesses.
Those claiming to be the victims of sexual assault should always be listened to, and their allegations should always be fairly investigated. But to say we should uncritically believe all women dangerously upends a long-held tenet of both our law and culture: Those accused are presumed innocent.
Many in the media would have you believe that women were united against Kavanaugh, making him the stand-in for the many perpetrators of sexual violence who evade justice. But women care about fairness and the presumption of innocence as well as the pain of victims; they saw in Kavanaugh their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers.
Instead of the entitlement of privilege, many women saw in Kavanaugh’s righteous anger the anguish of a man whose reputation and family were being unfairly dragged through the mud. In fact, 60 percent of Americans wanted to see Kavanaugh confirmed if the FBI investigation turned up no new evidence to corroborate Dr. Ford’s testimony (it didn’t).
The divide over his confirmation broke down along partisan lines rather than gender, with conservative women furious at the way sexual assault has been wielded as a political club. Americans across the political spectrum are disappointed with the way Democrats handled these sensitive matters and turned them into a political circus.
Perhaps that’s why the goalposts for Kavanaugh’s unfitness moved so many times, away from the very serious charges in Dr. Ford’s plausible narrative, to the outlandish and sensational.
If Kavanaugh had not been confirmed, the new standard would have been set going forward: Any accusation of sexual impropriety, no matter how many decades ago and with how little evidence, would be enough to drum a man out of public life if political circumstances are right.
This political weaponization of the #MeToo movement will make things worse for victims coming forward, thrusting them immediately into a political melee depending on the party registration of the accused.
When predators like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were brought down by their victims — and a mountain of corroborating evidence — women across the political spectrum could cheer. If the “Kavanaugh standard” had been ratified by a down vote, the common ground between left and right over #MeToo would have vanished, leaving a more difficult task for survivors and a climate of fear for innocent men.
At the end of Dr. Ford’s emotional hearing, the American people were left with two compelling narratives that could not be reconciled. That’s exactly why the Anglo-American tradition has always demanded some form of evidence and placed the burden of proof on the accuser.
If we abandon those long-held standards, we will always be left with the undesirable task of guessing between two injustices: disbelieving a potential victim or destroying an innocent man.